At the beginning of each year (or end of, if I’m organised) I like to try and put some thoughts down on what the year ahead might hold. I think I’ve put off writing this as knowing what the next week is going to look like has seemed tough at times, yet alone the next 12 months. The truth is that it’s pretty tough right now - lockdowns, home schooling, recession, politics…
...but we have good reason to be positive. Vaccinations are rapidly increasing and many businesses are weathering the storm well second time around and some have done very well in the last 12 months!
Ultimately, the priority this year is to remain safe, try to keep positive and look after ourselves, both physically and mentally. Take some time out if you can to do something you love. If you're a parent dealing with the additional pressure of home schooling, focus on your children's wellbeing as well as your own.
If you are in a couple, or living by yourself, then there are different challenges. The lack of contact with your friends and family is so difficult. Whether you're juggling work and home school, furloughed or not, worried about your job or just feeling it’s all too much, remember, whatever the situation, no one has it easy and we are in this together.
And we have to keep on keeping on. And if we’re doing that, then what could the digital, tech and marketing world look like this year?
Here are some thoughts that hopefully help guide your own ideas for the year ahead and into 2022.
Let’s try and start on a positive one shall we?
At some point this year, we will start to get back to some sort of normal. When that might happen is anyone’s guess and will be dictated largely by the rate we vaccinate in the UK.
You may have seen the vaccine calculator already but very basically, there is a LARGE difference to the population depending on if we hit 1 million or 2 million vaccinations per week.
- At 1 million per week, we’ll see a large amount of people still not ‘safe’ to return to high risk jobs, travel overseas easily or many other things until the autumn.
- At 2 million, then that changes to seeing most of us being ‘safe’ before the summer.
- Our current run rate in late January is thankfully over 3 million, although talk of vaccine deliveries may see that slow.
Whatever rate we hit is going have a massive impact on a huge variety of industries, particularly travel and tourism who desperately need to see visitors back and spending. We all really hope that vaccinations rollout at a good pace and we start to feel safer, have less restrictions in place and get out and about again.
What might happen when we get back to normal though? Will we go back to the way we were before, after what will be at least a year of lockdown on and off?
I can remember my commute into the office in the late summer of 2020 feeling very different to a year previous. The time ‘wasted’ driving, cost of petrol, cost to the environment and other things all went through my head en route to the office. And I know it wasn’t just me.
Our team has said quite clearly that they won’t be going back to the old nine to five, five days a week. Having spoken to many other agencies and companies, we won’t be the only ones.
But it won’t just be office working where we see permanent changes. I’m expecting overseas travel to change, both in business and personally, for quite some time and whilst there is a large swathe of people wanting to get back on the beach (rightly so!), there will be a lot of people who don’t want to, or can’t, fly to places that are still deemed less safe.
But it’s not only travel. It’ll be general day to day that I expect to change. Going to the shops may never be as busy as it was, either for food or general shopping. The high street has been on the back foot this last ten years and will need something hugely different to pull us away from the online shopping behaviours that have been built up.
It’s hard to see ‘normal’ life returning for most of us until the summer and even then it won’t be the same as before. Home working, online shopping and a slower way of life seem set for the rest of the decade. This opens a lot of opportunities for businesses who can tap into these changes to the way we live. How can you benefit?
Trust & media
Well, what to say?! Not looking great is it folks. It’s hard to properly gauge this one as everyone will have a different view on what is ‘trustworthy’ and what’s not and who’s right and who’s wrong. This isn’t a new thing. Pre-internet we’ve always had media in one form or another and even in the hay day of newspapers, there was always a huge inherent bias depending on the paper you read. Media bias has always been with us and we must remember that.
But if you look at surveys and research then we don’t seem to be heading in the right direction. The always interesting Edelman Trust Barometer has just been published for 2021 and shows drops in trust across all media touch points.
This isn’t particularly new news as the stats have been trending down for years, but the drop this time is fairly large at over 10%.
Obviously one study, a world view does not make. However, in the absence of any proper social interaction this year (i.e. time in the pub to chat about this sort of thing) I have to agree with the data & general theme. It does feel like we’re at a low point.
Do we have reason to believe that 2021 is going to be better? I regretfully can’t see any reason to believe that’s the case; although not having Trump is a nice start!!
We started the year with every platform ever created, even the less family friendly ones (although, ironically, that was also fake news) banning him for his ‘unfriendly tone’.
However, the fact is this is WAY too little, WAY TOO LATE. It was ok for Twitter, Facebook and many others to profit from his noise when he had power, but now he’s gone, they’re shutting the door after the door has long since bolted.
Can we really trust news and social platforms to behave in a correct way to filter out fake news, untruths and nonsense?
Not while there is a lot of money to be made.
But there is a bigger question in there. Should we ever completely trust them? Free speech is one of the biggest rights any human can possibly have. We need to allow anyone to say what they want. The challenge though is to trace the obvious rubbish, baiting, troll farms and other activity which is there to cause conflict and spread harm. It’s a hell of a challenge but one that every platform and outlet has to work harder at.
The way to drive this change is for everyone to take their own stand and stop using whatever it is they don’t like. ‘Social media breaks’ seem to be on the increase and I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve said that they’re planning on paying for news this year (including me) to get better and more reliable news, although the trend isn’t going upwards. Once again I’ll probably be in the minority...
Expect trust in media levels to remain as low as they are now in 2021/2022 and the way we consume media remains the same as well. My guess is that change is still a long way off.
Big tech & social media
I’ve already touched on the perils of social media and the efforts the big platforms are making to effectively whitewash themselves in light of recent events.
For a long time I’ve been saying that we need to make better individual changes with the the technology we use in order to get a better ecosystem to operate.
- Google isn’t your friend, it’s your enemy.
- Amazon and Apple are the biggest companies in the world and pay no tax.
- Facebook helped to cause terrorism in Washington recently (and that’s the tip of the iceberg), makes $35+ dollars a year from your time using the platform and even colluded with Google to fix ad prices!
- And bonus - they all buy companies to squash competition and keep their own world power in order! Yay!
Part of me is in some sort of awe for the scale and power that these companies have achieved in almost the amount of time I’ve been working at Adido. But a bigger part of me is disgusted and appalled at the way these companies behave and are still seen as great ‘brands’.
I’ve been hoping that this view of the world would change but haven’t really seen much of it in the last few years. Whilst we’re seeing signs of ‘shop local’ becoming more of a thing during the pandemic, and programs being created to expose some of the bad things happening online, the counter is a big TV campaign featuring many famous celebs asking for and pushing for more Google reviews. More data for them, more ads for them, less opportunity for others.
What does the year ahead hold for FAAMG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google) and other ‘big tech’ companies?
With the pandemic increasing it’s grip across the globe, forcing more people indoors more often and online more, it’s almost impossible that these companies won’t benefit from the current world state, perhaps even more than last year.
As ‘the big dawg’ Scott Galloway has said several times in the last year, ‘if you had to design a company for the pandemic, it’d be Amazon. Online retail, server hosting, infrastructure and logistics, home entertainment… they have it all covered’. All of the other companies on our list have all seen incredible gains in the last year.
Image source: Vox.com
The issue for the coming years for them is fighting off regulation as they start to get too big even for the capitalist world we live in. The rumours and calls for break ups have been around for a few years now but at the end of 2020 we saw the first shards of light on the issue with the US government announcing the aptly named ‘Break Up Big Tech act 2020’ which aims to do exactly what it says on the tin.
Whilst the initial reaction from many was ‘about time!’, the longer thoughts seem to be that making this happen will take many years, if it happens at all.
My favourite contrarian, Bob Hoffman, said it in the way only he could
“I predict that in 2021 something will be done. And, as usual, it will be a total mess.”
The most likely outcome, as again discussed by Scott Galloway (and I agree) is that several of these companies will probably be ahead of this and break themselves up. They can do it on their own terms, most likely to their advantage, whilst giving governments some good PR that they’ve "done something." The likelihood seems to be that Amazon Web Services (AWS) will be the first - perhaps going on to be the biggest company in the world at some point in the coming years.
AWS is the profit powerhouse that has fuelled almost every other part of Amazon's growth in the last decade and could easily stand on it’s own two feet.
As an interesting aside, I recently found out that Amazon created AWS as they had spare server capacity for 46+ weeks per year due to the seasonality of the general Amazon needs, and seems to be a happy side effect of running an ambitious online store - not bad eh?
One of FAAGM will say they will spin out one of their businesses into a separate entity and mark it as some sort of ‘reaction to user demand’. But other than that, expect lots of noise around things regulation on both company structure and content on their platforms, with possibly the EU handing out a few fines. And a very small % of users will leave to go to other services but won’t make any notice on the bottom line.
Marketing budgets & strategy
It’s widely said in the business world, that when times are tough, marketing is one of the first things to be cut. And perhaps one of my biggest regrets of 2020 was doing exactly that. Dropping our marketing efforts in response to the pandemic and not bringing them back soon enough. Whilst we’ve talked about the value of maintaining marketing during recessionary times here on our blog, we’ve also fallen foul of this, despite knowing that if you invest in leaner times, you will usually see a bigger payback in the long run. At least we’ll be ready next time eh?
But we weren’t the only ones. Speaking to a lot of my contacts in 2020, a lot of marketing people were put on furlough and in some cases still are, or lost colleagues. Marketing teams are quite often smaller than they were in 2019/2020 and budgets have also been cut accordingly.
Picture credit: @blairenns
So what now? If you’re in a marketing role and thinking ‘how do I hit my targets when people aren’t buying and I have less resource?!’ then you’re not alone. Thousands of people are in the same position as you.
Where possible, we advise to keep doing the things that were working in 2019 and 2020. Despite the world retreating to their semi-permanent desks in their front rooms, bedrooms or wherever else ‘work’ now is, user behaviour seems to have changed very little. You’d have thought that if voice was going to take off any year then it would’ve been 2020 but I’ve not read much that shows users have started speaking to their phones instead of touching them. Are we retreating into our VR headsets for a break? Nope.
So, despite our workplaces and weekend routines changing semi permanently, the channels we use to work & play haven’t. Facebook is still there to fill those micro seconds when walking down the stairs, Instagram is there to show off the (whatever is left of) glamorous parts of our life and Twitter to vent about queues, bad customer service and politicians.
In search, despite smaller search engines like Duck Duck Go reaching 100m searches a day this week, they are still 56x smaller than Google. Everyone still searches on Google, mostly uses their email service and probably uses their phones. They are embedded in our lives and aren’t going anywhere.
I did a talk at the end of last year and was asked how a company could advertise online without using these companies. The short answer was, you can’t. Tiktok and Snapchat offer *some* advertising alternatives but only if you’re targeting a young audience.
I think the key thing that marketers need to do this year is get smarter. Smarter with data. Smarter with analysis. Smarter at creative. When times are tougher and tighter than ever, the small differences will help keep things going in the right direction.
It’s VERY easy to sit here and say those things need to happen, but how to go about it?
If budgets really are tight then perhaps the best thing is to attend some online training videos or attend some online courses such as those on Udemy.com, 42 Courses or other places. If budget allows, then increasingly we’re finding that clients come to us to help them set the digital strategy for the year or carry out audits that help them uncover the things that they don’t know so that they can then go and implement them themselves. It’s not ideal but when resources are thin, needs must.
For those who still use agencies or spend in any volume on (digital) marketing, then ROI will come under more scrutiny. Marketing is always seen as a cost so that spend has to work as hard as possible and efficiency is still the name of the game (even though we know that can’t last forever from our own experiences). If budget allows, tools like Ruler Analytics, Hubspot and others can help gather more data about the user journey across multiple touch points to get a better understanding of what channels are helping to convert versus those that generate a lot of traffic but offer little value.
The winners in this game are the names we’ve been talking about for decades and again won’t change. Google still offers the best route to try and capture immediate demand, while Facebook, LinkedIn and others offer routes into the audiences you want. Very few marketers have the time, patience or skills to really invest long term in the way that say local content marketing stalwart Mark Masters has. It’s all about the results this year and so strategically, most of the budget will be placed on that channel without much care of thought for a few years time.
Most marketing teams will be working with small resources in manpower and budgets than before with ROI coming even more under the microscope. With more competition online in search and social media, expect costs to increase and that mix is going to make things even tougher. Wins can be had by trying to sell more to existing customers, getting smarter with data and being more agile with any plans made.
From a marketing perspective, I see very little change this year. Whilst I’m sure that ecommerce will be bigger than last year and that when we see lockdowns start to phase out, things won’t go back to the way they were before, but the game and the players will be the same.
Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram… they are the platforms we’ll all keep using and spending on to reach our audiences. Whilst there might be some noise and potentially some small changes around what they can do and how they are regulated, probably very little will change.
If we know that, then what to do? As mentioned above, getting better at tracking and data to find wins and cut losses will be more important than ever. We know from speaking to dozens of businesses a year that few really have their data sorted or are able to use it effectively to make better decisions. Testing, checking and improving the tracking on your website can give big benefits to help save money and grow in the right areas.
More than any of that, keep yourself healthy and happy as much as you possibly can and we hope to see you all in the real world again later in the year.
Header image credit: Angela Vincent, That's the Way To Do It event