10 Brand Marketing Predictions for 2021

Phil Nottingham


You might recall that last year I released a list of my top brand marketing predictions for 2020. And, while I wasn’t quite savvy enough to foresee a global pandemic, some of the trends I predicted did, in fact, come to fruition — helped, no doubt, by the acceleration of digital adoption we’ve seen this year.

In this post, we’ll take a quick trip down memory lane to see where my predictions from last year landed. Then, I’ll share my top brand marketing predictions for 2021. Let’s dive in!

2020 predictions - One year later

1. Podcasts will become the new blogs

This prediction was right on target — undoubtedly supported further by research we did earlier this year with Qualtrics. Our State of SMB Marketing & Content Report revealed that 87% of respondents said they are considering launching a new podcast in the next 12 months. I think it’s pretty safe to say podcasts have become the new core content marketing investment.

2. A couple of big brands will completely cut their brand advertising spend

Prediction number two was that a number of brands would completely cut their advertising spend. This turned out to be incorrect — the opposite has happened. Even though marketing budgets as a whole have been reduced as a consequence of the pandemic, brands have doubled down and put more money into advertising because other channels have become less available (i.e., in-store, events, etc.).

3. The costs of direct-response advertising will go up

Now, it’s hard to say whether or not this will actually end up being true or not.

As a consequence of the pandemic, when things really started to go downhill economically in March and April, there was a huge drop in the average cost per conversion in direct-response because brands cut their spend and the competition was reduced. But, what we’re seeing now is the overall spend is rising again, and as a consequence, the cost per click is also trending upward.

So, we may end the year with the overall cost of direct-response advertising and conversion being up.

Check out this WordStream report that digs more into how the pandemic has impacted the cost of running Google Ads.

4. We’ll see a rise of the digitally native CMO

I predicted the rise of the digitally native CMO over those who specialize in traditional brand building and marketing channels. Not many people have talked about this, and I’m not sure the shift has happened. I still think the traditional CMO’s services might be threatened by those who understand digital channels a bit more, but I don’t believe that we’ve seen the trend exacerbate this year.

5. Marketers will actively seek out new acquisition channels

I think this has been proven to be true, although not for the reasons I initially thought.

Due to the pandemic, a lot of traditional marketing channels have been closed off. With fewer people traveling, there is less outdoor media. With no conferences or events, there is less in-person interaction. In-person experiences have been harder to create. So, marketers have sought out new acquisition channels like TikTok and trying to make virtual events work.

6. The influencer marketing bubble is going to burst

I confidently announced that the influencer marketing model was going to burst. I don’t think this came true, unfortunately. In fact, it’s probably grown even more, and we’ve seen money go into other channels with influencers such as TikTok. There’s been a huge increase in spend on influencer marketing on Instagram and Twitter as well, so the bubble has not quite burst, but I think it will eventually.

7. IGTV will receive early retirement

I predicted Instagram TV was going to be given early retirement. I still think it should be given early retirement because, in my opinion, it’s not particularly interesting or useful. But no, Instagram and Facebook have continued to push this one, and it continues to receive effort and investment.

8. Facebook Messenger will grow as an advertising platform

This hasn’t taken off yet. There’s been far more interest in Instagram, the options for Instagram advertising, and all the possibilities there. On the other hand, Facebook really hasn’t doubled down on Messenger as an ad platform.

9. A rise in the number of niche subscription media products

Thankfully, number nine was one that I definitely did get right, and that was predicting a rise in the number of niche subscription media products. Think about Patreon and how that’s grown for all sorts of use-cases — not just the most obvious. People are using all these different platforms and creating new types of paid media. Another example is how we are buying more niche subscriptions for platforms like Disney+. So, this has definitely happened, and I think it’s going to continue to happen in the months and years ahead.

Image courtesy of Polygon.

10. Email marketing will see a resurgence

My last prediction was that email marketing would receive a resurgence. Everyone focusing on CRM has seen this grow. With everything going online due to the pandemic, many businesses that usually rely on in-person and in-store sales have had to quickly build a CRM system and an online order facilitation system from scratch. As a result, a lot of businesses that weren’t doing email marketing are now having to heavily invest in email marketing, CRM lead nurturing, and e-commerce.

This hasn’t been talked about nearly enough, but getting someone’s email is the winning ticket — as long as you don’t spam them.

Brand marketing predictions for 2021

Alright, I’m 4/10 for 2020. Let’s take a look at my new predictions for the upcoming year and see if we can improve that score.

1. All businesses will have a D2C marketing function

My first prediction ties in nicely with my final prediction from last year. Businesses need to create that order facilitation functionality online, and they need to start thinking digitally first about their relationship with their customers.

No matter how big or small, every business is going to start to see the advantage of having D2C functionality. This could mean cutting margins from having to go through distributors and suppliers or just ensuring options are available if something happens in the future that could disrupt order fulfillment through the usual channels. It’s going to be an insurance policy for a lot of businesses and a means for cutting costs and increasing the profit margins as well.

2. B2B brand will differentiate brand marketing from performance marketing

We’ve been talking about brand marketing at Wistia for several years. Particularly, brand marketing for B2B companies, how that differs from B2C companies, and how that needs to differ from traditional methods of building brands. One of the most important aspects we’ve tried to drive home is that brand marketing needs to be measured very differently from performance marketing.

“One of the most important aspects we’ve tried to drive home is that brand marketing needs to be measured very differently from performance marketing.”

If you start to measure brand marketing by the number of conversions, you inherently begin to create content that isn’t very effective for brand marketing; it becomes more sales driven. If you start to measure all brand marketing through performance metrics, you typically don’t do good brand marketing. As a result, businesses need to think about measuring this differently in order to do the best possible work for your brand.

This division is going to manifest through a formal separation of these two marketing functions. Direct response advertising, performance marketing, lead nurturing, etc., will sit in its own chamber and work very effectively. Brand marketing will have a separate budget and separate KPIs to do different things — more creative marketing, launching new shows and podcasts, and long-form media. These activities aren’t necessarily about driving conversions but more focused on driving brand affinity and advocacy. But, these things need to be measured differently.

So, these two marketing teams will split out, and the two functions become different disciplines that B2B companies being to think about somewhat separately. However, both will operate towards the shared goal of building the brand, growing the customer base, building revenue, and creating profit.

3. The increase in video consumption we’ve seen through 2020 will hold

Increased video consumption due to the pandemic will hold. At Wistia, we saw a 120% increase in media consumption this year, which is massive. But this makes sense if you consider the changes in working behavior and the changes we’re all experiencing with creative media and with video in terms of our general working environment and day-to-day relationships.

We’re also seeing that people are consuming more content from businesses, and I think this will hold into 2021 — partially because of how the nature of work has changed and partially because it’s more acceptable to consume content at work.

4. A report will show no one watched YouTube Ads

There will be some research released that shows that no one actually watches or engages with YouTube ads. Most of us know from our daily experience that 99% of the time, we look for and click the “skip the ad” button as quickly as possible. But, we are still buying YouTube ads and investing in them as if other people don’t behave the same way. I think a new report will show this and show that most of the money we invest in YouTube advertising is redundant.

We found some of this at Wistia with The Drum report. Everyone is buying ads but won’t admit they don’t watch them themselves. The numbers that we get from Google and YouTube don’t tell the whole story.

“Most of us know from our daily experience that we click the ‘skip ad’ button as quickly as possible. But, we are still buying YouTube ads as if other people don’t behave the same way.”

5. More businesses that sell physical products will start also selling content

The line between content as marketing and content as a product is going to blur. A lot of businesses are already creating stuff that’s really high quality, and people are willing to pay for it. And if people are willing to pay for it, it provides a new revenue stream for businesses and a means for justifying further investment in content that also has great brand marketing value.

Small businesses that have really invested in content as their core marketing engine will also see the value in having a paid subscription model. We’re going to start to see companies selling access to their content in addition to selling physical and digital products.

6. A lot of money will be spent on content for TikTok

A lot of money is already being spent on TikTok. But, I think businesses are going to spend a lot more money creating content that they hope really resonates with the audiences on TikTok as a channel. The return on this type of investment is hard to track, and it’s hard for businesses to communicate well on TikTok. It’s challenging for businesses to develop a unique voice that really stands out from the crowd and simultaneously benefits the brand long-term.

I think some brands can make it work, and there will be outsized returns for the brands that can future it out. But, I think most of the money that goes here that will be wasted.

“I think some brands can make TikTok work, and there will be outsized returns for the brands that can future it out. But, I think most of the money that goes here that will be wasted.”

7. Virtual events will become an established new media format but won’t replace in-person conferences

We’ve seen a lot of companies invest in virtual events this year. These are typically either pre-recorded or live, and people watch together online with some form of live interaction and engagement. Several new products have popped up to cater to this market — and I think we will see the virtual event trend hold. More businesses are going to start to do virtual conferences, virtual launches, big content experiences that span over a few days as a form of brand marketing, or big product launches. This is going to be an exciting new media format that will develop and have lots of values and interesting opportunities.

However, I don’t think it’s going to replace the need for traditional conferences and in-person experiences that we are used to. The reason? Pretty simple. It’s the same reason that drinking at home isn’t the same as drinking at a pub with friends. All of us really benefit from human contact. In my view, when conferences come back (probably in the second half of 2021), they are going to be bigger and more important for businesses than ever.

8. Every blog post will have embedded audio

It’s a really great experience to go to a webpage and, instead of having to read through the whole thing, having the option to listen to it as well. I think a lot of businesses will recognize this, and it will be driven by the demand from consumers who want a different way to engage with content.

So, I think turning your blogs into a podcast will become something that businesses do naturally, and having the embedded audio sitting at the top of every blog post will become a best practice for anyone who is doing blogs.

9. YouTube will start showing ads on non-monetized embedded videos

YouTube has recently given themselves the right to show ads on all videos — whether or not the people that upload the video are part of the YouTube Partner program (where they could share in the ad revenue) or not. If your video is on YouTube, YouTube has the right to serve ads on it.

This update indicates that they will start showing ads on embedded videos because video hosting is expensive. If YouTube is giving it away for free, they will want people to do something that generates revenue for them in return, which means showing ads on video content.

So, if you have a YouTube video embedded on your website, my prediction is that YouTube will start serving ads on that content in the next year.

“YouTube has recently given themselves the right to show ads on all videos. My prediction is that YouTube will take this a step further and start serving ads on YouTube videos embedded in other places — like websites.”

10. The release of new consumer-facing distribution channels for video and audio

Finally, this year, I think we’ll see the release of several new consumer-facing audio and video distribution channels. One of the major challenges we have now with all these different platforms that serve video and audio content to consumers (think Amazon, Netflix, Disney+, etc.) is aggregation — and this also rings true for business content.

Podcasts, videos on your website, YouTube content, etc., are all kept on different platforms, and it’s really hard to keep tabs on all of this different content. I think there is an opportunity, and someone is will come in and figure out how to aggregate all of this content and put all of this together. Or, it might be platforms that have a more niche focus — like a consumer-facing Patreon app where you can collect content from different creators on the platform.

As consumers, we have all of this content we like to consume in different places, and we want it brought together to us in a meaningful way.

What do you think? Anything you disagree with? Any likely big shifts I’m missing? Let us know in the comments below.

Phil Nottingham


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