Survey: what will the new marketing year 2021 bring?

2020 brought a lot of doom and malheur and made the marketer insecure. The question is whether the many forced changes in approach and target group approach will be permanent. 2021 is expected with mixed feelings. Will the economy really recover this year and can we leave corona behind?

Mixed company

As in previous years, survey participants come from a variety of sectors and organizations. They are marketers and communication professionals from the service sector, retail, fmcg and financial as well as from the consultancy, media and advertising agency world. Also representatives from the B2B world. The government and charities were absent this year.

Our freedom of movement was drastically restricted by corona

Which marketing news stood out most in 2020?

Several respondents indicated that the discipline or sub-areas are in development, so keeping up is the motto. Not surprising was the fact that the vast majority of meetings and prize festivals were conducted online. Zoom and Teams gained a large number of users in 2020. This also applied to the NIMA Marketing Day, which was completely redesigned and proved successful.

There is also a clear trend towards more online sales in many sectors. For many, this meant an acceleration to e-commerce. It is therefore expected that this phenomenon will also have a significantly greater role in the field after the pandemic. The dominance of corona and the resulting lockdowns also made it more difficult to communicate with target groups.

One respondent wondered, for example, whether customer journeys should be redeveloped now that so many travel digitally. Another note: what role have big brands been able to play in creating solidarity in society (see Kruidvat). The corona crisis has forced many companies to become more agile. The question is whether this is permanent or whether we go back to the old normal? A range of other developments are also identified, such as reviving the focus on long-term branding, popularity of gaming events in the marketing mix, taking influencer marketing seriously, streaming, data, AI obscurity.

How do you as a marketer deal with corona? What did you do differently in 2020?

It is clear that most have seen their M&C budgets drop in 2020, some as high as 60%. For a number of them this meant a switch from paid to owned / earned media strategy and also an investment data and tech infrastructure to be able to scale in 2021. But a few saw the opportunity to temporarily invest in marketing counter-cyclical, but where budgets remained fairly unchanged, a firm reallocation to digital took place. In those cases where budgets were significantly cut, the reason was that turnover had also dropped significantly. It was noticeable that many providers have used extra heavy promotions to catch up on turnover. Some retailers benefited from this. For some, 2020 also meant that they started to think even more carefully about ethics in marketing. Or have started to respond even better to context, to do more structural research and to expand digital competences. A professional on the desk side who worked on the client side in early 2020 saw budgets cut in March and April. When she switched to the office side in the summer, she noticed that many customers were fortunately getting more budget again.

Almost all events have been canceled or implemented differently, so a lot has been saved. Brand expressions are often adapted to current events. Many wonder what 2021 will mean for their budget, also because the pandemic continues into the new year.

The corona crisis also spurred some brands to do something useful for society.

Do you expect because of corona to do things permanently different in 2021?

Most respondents expect that the first six months will not be much different from 2020, so a lot of working from home and reduced marketing budgets. However, there are some more investments in tech and data to be able to perform even better digitally. Content marketing will also increase and there will be more attention for structural research and changed insights.

There is clearly more involvement in society, which will also further boost purpose-driven marketing. The retail chains that survive will do everything they can to attract the customer back to the physical stores. They will want to make up for the damage in the first weeks, but after that it will go back online more often. E-commerce will continue to grow considerably in 2021. As soon as events can be organized again, there will be a lot of interest, but it is expected that events will be set up on a smaller scale or remain digital. In the Food domain, strong growth is anticipated in vega food and organic food.

The marketing and communication budget in 2021 will:

The majority expect their budget to remain the same for the time being, but a quarter expect their budget to increase in 2021. The expectation is that digital will benefit the most from this.

To what extent have you seen the behavior of your customers, your consumers, change in 2020?

It is expected that mobility, especially in B2B, has changed structurally and that there will therefore be much less business travel. Public transport and the parking sector will also experience this. Online meetings will remain current in this new year. Transparency has become high on the agenda of customers. They want more insight into what you have to offer them and society as a brand or organization. It is also expected that clients are increasingly orientating themselves and will not necessarily remain loyal to their relationship or supplier; something that has been going on for some time with consumers. There is even more need for a good omnichannel approach and a clear purpose as an assignment.

Due to, among other things, the lockdowns, traffic in shopping streets was more than 40% lower 10 out of 12 months. The question is whether the public will return in 2021 for fun, nice shops and restaurants. It remains difficult to predict. Considerably more attention was paid to vitality and healthier working and living. Holiday allowances were spent or saved much more on the home in 2020; this is expected to return in 2021 as it was during pre-corona. Sustainability is very important to many brands, such as here at Unilever (photo: Unilever)

Which are the most relevant trends for you to take into account?

It is clear that many trends will take place in the digital domain. Further growth of tech, apps and AI will lead to scalable marketing communication with the right message, via the right channel at the right time. And of course there will be more room for database marketing. Online sales continues to grow strongly, especially because many people have discovered its convenience. Sustainability, care for the planet and the realization that the planet is running out drives multiple trends such as sustainable energy for your home, your company and your car. But also a lot of attention on the production method and consumption of many foods. In the field of communication, the role of social media will be viewed even more critically. The balance between long term branding and short term activation will also be properly analyzed.

What is your most admired brand right now?

It is striking that a number of respondents are unable to name a brand. Are they not inspired or is 2020 a year that brands kept quiet? A large number of usual suspects were mentioned such as Albert Heijn (strong online + offline), Douwe Egberts (social commitment), Nike (very consistent brand that keeps up with the times), WE fashion (contemporary), Natuurmonumenten (beautiful outdoor campaigns), Tony Chocolonley , G-STAR (going back to their roots), Jumbo, various game publishers like EPIC, Playstation and Xbox) and Tesla (very innovative, ICT strong and a lot of ambition; Tesla fans just as fanatic as Apple fans in the beginning; Tesla has set an entire, traditional auto industry in motion).

Who are currently the most inspiring person in our field of marketing and branding?

Here too it is striking that a large number of respondents are unable to name a single name. Cited were Elon Musk (Tesla), Mark Ritson, Michiel Muller (Picnic), Luuk Ros (NIMA), Trix van Vleuten (KFC), Les Binet and Peter Field.

What is your biggest challenge in 2021, what do you want to achieve?

Mention was made, among other things, of end-to-end insight into the customer lifecycle for B2C and B2B. Further expansion of the brand, and (postponed) introductions are also in the planning of several, such as the introduction of a brand new and complete method to really appreciate brands.

From the agency side, the challenge is to get the agency sufficiently visible to customers and prospects again and relevant so that customers can find their way (back). For others, such as in retail, the main challenge is to survive. Consultants in the sector wish to profile even better within the market or sector in which they operate.

In the meantime online …

Epilogue by Leo van Sister, the Brand Commissioners

2021, a year with many faces, marketing is rebounding.

Many have learned in 2020 that working from home is also fine. This has a major impact on many business sectors. It is also expected that once the vaccination round has been carried out, many postponed purchases, catch-up holidays and business assignments will follow. Many brands will want to find out how the customer journey (online) goes with the aim of subsequently increasing the customer experience.

With the elections approaching, the question is to what extent sustainability will be structurally supported by the government. The impact of this on businesses and consumers will be significant. In addition, greenwashing will be increasingly denounced by organizations. In this regard, 2021 could be a pivotal year. Demand will change significantly in 2020, the number of acquisitions with brands and companies will increase again in 2021, new (global) competitors are also emerging more often and many industries are threatened by disruption.

As a brand, as a company you also have to pursue a higher goal and in the meantime many customers and consumers are paying attention to that. This gives the organization and people extra energy. Many large companies have (re-) discovered their own purpose. More and more brands (advertisers) will develop their own media channels to get even closer to their target audience. Not surprising when you consider that orientation and buying behavior changes significantly. Tech and data-driven marketing providers are rampant.

The demand from the boardroom for marketers to be able to demonstrate the accountability of their marketing and communication efforts much better is increasing. All the more reason to know the correct value of your brand. Take advantage of the many opportunities that will undoubtedly arise through new tech developments. Have a clear vision, know the essence of the brand, know where you want to go with yourself and the organization and what you want to achieve and act accordingly.

The good news is that after the economic downturn of 4-5% in 2020, economists at the CPB foresee an increase of approximately 2.5% in 2021. Many brands will leave the field, partly because of the economic set-back, but also because many brands have too little relevance to offer or have unnecessarily abandoned their positioning. Branding and brand equity will become a lot more important. The marketing profession has become quite complicated and that is why it is good to keep control from the brand.


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