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Top Business, Digital Marketing, and SEO Trends for 2021

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Top Business
As we get ready to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020, we need to assess what kind of a year 2021 will be and where we need to focus to stay ahead. Milestone Research working with the Milestone thought leaders has compiled the following predictions and trends to help the community plan for 2021.

We have broken the predictions into 4 groups:

  1. Election, Business, Virus, and Economy
  2. Digital Trends
  3. Employment Trends
  4. Lifestyle trends

and cited examples and data sources if you want to go deeper into any topics.

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Election, Virus, and the Economy — Rebound

examples and data sources

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The Pfizer and now Moderna vaccines bring hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Essential workers could start getting the first of two doses in December 2020 and the population more widely in April. The vaccination requires 2 doses 3 weeks apart and then 3 more weeks for the immunity protection to develop.

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More people will get married in 2020 simply because they will be able to have weddings again. Milestone Research found that January and February show big increases in wedding RFPs and expect 2021 to be the highest monthly totals on record.

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The Economic and social activity rebound will begin now that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are announced and stronger growth will return by mid-year if not Q2. For Q3 2020 the advance estimate of GDP growth was up 38% after falling an unprecedented 33% in Q2. The numbers on the way up appear higher because the % is on a shrunken, smaller base. In Q3, the economy had $400 billion less growth than Q2, which means GDP will likely be down for the year.
Election Virus and the Economy — Rebound
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In-person conferences will return to the marketing and sales operations of most companies. Companies that embrace in-person meetings once it is safe will have an advantage over those that do not.

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The Biden presidential win increases the likelihood of another round of government stimulus, which would support businesses and consumers. If the Republicans hold the Senate after the January Georgia run offs, legislative changes will be modest. Liberal calls for regulating digital powerhouses will likely be thwarted in a contested Congress.

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Delayed and deferred spending and investment will translate into rapid growth by mid-2021, and people will likely start booking summer trips a few months after the vaccine is announced, but they will want the flexibility to cancel. Cutbacks in the airline industry routes will lead to a scarcity of plane seats, and people will want to reserve flights before the pandemic is fully resolved. Hotels should collaborate to with airlines and travel agents to make sure their customers can get flights.

Delayed and deferred spending and investment
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The IPO boom of 2020 has totaled $72 billion through October and should surpass the $78 billion high in 1999. This will pool more VC money for new startups in 2021 and 2022. These new companies will be looking to disrupt the largest markets in finance, energy, medicine, agriculture, and education.

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Digital Trends — Customer Experience

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Digital transformation acceleration and progress in 2020 will give companies an advantage in 2021: great user experience, ecommerce, ease of use, merchandizing, and smooth delivery will be features that consumers will have gotten used to and will want to keep using. 61% of marketing departments have pivoted resources toward improving customer-facing digital interfaces and 56% are changing their business models to focus on digital opportunities, according to the The Creative Group, a Robert Half Company.

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According to a Dentsu survey, CMOs who report feeling prepared to navigate the pandemic crisis “are more likely to view the role of marketing as creating the best experience possible and meeting challenges with disruptive innovation and new products or services.” Their less prepared counterparts continue to focus more simply on growth.

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Election Virus and the Economy — Rebound

35% of prepared CMOs said they were completely changing the customer experience in reaction to the pandemic. Previous downturns have shown that companies that overhaul their customer experience during crises improve their differentiation and loyalty and have 3X better shareholder returns in the 2 years following a crisis than companies that do not.

Mobile share of traffic will start growing again as the pandemic and the stay-at-home efforts wrap up. Mobile share was in the mid-50%s pre-pandemic and dropped to low 50%s when people stayed home and had their laptops up and available all day and did not go outside much. Mobile share will exceed 60% in most B2C industries by Fall 2021. Mobile share in most B2B industries will be about half as much as B2C levels.

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5G coverage has been making quiet progress in the US. 5G will continue rolling out in major cities and 5G handsets will be the must-have device of 2021. Over the next few years the increase in speed will enable new digital experiences that require more bandwidth and data: teleconference, high-def video, 3d, virtual reality, self-driving cars, remote medicine and operations, weather, manufacturing, agriculture, and data management generally.

5G coverage has been making
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5G coverage has been making

Streaming video consumption will continue to boom along with video ad share of total. Video ad spending eclipsed display in 2020 and will exceed it in 2021. Online streaming providers, also called over the top (OTP), will grow and cable and landline subscriptions will shrink. Netflix will surpass cable subscriptions in 2021.

Focus on digital experience in terms of speed and content stability. Google’s Core Vitals update will reward pages that load fast and have stable content. Milestone has cracked the code and is now revising sites for core vitals performance.

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Cybersecurity will be a larger focus as state-sponsored hackers get more sophisticated. Companies will need a security officer dedicated to defending the databases and site.

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Marketers will realize that CMSes will help differentiate customer experience. Companies looking for more of an edge will abandon free CMS software in favor of well-built and maintained paid software. Upgrade your CMS to enhance speed and content stability.

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FAQs will be an effective way to add content, appeal to the BERT update, and engage customers. That is why Milestone has launched FAQ Manager.

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SEO will continue to be the largest channel at 53% and even higher in B2B businesses, according to a recent Milestone Research report. Marketers should think in terms of omnichannel and multi-touch as Think With Google reports that the car buyer’s journey had over 900 touchpoints with 71% on mobile.

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AMP will be a useful technique for speed and core vitals improvement that will be used by fewer than 90% of websites, according to Milestone Research benchmark studies.

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Employment Trends — Hire More People Who Understand and Can Optimize Customer Experience

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High-demand marketing functions will include: UI/UX designer, user research manager, data scientist, analytics manager, and digital transformation and digital marketing positions, all of which support the 5G and the core vitals trends above.

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Election Virus and the Economy — Rebound

Demand for digital marketers and SEOs is down slightly during the pandemic but still outstrips supply of candidates by a large 3.2 to 1 in October 2020, according to a review of job listing sites done by Robert Half on CareerBuilder. Companies should invest in labor during the downturn ahead of their competing hiring companies to secure talent before demand and wages increase.

CMO diversity will continue to increase with 43% women in 2019, which is double from 4 years earlier. HR is the only department with a higher percent of female leaders than Marketing.

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CMO tenure dropped to 41 months in 2019 with more than half lasting less than 30 months. This trend will continue to tighten as the companies recognize needs for new marketing leadership skills and as job opportunities present themselves to talent.

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Skills and Upskilling: Employers will continue to shift focus from candidate experience to capability after realizing how much speed and agility was needed in 2020. Employers who assume more of the responsibility for training and retraining their teams will benefit. 56% of employers report a skills gap. Amazon reports a plan to upskill 1/3 of its labor force at a cost of $700 million over the next 6 years.

CMO tenure dropped to 41 months in 2019
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Lifestyle Trends — Being Nicer and We Still Love New Technology

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Purpose-driven and socially responsible brands will gain favor with 90% of gen z consumers reporting companies must help social and environmental issues.

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Most companies will offer more work from home days even when not required by the pandemic. Migration of remote workers to lower-cost, lower-tax states will accelerate. California is seeing net migration with a loss of citizens and some gains in non-citizen immigrants. Remote work may allow people who are staying with the same company to decrease housing and tax costs and increasing disposable income to increase their quality of life.

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Marketers will start using AI-generated content for simpler tasks, like monitoring, alerts, experiments, and writing.

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eCommerce will continue to boom with 44% growth in 2020. Techcrunch reports that the pandemic accelerated growth and ecommerce penetration by 5 years.

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Higher education is heading for a difficult year with excess supply due to the major disruption to in-person learning. Many traditional universities will become insolvent and merge with others. College degrees will diminish in importance vs practical and technical skills. Watch for increased success of and demand for nano-degrees and certifications. More companies will relax their degree requirements to get talent with the right character and skills.

Higher education
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Agility and innovation will be rewarded. While this was always true, it will be more true in a digital transformation-accelerated post-pandemic world. Seeing trends and getting there first with the right product or solution will further separate company performance.

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AI will get smarter and start doing more writing, art, accounting, finance, and general business monitoring. Gartner calls this formative AI. 42% of prepared CMO are planning to invest in AI in the coming year. Gartner also highlights a trend it calls “Digital Me” and the closer integration of devices and people. While the consumer and exercise applications come to mind and the microchipping of pets, the true healthcare applications, like prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons, organs, eyes, and ear implants will have more profound impacts.

Higher education

To sum up, plan to get better at listening to and understanding consumers, responding quickly to their needs, hiring people with the right character and capabilities, and accelerating digital transformation to support customers along their digital journeys with FAQs, AMP, and schemas.

So, after reviewing these trends, figure out which ones are most relevant and how to apply them to your business. Build out plans and budget to work on them starting from the first week in January and track your progress.

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