3 Key Gartner Marketing Predictions for 2021

December 3, 2020
Contributor: Rama Ramaswami

Experiential events — enabled by cross-functional collaboration — and brand safety will dominate marketing strategy, according to Gartner Marketing Predictions for 2021 and beyond.

As 2020 comes to an end, marketers still grapple with the fallout of the global pandemic and societal unrest that marked the year and made it so difficult to predict what lies ahead. The one clear forecast in the crystal ball is that the events that transformed 2020 offer vast opportunities as well as challenges for marketing leaders and their teams.

“The need for vision, innovation and transformation has never been more pronounced,” said Jennifer Polk, VP Analyst, Gartner, at the virtual Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo® 2020. “Businesses must rethink how to enable consumers’ shift to a digital and virtual world while safely satisfying demand for shared, tactile experiences.”

Polk shared Gartner marketing predictions for 2021 and beyond, including three key developments.

Gartner Top Marketing Predictions for 2021

Prepare for the future during unprecedented uncertainty

Digital marketing activities morph into experiential events

By 2023, 60% of companies that pivoted to virtual events will incorporate real-time or real-space experiences into their virtual events.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, U.S. consumers pivoted to embrace new technologies and channels. Nearly half increased their use of video conferencing and online shopping. Marketers were quick to respond. Fifty-five percent of technology marketers adapted their in-person events to virtual activities, and 61% of marketing leaders increased their investment in digital interfaces.

But customers’ appetite for digital experiences won’t last forever. Gartner research shows that 30% of consumers are already exhausted by the extent to which their lives have moved online. Consumers view the biggest downside of newly digital experiences as the absence of real-life interactions with other people.

“Sustaining customer engagement in a virtual world will depend on rich, immersive content delivery that infuses online events with an element of real life,” said Polk.

The opportunity for marketers lies in providing branded digital experiences that include a:

  • Real-time element: Live streaming, synchronous experiences or virtual simultaneity
  • Real-place component: Curbside, drive-by, or use of location-tracking or location-monitoring features while remaining socially distant 

CMO imperatives:

  • Audit your brand’s existing digital experience and virtual event plans with an eye toward real-time and real-place elements.
  • Redirect funds slashed from live-event budgets to experiences that bridge the digital and the real and help alleviate consumers’ “Zoom fatigue.”

The walls separating CX-related functions come down

By 2023, 25% of organizations will integrate marketing, sales and customer experience (CX) into a single function.

COVID-19 has intensified demands on executives to work cross-functionally. This will become even more important for customer-focused functions such as marketing, sales and customer service, given that 86% of respondents engaged in or leading CX expect to compete on the basis of CX by 2021, according to the 2019 Gartner Customer Experience Management Survey.

Organizations that combine their customer-focused functions will be better able to identify, support and nurture customers throughout their journey and brand experience. United functions would also have revenue-generating accountability and shared responsibilities for customer journeys and outcomes. 

Organizational risk aversion and inertia may prevent or limit restructuring efforts. But inevitably the sales, marketing and CX functions will come together — whether through a formal restructuring or an informal alignment of shared goals and resources. 

CMO imperatives:

  • Share customer and market insights to inform a continuous experience and reduce redundancy.
  • Use end-to-end customer journey maps to identify hand-offs and points of friction among functions.
  • Proactively identify duplicate workstreams and realign resources to shared goals and outcomes.

Content moderation rises in importance

By 2024, 30% of large organizations will identify content moderation services for user-generated content as a C-suite priority.

With social networks being besieged by polarizing content, brand advertisers are increasingly concerned about brand safety and reputational risk on these platforms. Several content moderation service and software providers have sprung up to help businesses monitor, moderate and manage the high volume and frequency of user-generated content.

In the absence of definitive regulation of social media, brands should shore up their future content monitoring by ensuring that they:  

  • Have internal content moderation capabilities that extend across all of their digital properties, including social media and retail sites that enable comments and product reviews.
  • Understand the moderation capabilities and policies of each site
  • Can give customers the ability to flag inappropriate, offensive or suspicious content

Manage brand reputation internally and externally by reminding customers and employees of the brand’s purpose and promise. Use the voice of the customer — an insight unique to marketing — to hold a mirror up to the business, helping management and employees understand current consumer expectations of brands and brand engagement on societal issues. 

CMO imperatives:

  • Audit both internal and platform-provided content moderation capabilities across properties. 
  • Invest in tools to enable your online audience to help enforce moderation and report content violations.
  • Collaborate with industry peers to standardize content ratings by which to assess brand safety.

Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo®

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