Digital Marketing
13 min

7 Trends to Watch in 2021, According to Digital Marketing Leaders

Elisha Hahm Senior Content Strategist

2020 was… a lot. Enough said.

But looking at the last year as an anomaly ignores the fact that many of the changes marketers were forced to make in 2020 have staying power.

That’s why we’ve gathered the wisdom of some of our favorite marketing leaders across a wide range of industries to help identify what every marketer needs to learn from 2020 as we go into a new year.

The art of the pivot: Agility in marketing is the key to prevailing in turbulent times

“NuFACE is pretty agile when it comes to spending and investing in new digital platforms, so we gave the freedom to our team (especially with Wpromote) to push for new initiatives to take advantage of the current situation. We saw exponential interest, growth, and revenue during COVID, so we’ve actually increased our budget, especially in the paid media arena for search, social, and affiliate marketing as well as new initiatives as they come. As long as we can show the return and put a good case for it, the team is more lenient on considering something new outside of our budget.”

KC Simmons | Ecommerce Marketing Manager for NuFACE

“In order to be agile, you have to be brave. The things that you respond to, you most often do not plan for. In sports, athletes see an opportunity to improvise and be agile, but they have to be somewhat brave to actually execute on it. Bravery has to be encoded in our DNA as brands—and internally. Remove the fear of failure, and applaud the bravery of reacting to stimuli in the right way. Having a firm foundation, and then having bravery as a part of your culture, are critical as it relates to agility.”

Julian Duncan | CMO and SVP of Social Responsibility & Impact for the Jacksonville Jaguars

“With Google Ads specifically, we’ve spent a lot of time investing in automation. This is both in adaptive creative as well as in bidding. We are seeing automation work very well where demand is in flux based on the industry. The other piece is option insights reporting: scoping the dynamic of what the competitive marketplace looks if you have a product or service that’s relevant right now because there are changes in how competitive a specific landscape could be.”

Albert Chen | Agency Lead for Google


Refocus brand values: Trust, safety, and inclusion will be at the heart of customer experience

“Focusing on why we excel at our core competency and why people can count on us as a provider is not only important all the time, but especially during our current conditions. People need to know that they can depend on us. So that’s our first and foremost priority—to not only our customers but also our prospects and employees. We want them to understand that we are here for them.”

Christina Bottis | Chief Marketing Officer for Coyote Logistics

“Elevating our customers and making sure that they’re okay right now is our key focus. Of course, everybody always wants to continue to build the brand, but taking care of our existing customers through message continuity and consistency, resetting customer expectations, understanding the reality of our environment—and being very transparent about it—is huge for us right now.”

Courtney Fadjo-Biro | Head of Growth Marketing for Zenni

“Your workforce represents your brand, and we have tens of thousands of employees with Frontier that represent our brand—and it’s a very diverse workplace. You have to be sensitive to not only what consumers think about you, but also what your employees think about who they’re working for and invested with. They are the face of your brand, so it’s really important that you’re standing up for the right things with the right tonality for all of those reasons—not just because it’s the right thing to post on social, but because it’s actually what your organization stands for; it’s a reflection of who you literally are.”

Tyri Squyres | VP of Marketing for Frontier Airlines


Elevate the human experience: Making authentic connections is key to achieving meaningful growth

“It’s been really interesting to see how brands are re-imagining their organic presence and creating an emotional connection with their consumers through Instagram and Facebook. People right now are craving that intimacy: in our previous world, they probably wouldn’t have responded to you via Facebook Messenger or over the phone, but now people will. We’re doing a lot of strategizing around how we can maximize those opportunities. Direct communication is one of the ways and establishing a meaningful, emotionally-driven relationship is another.”

Michelle McKelvey | Partners Manager for Facebook

“We’ve been able to really empathize with our customers in a different way. We’re not sitting in an office focusing on making clothing. We’re sitting at home, and we’re thinking more about how to connect with our customers. We’re focusing on revenue-driven metrics, but also on engagement-driven metrics to help us understand what our brand means to our customers: what they are responding to and what can we do better. I think it’s given us a lot more confidence and courage to make bolder statements about what we stand for, and have more fun with our brand voice and connecting with buyers.”

Renee Halvorsen | VP of Marketing & eCommerce for Marine Layer

“There is a transformation that has happened, and the future has arrived. It’s not just digital transformation; it’s now digital adaptation. For our customers, it’s about how we can be there to help them not just in the solutions we provide, but through the experience that we deliver those solutions. How can we help them adapt to this new digital world? At the end of the day, we’ll be doing a hell of a lot more scenario planning. I’m thinking about having an actual playbook to plan around what our customers are going through—putting them first and having processes in place to remain agile and efficient in times of rapid change.”

Eric Salas | Head of Marketing for Nitro


Unlock customer insights: A 360° view of your customer is essential during times of rapid change

“We have definitely layered on a lot more data than we had previously, particularly as we look at where our customers are flying and the frequency they’re flying. The market is moving on a daily basis, so we need a lot more visibility into what’s happening and who’s responding. There is no status quo. You’ve got to constantly second-guess everything, and work better with other parts of the company to understand what’s going on with the supply and demand that is happening—and how you can take advantage of that to be in the right place at the right time with the right message.”

Tyri Squyres | VP of Marketing for Frontier Airlines

“The only way we understand the meaning of data is to be close with the consumers and understand the context of what’s happened. There’s the great saying that marketers use data like a drunk uses a lamppost—for support, not for illumination. We use it to support our biases, or support what we already want to do, as opposed to illuminating opportunity, illuminating potential insights, illuminating reality that may be in our blind spots. To be customer-focused requires great intimacy. The data can’t be the buffer between the two. It’s to just provide more context around what we know from our proximity to them.”

Marcus Collins | Co-Director of the Yaffe Digital Media Initiative for the University of Michigan

“There’s something about an agile process that’s laser-focused on the consumer and where you can meet them that’s been energizing about this period professionally. What are they doing? What are the trends? What information is being sought after? We’re really trying to understand the majority of our first-party data in order to figure out how we can respond and have the appropriate products or messaging in place to realign our targeting. We’re leaning heavily on our own metrics to identify those trends.

Carol Wolowic | Media Strategy for Whirlpool


Brand vs. performance marketing: Demolish the divide and build your brand to perform across the funnel

“We approach upper-funnel content as a hybrid: we’re telling consumers about our brand and what we’re all about, while also providing some introductory content—whether it’s about our investing methodology and why it’s different, or just introductory things on the stock market. What we try to do is provide content in a way that’s A, snackable, and B, something the consumer can take in at their own pace. At every stage, we give customers opportunities to take action and engage.”

John Becker | CMO for Investor’s Business Daily

“An extraordinary amount of value is created by building a brand: by people going directly to your site, searching for your brand on Google, converting at a higher price, or driving a higher lifetime value. But the most important thing when you’re building a brand is understanding the value and really believing in it. Brand marketing is now becoming a lot more like performance marketing: you can now optimize in real-time and hold it accountable, but you need to give it time to work.”

Nicolas Darveau-Garneau | Chief Evangelist for Google

“The upper funnel is the context in which we talk about what we are all about as a company—what we are as a brand and how we see the world. You’ve never seen a Nike ad that talks about where they source their leather or the performance of the shocks of their sneakers. They talk about a point of view: that every human body is an athlete. They preach the gospel there. Then, once you’re in the store, you hear all about the value propositions. At top of the funnel, it should be about the conviction and the ideology of the brand. That content becomes demonstrative receipts of what the brand is all about.”

Marcus Collins | Co-Director of the Yaffe Digital Media Initiative for the University of Michigan


The cookie-less future: One last chance for marketers to embrace privacy, transparency, and first-party data

“Be prepared to make do with less data—not only with third-party data but also with first-party data. We’ve been so accustomed for years to suck in as much data as we possibly can, and a lot of that is unnecessary. It’s time to start thinking about minimal viable data. What is the data that really is informing your business? What are the signals that you use that amplify what’s working and help you make those decisions to optimize your campaigns? Think with a customer-centric, privacy-centric mindset and realize that a lot of this data is something you don’t actually need. We all have to be at this new mindset of leveraging minimal viable data and seeing what’s possible with less.”

Ginny Marvin | Editor-in-Chief for Search Engine Land

“When you position yourself as a brand, you need to have documentation of what exact information you’re using—so if a customer approaches you, you have a way to respond. It’s a very diligent process that requires a lot of people internally to understand where and how you’re interacting with customers. It’s also important to create transparency and open that conversation from all departments to the people who are directly engaging and talking to customers—the ones who recognize and understand the data that we’re pushing out to customers.”

Jamie Fontana | Director of Ecommerce for Vuori

“We’re constantly trying to band-aid the problem. As a result, we’ll just find a way to work around it. But this isn’t something we can just put a bandage on; this is an amputation. There’s a lot of complexity that’s going on with browser changes: Google’s privacy sandbox is the biggest thing on the horizon that we all need to be prepared for. There are also upcoming changes about private browsing and private click tracking on Safari—and a lot of data loss is going to happen. In order to be the most effective, we have to take a step back and ask, how effective am I currently with the data that I have access to? What would be impacted if I could only rely on first-party data? We need to be transparent, focus on consent, and then determine how we can effectively utilize data moving forward.”

Simon Poulton | VP of Digital Intelligence for Wpromote


The path to participation: Create dynamic two-way engagement across the customer journey

“We collect feedback from customers in lots of ways: surveys, through our customer success teams, and independent research—both qualitative and quantitative. Over the years, we’ve always tried to plow that information back into what we do to be in the customer’s shoes every step of the way, beginning at the top of the funnel. What are we messaging on social and banner ads, and is that enough to engage them to visit a landing page and learn more about the products? Once they’re on the landing page, we’ll cover features, benefits, and product performance, but we also want to tell them a little bit more about us and what we’re all about. The fact is that they’re not just buying a product, they’re joining a community. We have a whole support structure for them.”

John Becker | CMO for Investor’s Business Daily

“Covid has completely changed customer behavior, and there’s no turning back now. What we’ve seen is people really needing and wanting to connect with brands on a whole other level. There’s a desire for people to see us as brands that show up more authentically, more real, and not be so precious. They want us to open up and have that two-way dialogue with them and embody a co-creation mentality that marketers have to think about with their customers.”

Grace Kao | Head of Global Business Marketing for Instagram 

“Regardless of our role in a company, we’re truly all customer advocates, and that’s going to show up in everything that we do. Specifically for our brand, we’re doing a lot of listening to our customers and engaging with our customers through appropriate channels, from direct, one-on-one interaction through private messages to social community engagement. We also implement their feedback directly into what we’re doing for our products and our R&D. That ongoing customer engagement has been and really continues to be what drives our brand loyalty.”

Courtney Fadjo-Biro | Head of Growth Marketing for Zenni 

Hungry for more? Watch our entire Challenger Series on demand for more insights, tactics, and tips from the smartest marketing minds, and make 2021 your banner year for success.


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