Performance Marketing Expert

What Will 2021 Bring Digital Marketers?

Get ready for a great year—we’re rooting for you!

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Every year at this time, Rise publishes digital media predictions from our leaders to help prepare readers for the year ahead in marketing. In January 2020, we predicted advances in the cookieless world, cross-channel sophistication, and… definitely not a pandemic. 

To continue publishing predictions feels comical, right? Hasn’t 2020 proved to us all that the right hook comes faster than we can catch? 

Not quite. Many of the biggest shifts in our industry we’ve seen during the pandemic—digital storefronts, audience-first customer experience, pressure to justify media spend—were impending trends merely accelerated, not birthed, by 2020’s changing consumer behaviors. 

Hence, we continue to publish our predictions. Whatever 2021 brings, and however quickly it arrives, here are the biggest trends hitting the marketing industry this year.


2021 will be the year of digital customer experience. Forrester Research predicts 25% of brands will make a statistically significant improvement in customer experience this year, up from last year's reported 14% improvement. However, to achieve this goal in a complex pandemic and post-pandemic environment, businesses will need to understand the changing landscape in customer needs and pivot their businesses to deliver on those needs with new solutions. The reliance on both core digital channels but also innovation into new digital solutions will stand at the forefront of 2021, and I predict a spike in digital spend and growth, deviating from the linear growth we have seen, across the board.

- Rob Sauter, VP, Account Management

Check: What are 3 ways your business is addressing and solving the evolving needs of your core customers? How does your website and digital experience reduce friction for your customers?

I think 2021 will be about finally getting your website right (or at least starting to get it right). What do I mean? eCommerce exploded even more in 2020 because of the pandemic and that meant more people shopping Amazon and more people shopping online in general than ever before. For gosh sake, make sure that site is a great experience on my desktop as well as my phone! This includes ensuring the checkout process is transparent; do not make customers log in first and where possible, include a tracker to let customers know where they are in the checkout process. 

Keep in mind, Google is launching a huge algorithm update that focuses on UX (content loading, interactivity, etc.), this means that all companies (not just eComm) are going to need to take action to maintain that important "owned" real estate (i.e., your SEO rankings). 

You are also going to see more no-click searches (e.g., featured snippets) when you search in Google. I foresee a trend in 2021 where companies are trying to add rich content to those snippets to get more users to click through (quizzes, calculators, polls, etc.). Happy New Year!

- Dan Ripes, VP, Account Management

Check: When did you last perform a site audit? By using Google’s Webmaster Tools, you can health-check your website’s page load speed, mobile friendliness, indexability, and more. These are all Web Vitals that absolutely need to be prioritized in the accelerating digital age as Google continues to roll out algorithm updates.


In 2021, incrementality testing will be more important than ever. With continuing increases in user privacy and walled gardens, incrementality testing measures the true impact of marketing dollars and makes sure we are spending most efficiently. The results put concrete data behind the value of upper funnel tactics and help us to understand how channels and tactics work together. By incorporating findings from incrementality testing with multi-channel predictive models, we can ensure optimal budget allocations and higher returns. Machine learning and repeatable processes enable us to continuously test, model, and reforecast data as new data comes in, and shift budgets between channels and tactics on an ongoing basis.  

- Megan McGowan, Director, Analytics

Check: How are you measuring performance across your digital media spend, and what have you been doing to quantify the value of upper-funnel tactics? Where can you amend recurring reports to keep a pulse on the bottom-line impacts of these tactics?


Last year, we predicted that 2020 was going to be a year of privacy pushes on Social platforms - that definitely was the case with CCPA crack downs on Facebook as well as Facebook’s announcing they are going to decrease their attribution window from 28 day click, 1 day view to 7 day click, 1 day view. We expect this trend to continue in 2021 as we head toward a cookieless future. In 2021, advertisers and platforms will need to start to develop creative ways to not rely on cookies for performance data or targeting. A big initiative from Facebook to combat the impact of the cookieless future is through the development of the Conversion API, a way to upload data into Facebook without the use of cookies. We expect other platforms to follow this development down the line. 

- Megan McConkey, Director, Social Media

Check: How many audience segments are you including in your paid media targeting, and what portion of these lists are owned by you? Which of your third-party data providers is driving the greatest return for your business, and how can you scale that opportunity this year?

I think we’re going to see more innovation with ad inventory and opportunities to reach your audience this year. In 2020, extended stay-at-home circumstances resulted in dozens of streaming services accelerating to launch, and it will be interesting to see these new platforms navigate the field of monetization.

But even more urgently than snagging those new ad spaces, I think marketers are keenly aware of the widespread ad fatigue as a result of long-term WFH and digital exposure. I expect bold marketers this year to emerge as challengers in our industry by finding new ways to reach their audience that doesn’t rely on the same visual methods - specifically, more investment in audio and digital out-of-home (OOH).

- Jaclyn Shifrin, Manager, Programmatic

Check: What portion of your 2021 budget have you dedicated to testing new channels and tactics? If none, are there underperforming tactics from 2020 that can be used to fund your test budget instead?

2021 will undoubtedly be a year of unpredictability, from trying to understand user search behavior to guessing when the economy will resemble some form of normalcy. One thing that I am confident will continue well into the new year is the transformation of purchase behavior across our eCommerce clients. The pandemic changed the way people purchase products/services in the blink of an eye, with options such as curbside pick-up and Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store (BOPIS) now being heavily factored into purchase decisions. This means that messaging for Paid Search ad copy should be more important than ever to ensure you are effectively communicating all available offerings to your audience. 

- Donny Nordmann, Director, Search

Check: Is your cross-channel ad copy messaging directly to the needs of your target audience, or is it speaking more to your own competitive differentiation? Times have changed! Let your audience know you solve their problems, fast.

2020 has shown us that we need to be more agile than ever with our marketing strategies, and that realization may have been felt most deeply in the TV industry. 

As a lot of premium programming was cancelled and users swapped their cable packages for cheaper streaming subscriptions, the TV industry underwent a massive shift. As a result, securing a significant portion of TV budgets during the linear TV upfronts will no longer be brands' first and/or only approach to TV buying. While the upfronts will still be relevant for some types of premium content, successful brands in 2021 will start diversifying their strategy and purchasing ads in real-time programmatically.

While this shift may seem inevitable considering the consumer shift to digital and the advanced targeting and measurement capabilities offered by programmatic buying, the impact of COVID has sped up the process. This anticipated shift is even further supported by a change in reporting methodologies from the industry's top measurement partner: Nielsen, which is planning to replace its current TV rating system with an improved version that integrates digital and streaming with linear by 2024. 

- Molly Murphy, Director, Programmatic

Check: Where is your audience? Depending on your target segments, new digital solutions such as connected TV are likely the untapped gold mine of reach that can change your marketing game in 2021. Do your market research and be bold this year.

Download a shareable checklist with all of these tips here.

01/07/2021 at 11:15