2020 may have been a whirlwind, but there are good things on the horizon.

So today, I’m taking you through the 10 most important digital marketing shifts we’ll see in the coming year, including startup, content, and email marketing.

Let’s take a look!

1. Lessons from startups: Do things that don't scale

When Teespring first launched, they couldn’t go all in on programmatic advertising. Instead, they got started by doing everything themselves.

AirBnB founders went door-to-door, offering to take professional photos of the listed apartments.

All of these are examples of doing things that don’t scale.

You can’t do them for thousands of customers. But you can offer your first customers a premium experience to get the ball rolling and spread the word.

Non-scalable marketing tactics for startups
Source: Adioma

Examples of doing things that don’t scale:

  • Send personalized onboarding emails: Analyze data, but talk to your actual customers, too
  • Form close relationships with influencers: Find brand ambassadors who believe in your product
  • Create in-depth content: Research and reference your own data, and create awesome content (if you need help, we’ve got you)

2. Retention marketing: Lifetime value over quick wins

New customers are a major dopamine hit, but repeat customers spend 33% more than new customers.

And if you treat them right, they stay longer. The trust builds up, and your revenue scales. They refer their friends (and referrals are phenomenal for lowering your CAC).

So in 2021, make your existing customers’ experiences even better.

Garfield knows what's up

How to increase customer lifetime value:

First, get to know your customers through your onboarding process.

You know what problems you’re solving for them, but do you know what their overarching goals are? Customers buy products because they’re emotionally attached to the goals they’re trying to achieve.

As Lincoln Murphy says:

“Prospects become customers because they emotionally buy into what this product or service is going to do for them.”

When you reference their goals during the customer journey, you’re reinforcing that emotional connection, and positioning your brand in a way that’s intrinsically linked to their goals.

Then, share or create the resources they need to get to the finish line. Often, this ties into doing things that don’t scale - at least for your most loyal customers.

Don’t forget about social media, which was made to socialize. Build relationships with your frequent customers, check up on them, feature their experiences, and...

Get off the soapbox and build a community

First, we communicated with our customers through press releases and media statements. Then came the internet, and we got back to conversations. Somehow, in the last few years, we’ve reverted to soapboxing.

In 2021, it’s time to return to community.

How to build a community around your brand:

  • Involve and feature your team, your personal stories, struggles, and wins
  • Invite customers to join the conversation with UGC (user-generated content) and their stories
  • Use your customers’ experiences in your content
  • Identify your audience’s values and your company’s values
  • Share testimonials and start discussions
  • Ask questions

3. Content marketing in 2021: Authenticity and collaboration

The problem is: everyone and their customers want authentic content, but no one knows how to get there. When you create authentic content, you’re immediately differentiating your business.

Instead of being another service or product provider, you’ll become a recognizable brand.

Tell stories only you can tell:

The main question to ask is: can my audience relate to what I'm sharing?

You don’t have to publish your diary. Reference anecdotes and personal stories. Do your own research whenever possible. Use your voice.

(Or send us an outline of your story, and our writers will make sure the moral of your content resonates.)

Collaborate to create awesome content

It’s a long journey, and we can’t do it alone. I’m pretty sure the original adage was a metaphor for life, but it applies to business, as well.

Ford and Tinder marketing collaboration
You don't have to organize carpool karaoke dates like Ford and Tinder did

Services like Cohoist have started offering shared marketing campaigns. More and more business owners are turning to industry partners for cross-promotion.

In 2021, team up with other businesses to share your knowledge and your audience. Then, create incredible content together; be that a campaign, a case study, or a social media account takeover.

4. Conversational marketing (and marketing conversations)

As the pioneers of conversational marketing, Drift, said:

“We need to make business actually feel personal again.”

They responded to the need by creating seamless chat bots, and coining a new term for leading instant conversations with your customers. In addition to delighting customers, conversational marketing shortens sales cycles, which is especially important if you’re in B2B.

How to implement conversational marketing:

  • Scrap lead gen forms, use chat bots to qualify your leads instead. Your sales team can jump in at the right moment, instead of wasting time on low-quality leads.
  • Provide personalized on-page requirements by integrating your CRM with your chat bot software. If an existing customer is looking at the pricing page, your chat bot can funnel them to the best upgrade option for their unique needs.
  • Use chat bots (and knowledge bases) to handle customer support. Your support team can focus on customer success and complex requirements.

5. Rationalize your marketing budget: Cost-effective marketing methods

2019 may have been the year to go all out with your ad spend, but 2021 is going to be different.

You can’t do business without a marketing budget, so make sure you use it wisely.

Yes, you'll need paid advertising when you first launch. But you should create a sustainable sales funnel with plenty of organic methods in the meantime.

What are the most cost-effective marketing methods?

Blogging is always in because it works. Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13 times more likely to see positive ROI.

Outsource and scale content writing with ContentFly
ContentFly makes it easy to create incredible content without breaking the bank (or overwhelming your team)

You can get started immediately with content writing services like ContentFly (4,000 words for $313/month). If you want to try and find a freelancer on your own first, that's all right - we've put together some tips on how to find a great writer that fits your needs and goals here.

Secondly, the only audience you really own are the people on your mailing list. Segment your email audience, and send personalized content.

Finally, word of mouth never goes out of style. Treat your customers right, incentivize them to refer their friends, and you’ll get your very own low-cost acquisition machine!

6. User experience design in 2021: Humans first

When you first launched your business, you were thinking about all the ways you brought value to your customers’ lives.

Now, I want you to think about all the ways you are making their lives more complicated:

  • Overwhelming navigation menus
  • Labyrinthine websites
  • Too much information, too few benefits in your content

Take a critical look at your online (and your actual business) presence, and see how you can improve your customer experience.

When you’re creating content, make sure it’s easy to understand. If you need help, our team of content writers has got your back.

AHM - simple landing page design example
AHM homepage features interesting illustrations and straightforward copy

You can’t drum up enthusiasm with a boring landing page...

... and yet, so many businesses insist on the AP English lit teacher approach.

The main UI design trends for 2021 include:

  • Artistic visuals
  • Bold palettes
  • Interactivity
  • Engaging microcopy
Medium sign up page
A different way to ask visitors to sign up, courtesy of Medium

So instead of the garden-variety landing pages, experiment with adding new and interactive elements that won’t just be practical, but engaging as well.

Deal with GDPR, CCPA, and ad blocking

Cookie consent notices and intrusive ads are adding friction to your site. If you’re still making visitors toggle dozens of items to opt out, do everyone a favor and just give them a simple way out.

7. AEO instead of SEO

Search engines vs answer engines
Search Engine Watch explained AEO vs SEO pretty well!

With voice search on the rise, AEO is growing more important by the minute. To stay ahead of the game, you’ll have to:

  • Structure your content with your audience’s questions in mind
  • Analyze and optimize for your target SERP Featured Snippets
  • Create comprehensive resources

Focus on readability. People skim content, so use headings, structure paragraphs appropriately, and don’t be afraid of bolding the really important points.

8. Social media: Does it spark joy?

Time to ask the most popular question of 2020: Does it spark joy?

As you look over your kingdom of mostly inactive social media accounts, aren’t you wondering if your business - and your audience - deserves better?

Cut down on all the social networks you and your audience don’t use.

Do you need Twitter if your audience is mainly on Pinterest, and that’s where you post?

No. No, you don’t.

Even if you use just one social network right, it’s going to be enough. Poorly managed social media profiles negatively affect your reputation, and the lack of enthusiasm shows. Conversely, if you pay attention to every social media channel and create native engaging content, you’ll see much higher lead gen rates.

Instagram SEO

In 2020, Instagram announced that users could look up content without using hashtags. Those who are familiar with the way the world works knew what it really was: Instagram SEO.

Instagram SEO example

How to optimize for Instagram SEO:

  • Use your primary keyword in your profile name and username
  • Use your secondary keywords in your bio
  • Use keywords in your captions
  • Write descriptive alt-texts

9. Email marketing: Mind the buzz

Focus on providing maximum value with every email you send. As Kate Nowrouzi, VP of Deliverability at Mailjet says:

“In 2021, as we continue to spend more time than before on our computers, brands will need to be mindful of people’s inboxes to prevent email fatigue.”

Dozens of emails every week will just make your (potential) customers unsubscribe. Segment your audience, personalize the content you send them, and give them more mailing frequency options.

Perfection is not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing to take away - quote

Is plain-text email making a comeback?

The problem with dynamic and interactive email is that it’s really good. It’s interesting. But the more gimmicks you use, the harder it will be to see your message.

This is why we’re seeing a rise of email marketing services like TinyLetter and Substack. Entrepreneurs are writing letter-like emails. And their open rates are surprisingly high in the sea of upsells.

Now, plain-text email marketing is not for everyone. But it’s a lesson in minimalism:

What can you remove to emphasize your actual message?

10. Personalization will never go out of style

Remember when stats used to sound like: “Consumers dislike” and “Consumers prefer not to”?

Well, now they sound like this: 63% of consumers are annoyed with generic advertising blasts.

Then, pair that with the fact that 80% of those same consumers said they’d be more willing to do business with a company that offers personalized experiences.

So, how do you do it?

First, experiment with different types of personalization.

Email segmentation and behavior-triggered emails are a must, but that’s not all you can do. Startups are really great at finding out new things because they do things that don’t scale. Why not take a page out of their book?

Approach every stage of your funnel by asking: “What does the lead/customer want to do at this point?”

Maybe they want more information. Maybe they want a personalized recommendation.

You’ll never know unless you ask.

Sometimes, you might need to whip out your crystal ball and anticipate your customers’ needs. The folks at Instapage make a really good comparison:

“Airlines don’t stop after selling you a ticket. They ask if you want travel insurance; they ask if you want to book a hotel room; they ask if you’ll need to rent a car, etc. They know you’re traveling, and they also know the experience is more than just flying.”

So what else do your customers need?

When do they need it?

Forget everything you’ve learned and turn into a three-year-old who’s passionately curious about the world.

That’s how you’ll create the best strategy ever.