It’s that time of the year when we take a peak at the year ahead and of course reflect on the year that it was.

In short, 2020 was a turbulent year especially for brands. For the first time, most brands had to throw away their fiscal brand plans. Sombre content from brands flooded our timelines, telling us that we are in this together and we shall overcome! Visuals of empty roads accompanied by piano music were the order of the day. It was sad to watch.  

On the other hand, phrases like “the new normal” and “unprecedented times” became part of our everyday vocabulary. For brands to survive, they were told that they need to pivot. Whilst brands were busy pivoting, the Black Lives Matter movement came to the fore after the gruesome death of George Floyd, who the whole world saw taking his last breath whilst a police officer knelt on his neck. Again, brands had to say something. The silence of #blackouttuesday was loud, with the once was colourful App tainted by a stream of black squares as you scrolled through the timeline. Although 2020 was a different year, we saw lots of sameness.  

Will 2021 be any different?

If brands take into account the lessons from 2020, the answer is an absolute yes. Before we get into the 2021 marketing trends let’s recap the 2020 marketing trends that we published late last year

1. Purpose-driven work

 2020 showed us that brands need to do more than chasing the bottom line. When Covid-19 hit, Brand Purpose became a hot topic. Brands needed to live their purpose.  

2. Who influences who?

Influencer marketing will continue to be at the centre of digital marketing however, marketers need to answer the question – Who influences who? Careful considerations needs to be take into account in terms of the type of influencer to use.  

3. Marketers need to be more entrepreneurial

– Marketers need to use the resources they have at their disposal optimally to ensure a high ROI. A small budget should never be a constraint to producing great work. 

Now let’s look at the marketing trends for 2021. In my view, these are the marketing trends:  

1. Influencers to go Mainstream

 Marketers will take influence marketing more seriously. They will become more intentional and less frivolous in their approach. Globally, influencer marketing spend is set to grow by 15%. Business Insider estimates that brands will spend $15 billion by 2022 . In terms of the social platforms, TikTok will be the platform that more brands will be investing on for influencer marketing. Short form videos are going to replace long form videos that can strain budgets. Influencers/Content Creators are also going to feature more on mainstream media as we’ve seen with Brutal Fruit’s new Spritzer TVC that starred Siyanda “SiyaBunny” Dzenga or Shield that starred Yolenda “Yolz Channel” Jawe.     

2. Smaller Marketing Budgets

Because of the lockdown as a result to the Covid-19 pandemic, many brands did not operate at optimal levels therefore they may record lower revenues resulting to lesser marketing budgets. Marketers will have fewer resources to play with as a result they are going to look for leaner and more agile agencies. 

3. More Collaborations

 As the African proverb goes “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together. Collaborations and partnerships are going to be extremely important. This phenomenon will be fuelled by the shrinking marketing budgets. Brands will partner to leverage each others resources for maximum impact.  

4. Digital transformation

 For the longest time digital transformation has been a trend, however, in 2021 we are going to experience an accelerated transformation. 2020 showed us that if brands don’t digitise they will die. We saw brands that we wouldn’t have ordinarily embraced digital platforms, engaging on various digital platforms. This will continue to grow.    

5. Diversity and inclusion

This is an important one, brands that are not perceived to be diverse and inclusive will not win the favour of consumers. We all saw what happened to Clicks this year. Consumers will have less tolerance for “mistakes” that stereotype certain sexual orientations and racial groups. This also calls for marketing teams themselves to be more diverse and inclusive. Again, we saw brands being called out during the peak of Black Lives Matter movement. Consumers don’t want to hear what your stance is against racism or any form of prejudice, rather they want to see what brands are doing! The days of talking are over. 

6. Local is Lekker and African-owned is better  

The lockdown has made many nations realise that they need to be self-sufficient and reduce their reliance on imports from China. For example, Australia relied heavily on China for toilet paper hence there was a toilet paper frenzy. In South Africa, we have an unemployment crisis and one of the ways to curb that is if we produce more and that consumers buy more local products. We have seen campaigns by Proudly SA urging South Africans to buy local. On the one hand, the African consumer is becoming more and more conscious of who they buy from. Brands such as Bathu, Tshepo and Maxhosa will continue to thrive in 2021. 

In conclusion, for brands to continue to grow they need to factor in the aforementioned trends to be able to survive and thrive. If anything, 2020 taught us that we can’t afford to be rigid in our plans. Agility is going to be a basic requirement for brands to remain relevant.  

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Pat Mahlangu

Thokozani Pat Mahlangu is the editor of Pat on Brands and the founder and CEO of Lerato Agency. He is internationally certified digital marketing professional and an Mcom Business Management graduate from the University of Johannesburg.

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