Many of us would hold back from making predictions for 2021, just because of how the year 2020 turned out. At the start of the year, I could not have predicted that I would have the chance to spend every night with my family for eight months, which has been rare since Sogo and I started the business back in 2016.
However, there are several key trends around Asia that deserve more attention from marketers, and there are even more opportunities to capitalise for brand and business growth.
One of our values is to “Be Bold”, and I’ll be bold by making some predictions for 2021.
Shortened customer acquisition cycles Being forced to stay at home can do some things to the mind (especially if you have three young boys), but the biggest behavioural shift in 2020 was in consumers going online. Brands had to adapt to the online world, adopt e-commerce infrastructure and build new digital revenue streams, or risk becoming irrelevant.
They didn’t know that they stepped into an already-congested arena.
Before the pandemic, direct-to-consumer businesses were already on the rise and were slugging it out with brands who had e-commerce capabilities or were on regional and local online marketplaces. Our research done in September showed that digital-first brands such as gaming and e-commerce businesses were the first ones to ride the pandemic wave for influencer marketing, and subsequent reports highlighted the rise of e-commerce throughout the pandemic, particularly in Southeast Asia.
In 2021, this arena will become even more crowded with direct-to-consumer businesses increasing and social media influencers creating and selling their own products.
With this context, shopability across consumer touchpoints will become even more important, and marketers that can shorten the customer purchase process will see immediate benefits.
Live-commerce, be it on e-commerce platforms or directly from brands, has taken off across Asia in the past year, and we’ll see it grow further with shopability becoming even more key for businesses in today’s space. There are also ad units that bring customers straight to product catalogues and shopping carts, and social media platforms in recent years have rolled out shopping functions on their platforms. Influencers are also increasingly able to add direct-to-checkout features on their social media channels. This conveniently leads to my next point.
Synergy between strategy, data, creative and technology With such a crowded brand landscape, marketers need to do more in 2021 to stand out. This is where branding becomes even more important, and digital-ready and direct-to-consumer brands will also need to compete for mindshare across an incrementally crowded consumer space.
In the next year, marketing activities that survived the cull this year will see greater adoption across businesses - most importantly, it’s because these activities match where consumers have gone towards - online. New pandemic-induced habits and behaviour will remain sticky, and the early emerging winners are the mediums that consumers have flocked towards including news sites and forums, OTT platforms, mobile gaming, social mediums and e-commerce portals.
As a result, 2021 will see a closer convergence and increased value between strategy, data, creative and technology, as these become even more important for brands that want to stand out in the short and long term.
The sweet spot between strategy, data, creative and technology is so important for future growth that I would advise marketers to build an internal team culture around this. One example would be in influencer marketing, where there needs to be a clear long-term strategy (rather than just planning one-shot campaigns) with a clear long-term creative direction. This can be enhanced by using fragmented data across various platforms, including influencer and historical campaign data, along with insights from social media, online media and e-commerce platforms.
With consumers moving online, it has become a necessity for brands to start building a long-term brand strategy that drives immediate gains by fusing together data, creative and technology with marketing strategy.
Harmony between product and expertise In relation, talent will become even more important in 2021. Marketers today need to be always learning, always growing and always adding skill sets. The forced strategy pivots during the pandemic highlighted this need, with budget and resource cuts across the industry escalating the need for quality talent and expertise.
It’s not a simple process for a marketer to adopt a new marketing platform and immediately gain full value for it without any support from the vendor. With over 8,000 (and growing) marketing tech vendors to choose from, an essential skill for marketers, moving forward, will be in choosing the right platform.
At the same time, expertise from vendors and agencies will become even more important in the year ahead. From general education about new technology, personalised training sessions and product support, marketers need to increasingly call on their partners for greater support. However, this only solves part of the issue.
There’s also the part about strategy. Marketing, especially in Asia, should not take a one-size-fits-all approach. From platforms used to customer behaviour, user propensity and cultural nuances, there are many factors to consider before a marketer can go-to-market with their campaign concept. It’s important for marketers to combine marketing product expertise and marketing skillsets, ultimately being able to deliver on the synergy between strategy, data, creative and technology to stand out and be successful.
Data-in-hand equals to power This is a big one, especially with cookies becoming increasingly rare. Marketers will need to start building up their first-party data today, or risk being left stranded once cookies are wiped out. On this same topic, there are two things that will happen in 2021.
Customer data platforms (CDP) will rapidly increase in adoption, enabling marketers to build key, opt-in, first-party data repositories of their customers across the organisation that can be used for advertising and other marketing activities. This will become the new fuel for advertising in the future. Leveraging on the many qualitative and quantitative data points available to businesses today, it is possible for marketers to create smarter and more effective marketing. For example, a business can tap on a CDP to unify online and offline transactional data, customer demographics, preferences and interests (through membership programmes, site data, e-commerce data), along with logistics and fulfilment data, to create stronger customer profiling and segments, and leveraging this to identify areas and products to focus on and create more accurate and effective marketing.
The importance of first-party data will also give rise to more private marketplace (PMP) deals in the coming year. With access to a publisher’s first-party data, marketers can then match audience segments for more accurate targeting, or provide contextually-relevant ads to users. Getting started early, understanding the strengths, weaknesses and thresholds of private marketplaces, and ultimately planning and executing on unique delivery strategies across PMPs at scale, will become essential for marketers in the near future.
The arduous road ahead Make no mistake, 2021 is not going to be easy for marketers. Instead, it will be a year of reemergence, rediscovery, realignment and reinvention. The world is becoming even more borderless with the help of technology, and I believe that highly effective and engaging marketing can help the world recover from 2020, bridging the border between a brand or business and its customers.
The participation, support and cohesiveness of the whole industry: tech vendors, agencies, brands and industry bodies, will need to come together to create an environment where great marketing thrives, ultimately benefiting and growing the ecosystem and of course, the very internet users who may turn into customers.
Let’s look forward to 2021, I know I am.