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2021 to Bring New Opportunities and New Challenges to Marketers

Plan for 2021: Survive

After the profound disruption of pandemic year 2020, I’ve been looking for hope in nearly anyplace I can find it. Part of my journey has included thinking about the significance of the number “21,” our new year. And, a significant number it is.

In 17 countries, 21 is the legal drinking age. It’s the legal voting age in nine countries and the earliest age at which Americans can buy handguns or gamble in casinos. Psychics believe 21 represents selflessness. And, for any New Yorkers reading this, 21 is the famous restaurant featuring 33 metal lawn statues perched on the front railings that closed after 90 years just last December and until just a couple of years ago, still required gentlemen to wear ties to dinner. Finally, it’s a pretty fun card game.

As we enter 2021, I’ve been thinking about macroeconomic trends and what they will mean for the marketing industry. Here’s what I came up with along with a probability percentage reflecting my confidence in the prediction. A gold star to anyone who comes to me in January 2022 and says, “Johnson, you were way off!”

A mixed economic recovery means a mixed recovery for marketers. 

Companies in most industries should be continuously refining their messaging as the “new normal” for their market emerges. They should be constantly adjusting their mix of tactics to evaluate the best mediums to communicate key messages — keeping in mind that reliable mediums pre-pandemic, may not be reliable mediums now. Confidence level: 90%.

Large tech companies will not face repercussions.

It’s unlikely that large tech companies will face repercussions for their real or perceived excesses regarding the handling of sensitive issues, such as former President Trump’s Twitter feed or the use of Facebook by right wing groups as a planning and communications tool. Marketers will be able to execute their campaigns without significant changes to terms or regulations. Confidence level: 80%.  

Data privacy restrictions will increase and marketers will need to adapt. 

While the feds have made some attempts to regulate consumers’ private information, these attempts have been feeble at best — how many spam emails and text messages do you get every day? Additional states will adopt some form of consumer privacy protection, similar to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the newer California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) scheduled to go into effect in 2023. States are filling the void left by the feds. Marketers will need to understand their rights and obligations in each state where they do business that has a privacy law — a potentially crippling challenge. There will be a period of adjustment and when hiring marketing agencies, clients should ask a lot of questions regarding the agencies’ knowledge of these regulations. Confidence level: 60%. 

Client budgets in many industries will go up, but the activity mix will change.

Spending in large industries, such as hospitality and airlines, will go up, potentially dramatically, to regain customers lost during the pandemic and a “customer grab” will take place to attract customers that favored rivals before COVID. However, more sophisticated direct marketing will take budget from more traditional activities such as media relations to capture consumer interest. Confidence level: 55%.

Consumer confidence will remain a roller coaster.

Initial success with vaccine distribution and an increasing number of states reopening, some recklessly, will initially boost consumer confidence beaten down by a year of bad news. But this confidence is tenuous. A dip in the stock market, surges in states that open too much too soon or a mishandling of vaccine distribution has the potential to shake that confidence.  Marketers need to create plans that address a positive economic outlook now with the potential for a slide later in the year. Confidence level: 50%.

2020 tested the ability of marketers to rapidly adjust to unforeseen circumstances and guide clients through the year to achieve the revenue and market share goals they could, or at worst, minimize losses. While the challenges of 2021 are somewhat more manageable and predictable, marketers will still need to rapidly change strategy as conditions change.

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