Adobe Digital Trends report uncovers big shifts in 2021 marketing priorities

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape consumer behavior and, in turn, the way brands market to them in 2021.

So says Adobe’s annual 2021 Digital Trends report, in partnership with eConsultancy, which surveyed more than 13,000 marketers and IT professionals across the globe, and found big changes in marketing priorities for 2021—especially when compared to last year’s Digital Trends report findings. The study, now in its 11th year, shows how marketing and IT leaders across the world will focus on the customer as a human being, their employees as integral assets and the digital customer experience as the main drivers of growth and strategy in 2021.

“The events of 2020 have accelerated digital transformation,” says Alvaro Del Pozo, VP of international marketing, Adobe. “Trends and technology that were years away from serious consideration are now at the top of the agenda. Additionally, businesses are all grappling with the same challenges: remote working, new all-digital customers with different buying behaviors, and, added to that, their employees’ and their customers’ well-being.”

Below we deep dive into some of the digital trends expected in 2021, based on the study.

New digital customers, with different buying behaviors

2020 brought with it the loss of predictability for brands, and almost every generation and segment of customers (some were new to digital) driven online at an accelerated rate. According to the report, the changes in customer behavior affected every sector, with B2C (63 percent), B2B (57 percent), consumer goods (72 percent) and manufacturing (56 percent) all reporting unusually high growth in digital customers.

“Digital will continue to be the norm well after the pandemic,” Del Pozo says. “As such, digital can no longer just be a component of marketing, customer service, or product. It has to be treated as the core driver of customer experience and business growth.”

Companies that had digitally mature customer experiences when the pandemic hit won 2020

Digital experience leaders already had a strategic commitment to CX and the investments they made over the last five years paid off. The research found that more than 70 percent of companies that outperformed their sectors from a digital experience standpoint were three times more likely to perform well in 2020. Indeed, respondents at companies that have built strong analytics functions (with “significant insight” into new journeys and marketing attribution) were more than twice as likely to say their customers are positive about their digital experience than their peers with lower levels of insight (71 percent vs. 31 percent).

“There’s no doubt that digital maturity impacted financial performance during the pandemic, and it will continue to be a differentiator even as we move to a post-COVID economy,” Del Pozo says.

Speedy insights are a top priority in 2021

The acceleration of digital engagement in 2021 taught CX professionals that they need to understand data consumers share more quickly. The research backs this claim: businesses that said they had a strong foundation for real-time insights reported stronger success in the second half off 2020. Additionally, their ability to prove the value of marketing resulted in bigger budgets in 2021, along with more expansive plans for digital engagement.

According to Del Pozo, these digitally mature companies are more likely to increase spend on acquisitions, retention and marketing overall.

Brand purpose is increasingly important in 2021 marketing and communications

Today’s consumers want to understand the value a brand provides to them—. Communicating and marketing a company’s brand purpose will be a big trend this year, with purpose-led activities promising to deepen customer loyalty and drive strategy. In a companion study to understand the impact of brand purpose, eConsultancy surveyed 871 of the organizations that participated in the Adobe Digital Trends study (those that reported they have a defined brand purpose). This portion of the research found that although only 27 percent of consumers can describe the purpose of even their favorite brands, 56 percent of employees say that their organization has a defined brand purpose. Of those, 82 percent say it has a positive effect on them personally.

“Companies with a brand purpose outperform their competitors and have happier, more optimistic employees,” Del Pozo says. “A resonant brand purpose inspires people to engage in the business by speaking to the value it provides beyond the quarterly earnings.”

Empathy is the future of customer experience

The report also revealed that analyzing and adapting to a customer’s journey represents another key focus area for 2021. Consideration of customers’ motivations and challenges was front and centre for many brands during the pandemic, yet only one-in-five EMEA companies say they possess ‘significant insight’ into people’s motivations or friction points during the customer journey. Friction points occur when a decision or action needs to be taken, which can evoke anything from anxiety and concern, to hope and excitement. The ability to greater understand the areas of friction, throughout the customer experience, will enable brands to connect with their audiences on a deeper level.

That’s why, Del Pozo says, “analyzing and adapting to the customer’s journey is the next evolution of experience management and must be a key priority for marketers and other customer experience professionals in 2021.”