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Data-Driven Marketing Trends in 2021: Some New, Some Remain

The internet is nothing new, but more people than ever are accessing it and other digital channels. Prior to COVID-19, 28 percent of American adults reported they go online “almost constantly” and another 45 percent saying they go online several times a day. That number has increased significantly due to the pandemic, and companies are focusing more than ever on their digital marketing strategies to reach these consumers. 

The foundation for digital marketing is data, and online users leave behind massive amounts of it. It’s up to the marketer to find the most efficient and comprehensive ways to gather, analyze and leverage data. And it’s not a once and done effort, either. It’s continual because consumers are continually using digital channels, and data is always changing. 

Internet users generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Multiply that by 365 days, and you can see why managing this big data is such an undertaking. The marketers who know how to access and leverage this data are able to drive better marketing campaigns. We see several data-driven marketing trends already coming together for 2021.

5 Data-Driven Marketing Trends 

In the past, it has been easy to see where digital marketing is headed. Change happened but not at the speed at which it is happening now, thanks to the pandemic. Digital marketers are scrambling to keep up and try to stay ahead of the curve, even when the curve is out of sight. Here are our top five data-driven marketing trends we see coming in 2021.

1. Recognizing Life Has Completely Changed

We can look at virtually everything from now on as “pre-pandemic” and “during the pandemic,” and hopefully soon, “post-pandemic.” Before COVID-19, consumers lived and worked as they always did. Today, most are still being careful, venturing outside of their homes only for essential items. That means more online shopping, more time on social media and apps, and more time checking emails.

This changes everything for companies, forcing them to invest more than ever in data-driven marketing campaigns that utilize that digital connection. But beware: just because you may hone your digital marketing skills to be on every channel your audience is using doesn’t mean you’ll strike gold. 

Forbes says brands need to figure out how to strike a balance between being in the right place at the right time with the right content more than ever. Consumers want to see that a brand “gets it” and understands things have changed. Life hasn’t been easy for most of us and insensitive, unempathetic, out of touch messaging can do more damage than ever.

2. Creativity and Personalization Will Reign

By now, most brands realize their marketing strategies that may have worked last year are likely not going to work today. With consumers on so many digital channels, creativity is what will set brands apart. Those who discover how to connect with consumers will win market share in 2021.

But creativity can come at a cost. While it’s always a good idea to test new ideas, the more you experiment, the more risk for failure. That’s why data-driven marketing is a must. You need to know your audience today, not just from past data – what they are doing right now, where they are spending their time, how they are spending, and what seems to resonate. Only then can you focus your creativity in the right direction to save costs and failed attempts. 

Personalization is still critical. Now, it’s a matter of shifting strategies to better understand consumers in this “during the pandemic” era. Market segmentation will likely be narrower, and fresh analytics will play a critical role in helping to operationalize the massive amounts of new data being generated. The more you can understand your customers’ preferences and behaviors, the better you can adjust the buyers’ journeys, the faster and more precisely you can respond to opportunities and risks.

Related: Why You Should Incorporate Segmentation Marketing into your 2021 Strategy

3. Localizing Marketing

The pandemic has us all staying closer to home. That means you have the opportunity to personalize your marketing by segmenting populations based on geographical characteristics and create highly-personalized content. There are countless community networks marketers can partner with to reach consumers in a targeted area. 

For instance, a local real estate company that focuses on a particular zip code recently began a messaging strategy where they chose a small business in the area each week to sponsor. They highlighted the small business on their social channels, as well as the neighborhood app and magazine. They partnered with the neighborhood magazine to obtain their email distribution list and began an email campaign as well. The weekly messaging was less about the real estate company and more about supporting local businesses and telling their story of survival, a strategy that is proving to resonate with consumers who appreciate the struggles of local businesses.

4. Keeping Data Privacy Safeguards a Focus

Consumer privacy is going nowhere, even with COVID-19. With so many people online, data privacy is more important than ever. GDPR, CCPA, and other data privacy laws require marketers to adhere as much as their companies. There are significant fines and penalties for noncompliance, and with many organizations struggling to survive these days, every penny counts.

Then there is the reputational damage brought on by publicized privacy breaches. Marketing has the responsibility to be aware of how they collect consumer data and provide notification and/or opt-out capabilities. Consumers will continue to expect and demand transparency in how and why they and their third parties are collecting personal data. 

5. Integrating Agile Marketing 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how important it is to be able to shift on a dime. Virtually overnight, we all had to cancel travel plans, shift to working and schooling from home, order food and groceries curbside, embrace telemedicine, and find ways to stay connected without being physically together.

Marketing has had a similar experience. You have likely had to rapidly adjust your marketing strategies, even on a daily basis, and rely on data-driven marketing tactics like never before. Marketing will continue to be more agile as no one knows when the pandemic will officially end or how consumers will behave post-pandemic. One thing is for sure: the pandemic has made lasting changes in all of us. 

In 2021, you will need to know more than who your audience is, but what they will most likely respond to now and later. What channels they prefer “during pandemic” and “post-pandemic,” and then respond quickly to these evolving measurements in real-time. 

Related: 5 Steps to a Killer Cross-Channel Content Strategy

For instance, with travel still restricted, an airline company has to be careful on how it engages customers. Holiday, spring break and summer travel may have instigated an exciting marketing campaign about beaches, mountains, and overseas travel in the past, but now those brands have to shift with an entirely new strategy. Marketers may decide to lead with optimistic content geared towards purchasing gift cards to loved ones when travel is considered safer, or an emotional video of past vacations with messaging that appreciates all we miss. Either way, the airline stays front of mind with relevant, empathetic content that likely boosts loyalty and brand reputation.

We are in a strange time, no doubt, but marketers stand poised to discover new opportunities to engage with consumers. As technologies, channels, and consumer demands evolve in 2021, data-driven marketing will remain the standard. You will always need to know your customers, and data provides the insights you may have never had before – and in real-time. As 2021 is hopefully a “post-pandemic” era, it will be fascinating to see how consumers change and marketing responds.