A Look Ahead: 2021 Predictions for Brand Marketers

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This year and its turbulence ushered in an enormous shift in how consumers shop and communicate with their brands and institutions. For brands that want to survive from a social distance, BOPIS/BOPAC, contactless delivery and online ordering are now table stakes: the less we need to be in a room with other people, the better. As unsavory as this reality may be for some, it will have a lasting impact on years to come. In looking toward 2021 — a year we can only hope will bring a vaccine, a drop in unemployment rates, and economic recovery — here are three predictions for how brands will have to respond to shifting consumer behavior.

Two-way, personalized “conversational” marketing is on top
2021 will usher in practical use of RCS (Rich Communication Services), allowing brands to communicate with customers in a more engaging, authentic manner within their native SMS or Facebook Messenger inboxes. This next generation messaging solution can facilitate a two-way conversation between brand and consumer, and also offers rich, personalized media (including video) so that brands can extend their brand personas and styles to their messaging. Analysis of a consumer’s purchase history can allow brands to send personalized RCS messages with offers or information suited to individual consumer needs. RCS will be particularly influential to boost CX (and therefore engagement and loyalty) in the retail, travel and hospitality industries — as well as food service, assuming online ordering and delivery services are just as popular when the threat of the pandemic has passed.

Omnichannel messaging, redefined
Each messaging channel comes with its own benefits and potential drawbacks. Until now, the common practice of omnichannel has been to treat each of these channels equally, often repurposing email content across every other channel. If consumers wanted to just read a brand’s email copy, wouldn’t they read their emails, rather than opt-in for SMS? In 2021, leading brands will (finally) shift to adopt a curated omnichannel strategy, adapting content to align with channels, and placing more emphasis on the channels that each individual customer utilizes most.

Chatbots and AI have evolved beyond customer service
In 2020, chatbots for customer service were commonplace. 2021 will be the year when brands understand that AI-powered chatbots are capable of far more than answering customer service inquiries: they can analyze consumer purchase history to deliver custom offers, and engage in true two-way conversations with consumers, encouraging a thoughtful back-and-forth rather than robotically answering questions or complaints. Brands can also now employ their marketing/product teams to write chatbot scripts that mimic how they themselves communicate with customers — and with low-code development, brands can set up a chatbot without phoning IT. In 2021, the use and ownership of AI will move beyond the IT department, revolutionizing how brands connect with their customers, via a live staff person or not.

Of course, flipping our calendars to January 2021 won’t magically make these predictions come true — sadly, they won’t come true for a good number of brands. However, the brands that wish to not only survive, but thrive during the pandemic and beyond will finally realize next year that it’s time to up the ante on their mobile messaging.

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