Whatever 2021 holds, tech-infused customers will still want to be remembered and understood as they crisscross myriad channels, touchpoints and contexts. My 2021 marketing predictions capture strategies and priorities in a time of uncertainty as brands respond, recover and rebuild not just for 2021, but beyond.
1. Brand strategy surpasses all marketing priorities.
A recent Gartner study revealed that brand strategy has vaulted to the top of marketing priorities, up from near the bottom of the list in 2019, with one-third of CMOs now placing it in their top three.
Brand awareness will continue to be a higher priority for marketers than demand generation, global business expansion efforts or event spending. Winning brands will authentically connect to their brand strategy and value proposition with empathy and emotion. 2021 will only amplify this imperative through emotional components such as brand purpose, heritage, provenance and aesthetics.
This elevated brand strategy will lead to strong consumer affinity and trust, especially when consumers believe the brand aligns with their values—whether in good times or bad.
2. Consumers will demand “relevance-as-a service,” expecting brands to anticipate their needs and act on their behalf.
Primed by evolving digital technologies that are smart, immersive and mobile, consumers will expect “relevance as a service” in ways that are more personalized, immediate, engaging and authentic.
Too many digital experiences are starting to resemble each other. The global pandemic worsens the clutter as brands automate and offer similar digital access to a long tail of services. “Relevance as a service” is the ultra-convenience of products, services and experiences that constantly adapt around the changing needs of the user.
To leap forward, brands will use conversational AI to eliminate complex navigation, and move from making smart suggestions to taking a series of personalized actions in the moment and at scale.
For example, online insurer Lemonade uses an AI chatbot that reviews a claim, checks it against the customer’s policy, runs more than a dozen anti-fraud algorithms on it, approves the claim, sends wiring instructions to the bank, and then informs the customer the result – all within 3 seconds.
3. Demand for ethical AI will rise.
You may have seen “The Social Dilemma”—a docudrama unveiling the machinations behind popular social media and search platforms. In the past, brands that adopted machine learning and other AI technologies paid little heed to their ethical impact.
Today, however, values-based consumers and employees expect companies to adopt AI in a responsible fashion.
As a result, tech vendors, governments and institutions are exploring AI ethics principles such as fairness, transparency, accountability, social benefit and privacy. Increasingly, brands will transform their ethical AI principles into tangible actions, adopting best practices such as AI ethics training, defining ethical requirements, recognizing bias in decisioning systems and the like.
4. Immersive technologies extend engagement from screens to your environment (and vice versa).
Today people today can speak to their virtual assistants in the moment—without needing their screens. Additional immersive technologies such as extended reality, wearables and connected products are adding more physical context to digital interactions at work and at home. According to Experience 2030, a global customer experience (CX) study by SAS and Futurum Research, 60% of consumers expect to use immersive tech by 2025.
Immersive technologies will allow brands to engage with customer needs in real-time contexts, complementing apps on screens. Likewise, brands will use immersive tech to build a digital personality that embodies brand values for serving customers and empowering employees.
5. Digital guardianship becomes a centerpiece for CX trust.
Protecting customer data is not only a necessity – it’s a competitive edge. To build a truly trustworthy brand, tomorrow’s companies must rethink ways to be transparent, accountable and engaging.
Brands observe digital guardianship by investing considerably in data security, data protection, compliance and governance to ensure that customer data is kept secure. Marketers will also have more. continuous visibility into data flows, including collection and access, processing, storage and third-party sharing.
6. “Industrialized analytics” will accelerate CX agility and innovation.
Brands will “industrialize” analytics and real-time decisioning. “Industrializing” analytics is a factory process metaphor for how automation technology prepares data, moves it into production for model building and analysis, and then distributes insights and deploys actions throughout the organization for CX imperatives.
Expect to see higher levels of automation in model production and recalibration—including new technical innovations such as containers, micro-service architectures and hybrid cloud services.
Marketing and CX platforms based on this emerging architecture will help large enterprises compete with nimble digital natives by making the same scalable, agile technology available to both.