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Predictions: 10 technology trends in marketing for 2021

While 2020 might have been the year of accelerated digital transformation, marketers will have a host of other technologies on their radar in 2021.

From artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT to mixed reality (MR) and robotic process automation, it’s clear marketing leaders will need to increasingly tap technology to make informed, responsive decisions with tightened budgets and changing consumer behaviour.  

“Consumers’ expectations have gone digital, and there’s no turning back. Businesses need to adopt digital solutions to keep customers satisfied and continue growing their businesses,” says CEO and co-founder of Moxtra plus former CEO, chairman and cofounder of WebEx, Subrah Iyar. “This implies shifting customer engagement experiences to a ‘Pull’ model from a ‘Push’ model – for doing business where customers are able to pull services on-demand than having businesses push their services onto a customer.”

Here, we pick 10 technologies that will provide both the driving force and toolkit for such engagement.

 1. AR, VR and XR

Once distinct, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the catch-all of extended reality (XR) will play a larger role in marketing in 2021 as mixed reality as brands look to move into new realms to connection with customers. 

IDTechEx predicted in its recent market research report that virtual reality technology will grow to US$8 billion by 2030, and be a key technology of the next decade, while the combined augmented and virtual reality market will grow to over $30bn in this time.

 “Being able to use a third dimension to engage your audience through showing how a product may look in their physical location, helping visualise complex data or getting them up close to a beloved character, will allow b

2. Artificial intelligence and machine learning

It’s not possible to talk about marketing in 2021 without discussing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which are opening up further possibilities for delivery and service. Many are in fact proclaiming 2021 will be the year of AI in marketing.

“Where humans once intervened in a process in order to complete it, AI and ML can be used to remove the human from the equation. That way, the human is free to work on more pressing, strategic objectives versus something a machine can do,” said Conexiom CEO, Ray Grady.

“Organisations need to focus exclusively on solutions that deliver touchless outcomes and those without human intervention. Because, if an AI/ML solution only delivers an improvement in a process or workflow instead of a touchless outcome, it’s the wrong solution for your business “.

AI and ML will also prove their worth in helping manage the data overload challenge a lot of marketers face. “The adoption of AI and machine learning in marketing will help narrow the scope of marketers’ data and help them focus on things that consumers are actually engaging with and are more likely to engage with in the future,” says Litmus CMO, Melissa Sargeant.  

usinesses to easily connect to their audiences in a whole new way,” Verizon Media head of strategic solutions – RYOT Studio, Julia Edwards, says. 

3. Martech consolidation

As marketing technology stacks mature, many are predicting 2021 will see further moves towards martech consolidation and optimisation.

“This year has stripped marketing budgets to the bone, and one of the tools bearing the brunt of this is martech,” says Silverbullet MD APAC, Tim Beard. “Organisations will need to consolidate and optimise use of their existing martech investment before thinking about the ‘next shiny thing’. In 2021, marketers will review existing blueprints or roadmaps, or develop them for the first time, to re-align with business objectives.” 

Several also see the days of off-the-shelf martech solutions being numbered, with a shift from one-size-fits-all to customised solutions. A necessary focus will be on finding functional integration of the various tools that will form a marketer’s everyday toolkit, Forbury marketing manager, Rebecca Emslie, says.

“Marketers will increasingly turn to custom software providers for tools which are specialised for a particular task or an individual business need,” she says. “Targeting will be taken to levels not seen before. We could consider this as an emergence of hyper-targeted marketing as segments are drilled down into at an even more granular level.”

Enabling this is more and more customer data being available. Emslie believes the ability is coming for even smaller businesses to utilise technology to identify, track and tailor messages for delivery to a smaller than before customer segment, even down to the level of specific individual. This can be yet another way to reach customers in a personal, genuine way, she said.

4. 5G

The advent of 5G technologies holds incredible economic potential for businesses and individuals as the next-generation networking infrastructure becomes mainstream.

“We have witnessed first-hand the impact of new technologies to make life easier and safer, but they often require tremendous data transfer speeds in order to deliver real-time results,” RMIT Online CEO, Helen Souness, says.  

GSMA has forecast 5G will inject $2.2 trillion into the global economy by 2034. “Privacy-enhancing computation has also been highlighted by Gartner as a leading tech trend for 2021, with 50 per cent of large organisations expected to implement this to ease the processing of data in untrusted environments,” Souness adds.

“In the future, after 5G is more readily available, it’ll change the way customers, businesses and even cities themselves communicate forever,” according to SlickText CEO, Matt Baglia. “Increased technology capabilities mean better, near-instant messages and more advanced communication channels powered by automation and AI.

5. Data tools

Data is another area ripe for further innovation. One prediction Sisense chief product and marketing officer, Ashley Kramer, is making for 2021 is dynamic data stories replacing static dashboards.

“The world is moving from the static, rigid experience to the data, insight and personalisation-driven assistant that knows how you want specific analytics to be served. To make that work, it will require embedded interfaces coming together with pretrained analytics services and training pipeline – the vehicle to facilitate the data model creation, and the right visualisation and narration to make the results digestible, trustable and learning,” Kramer says.

“Data storytelling forms a compelling narrative by putting data in context to show the challenges, insights and solutions of a specific business problem. It normally highlights a series of changes or trends over time through linked visualisations that combine to tell a story. Dashboards and visualisations are integral parts of data storytelling, but they’re not the end of the story. A story should include a solid narrative and a context to successfully create your story.”

The explosion of digital interactions will also see an increased reliance on data. While Covid lockdowns triggered more digital conversations between businesses and consumers that were extremely challenging for many businesses, it has accelerated the opportunity for businesses to understand customers better through the data they are now able to capture.  

 6. Collaboration, automation and workflow tech  

After the rapid adoption of remote work in 2020, 2021 will see this starting to mature and give rise to new workflow tools that are collaborative-first.

“While companies have been forced into a remote-first setup, we’re unlikely to be going back to a fully synchronous world anywhere. Instead, we’ll see more tools which make it easy to collaborate online, and asynchronously,” claims Segment chief product development officer, Tido Carriero.

“In addition, we’re going to see a lot more low-code tools for building various pipelines, getting insights and user productivity. They’ll be dev-flavoured in the sense that they can be customised, have plenty of keyboard shortcuts, and include integrations with other popular tools. Users will be able to customise and re-use them as a building block.” 

Collaboration will revolve around security, work from home and AI, according to TetraVX partner and director, James Caroll. Now that companies are relying on home networks for security, many confidential conversations are susceptible to interception. “Security must remain a focus point in the next year if businesses want to maintain their security while at home,” says Caroll.

“Video conferencing will continue to boom, but companies will require more functionality. Working from home has highlighted what works and what doesn’t in terms of remote working. Companies like Zoom found success in being a product-first organisation, but it also lacked proper file storage and collaboration which are very important components of a business operation,” he says.

There is going to be a massive shift to remote culture and management. “This will present huge challenges for communications, how people interact, how individuals are managed and how companies view and measure performance. The key will be replacing all the in-person communication that happens informally somehow and keeping people aligned and motivated,” says CloudCheckr CEO, Tim McKinnon.

7. FaaS and SaaS

Function-as-a-service, or headless commerce and server-less functions, are another technology category predicted to become more than just a trend in 2021. WhiteGREY national head of technology, Juan Garcia, said these technologies are not new concepts, nor are they the solutions to all problems. They’ve come a long way and are here to take over.

“The impact is now visible in how we design and develop applications and is extending to how we build our teams around these ‘new’ skills. The most exciting part is the opportunity for brand owners, CMOs, CTOs and CIOs to start having the right conversations to transform how to plan, budget and work with marketing technology,” Garcia says.

“Headless provides that common ground with the potential to enable marketers and developers to use their preferred platforms and tools, to transform external costs like licenses and hosting to new business capabilities and to close that dreadful gap between the martech stack potential and the actual utilisation.”

Complementary to this is the SaaS space. In 2021, several are predicting partnerships between SaaS companies are going to thrive and relationships will matter so much more.

“Increased shared marketplaces, such as Salesforce AppExchange, will benefit the tech industry as they allow for companies to co-sell and co-market together,” Sendoso CMO, Dan Frohnen, says.

We can expect to see expanding integrations and APIs being more interconnect and working together. This in turn, helps to streamline business operations and allows for ease of integration, automating tasks and improved services. “Having an API-driven strategy also creates more engaging experiences for customers and prospects while enabling the delivery of services such as personalisation and data collection,” notes Frohnen.

8. Robotic process automation

Engagement and relevance are two sticking points for marketing that the onward march of technology in 2021 will not only resolve, but surpass. This is thanks to AI as well as the growing use of robotic process automation (RPA).

“Using an AI capability to learn your customers’ habitual responses to the content a company is putting out will create a far more targeted approach to the individual and an increased level of personalisation, but driven through a holistic use of technology,” explains Nintex director, Chris Ellis.

“Train once, apply many times over. Coupled with the use of robotic process automation (RPA) technology to sweep up the mundane, repetitive, high-volume tasks, we’re freeing the marketing department up to be more customer and content focused, removing the monotony of dealing with multiple tasks across multiple systems, from a simple business card scan to a fully-tailored post-event outreach campaign and lead process.” 

2021 is therefore an exciting horizon for the space of hyper-automation and for those organisations on the journey.

“The return on investment is well beyond monetary with a reduction in risk, employee satisfaction and a more efficient customer experience adding to a long list of benefits,” adds Ellis.

9. Connected TV

Several industry pundits agree the global pandemic was very good for connected TV. And it’s a technology advancement expected to mature and grow in 2021.

As consumers were forced to stay home, the biggest screen in the house took on more significance. Lotame CEO, Andy Monfried, points to Nielsen stats showing Netflix accounted for 34 per cent of total streaming time in Q2 2020, outpacing Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube. Meanwhile Roku reported a 73 per cent YOY increase in revenue for Q3 2020.

“Where consumers go, advertisers follow. More budgets will be directed to CTV as the space matures but the same measurement and scale headaches are sure to follow,” he says.

And it’s again AI that will drive better converged TV-digital experiences. “The convergence of TV and digital is inevitable. It is happening whether brands and agencies are prepared for it or not,” Amobee director of solutions, Dillen Alahendra, says.

“Its arrival has led to new models and approaches, all with the intention of taking advantage of the strengths of each channel. Marketers spend a significant amount of time planning and allocating appropriately based on limited resources and data. AI provides an advantageous edge to marketers by making sense of patterns, data and algorithmic applications to drive more informed decision-making in a converging media world. 

“When brands and agencies can understand the performance of different channels in real time due to machine learning and regression modelling, they’ll have the ability to optimise in real time as well, and provide better experiences for consumers across all channels from TV, digital and social.”

10. Blockchain 

Our 10th and final technology prediction impacting marketing in 2021 is around blockchain. According to WePower CTO and co-founder, Kaspar Kaarlep, fulfilment of Blockchain’s potential in marketing and advertising is on the cards in the New Year.

“With the hype having subsided, blockchain has got into the raw functionality and is poised to deliver results where it matters in 2021,” Kaarlep argues.  

Blockchain’s ability to link power purchases at a granular level to a local project that is supplying jobs to people in the business’ local area is also a powerful emblem of community support – fuelling the buy-local sentiment of 2020, which is one of the few trends worth carrying with us into 2021,” he adds.

“Years on, the same issues of inefficiency, an opaque supply chain, and ad fraud continue to persist today. Despite the plethora of adtech and martech solutions, all we’ve truly gained is an oversaturated ecosystem of technologies, leaving brands burdened by choice, unable to strategically discern where their investments should truly go,” says Aqilliz chief strategy officer, Prateek Dayal. 

Dayal foresees greater openness among brands and marketers alike as they seek out innovative technologies that can better deliver on greater returns, be it in terms of cost, productivity, efficiency, or a smarter model of automaton. “It’s time that we go beyond existing legacy solutions, instead opting for a singular infrastructure that can offer solutions on a holistic level,” says Dayal.  

Blockchain has the potential to move beyond hype to a true value proposition: the ability to offer a single, reconciled source of truth that all participants can refer to. “Allowing for a transparent immutable ledger of transactions, blockchain can insert greater accountability across the campaign ecosystem while meeting compliance requirements due to its ability to provide data provenance. In addition, smart contracts offer a smarter, more automated approach to processes such as impression validation and payments reconciliation due to pre-encoded parameters that trigger a contract only when specific conditions are met,” says Dayal. 

“Technologies such as these are likely to rise in prominence as marketers continue to weigh out the costs and benefits of today’s existing infrastructures against the potential of those that can truly address the needs of the future,” he says.


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