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2021 Digital marketing predictions for small businesses



30-second summary:

  • Through all of the turmoil, key marketing trends emerged that will impact the way small businesses operate in 2021.
  • From catalyzed digital transformation and conversational marketing to AI’s application and data privacy emphasis, these are some themes that will serve as pillars for marketing success.
  • Five predictions for how these trends will play out this year.

In 2020, small businesses were forced to be nimble to grow and survive. As a result, more small businesses accelerated their digital transformation efforts to quickly and effectively reach customers online.

Through all of the turmoil, key marketing trends emerged that will impact the way small businesses operate in 2021. Here are my predictions for how these trends will play out this year:

1. Small businesses put their foot on the gas to digitally transform

According to the Small and Medium Business Trend Report from Salesforce Research, one in three small business leaders said that the pandemic has accelerated their digitization initiatives, and more than half of growing small businesses said technology drives their customer interactions. Brick and mortar small businesses that once depended on a physical presence adapted to the times and pivoted to ecommerce. Even farming businesses that never established an online presence set up integrated payment systems and chat services to better serve customers.

This year, small businesses will continue their path to digitalization and invest in building and maintaining an online presence. There will be a greater emphasis on tracking the entire customer lifecycle journey online and using data to inform decision making. This will open up more opportunities for small businesses to compete with larger businesses that operate in the same markets.

2. Conversational marketing takes center stage

During the pandemic, internet traffic has skyrocketed and more consumers are engaging in conversations with brands online. While this presents an opportunity for marketers, it also has created a unique challenge. Now, more than ever before, marketers are experimenting with conversational marketing to deliver personalized experiences and collect rich customer insights. With the release of cross-app communication features from Facebook earlier this year, it is becoming even easier for brands to reach customers where they spend most of their time.

In 2021, small businesses and successful brands will invest in conversational marketing to build brand loyalty and boost sales. Personalization will become key and brands that don’t offer customized communications for customers will fall short. As marketers and small businesses invest in conversational marketing, the adoption of instant chat and messenger services as communication channels will increase.

3. Machine learning and AI becomes practical for small businesses 

In the past, artificial intelligence and machine learning have been viewed as valuable technologies, yet only recently have AI and ML-driven campaigns become mainstream practical tools. Marketing automation is now smart enough to adjust messaging based on intent signals, but it relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning to make this happen.

This year, artificial intelligence and machine learning will become more useful for small businesses, allowing them to quickly and effectively target and communicate with desired audiences online. Advances in AI-based chatbot services will take place and consumers will be able to engage in a rich two-way conversation, which will provide rich data and valuable insights for small businesses in 2021.

4. Data privacy pressures intensify – Small businesses should prepare

As big tech continues to draw more government scrutiny around how user data is pulled and managed, the demand for privacy protection and transparency from consumers continues to heighten. According to RSA, nearly half of Americans have had their personal information compromised by a data breach within the past year and according to a study by Cisco, 84% of consumers want more control over how their personal information is managed.

Digital marketing is no exception to this and as small businesses continue to fully digitize, they will be faced with the same level of scrutiny on how they manage consumer data. While sourcing data is an essential component of successful marketing, in 2021, small businesses will need to invest in implementing data privacy compliant processes and communicating those transparently to customers.  This becomes an even greater challenge as these small companies fight to survive in the current economy.

5. The market demand increases for all-in-one digital marketing platforms

The demand for all-in-one digital marketing platforms has increased significantly within the past year as more small businesses are engaging with their customers online to drive sales. This has led to widespread innovation across multiple industries including food and beverage, fitness, farming, retail, and more. Larger companies are also turning to these platforms to efficiently manage all of their marketing needs in one place.

As the demand for these platforms continues, more businesses that offer complementary solutions will become partners with companies that offer these solutions to address the market demand. Integrations for payment, sales, helpdesk, and contact management services will become even more powerful and easy to use. Other integrations will also be established to help small businesses streamline their digital marketing operations. As more businesses invest in providing helpful solutions for these platforms, a thriving ecosystem will be established where the services offered for small businesses continue to increase in value.

Looking ahead

To succeed in 2021, it will be vital for small businesses to focus on creating seamless customer experiences online. The small businesses that excel in this area and harness the power of creativity will become stronger than ever before.

Steffen Schebesta is CEO at Sendinblue.



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