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Looking back on 2020 in marketing - and forward to 2021

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Predicted marketing trends for 2020 largely lived up to expectations, but the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated some of these developments. We’ve taken a look at some of the biggest trends we’ve noticed in marketing over the last year, and what this could mean for the future.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here to stay

Artificial intelligence has been on the minds of marketers across industries for a while:

  • Jason Hall wrote for Forbes in 2019 predicted that AI had the capability to help marketers “map out an end-to-end content strategy”, “change the way businesses advertise”, and to see chatbots “engaging in sales prospecting, lead generation and customer service”

  • A 2018 MyCustomer report predicted that 80% of all UK businesses would have chatbot solutions in place by 2020

  • PwC produced a report in 2017 predicting that, at its then-trajectory, AI “could contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030”

Talk of the rise of AI has not slowed.

There is an increased need to move to digital platforms due to social distancing measures and the closure of offices across the world. Resources are stretched tighter than ever, and AI is being seen as a solution to reach the right customers and drive revenue.

Chatbots saw a boom last year, with a recent survey finding that over a third of individuals aged between 16 and 24 preferred to use chatbots rather than receive help from human advisors.

But it goes beyond chatbots.

Specifically within the field of scholarly publishing and communications, at the end of 2019 UNSILO, a provider of AI tools for publishers, published a survey whose results indicated that publishers were increasingly beginning to adopt AI tools. Two-thirds of participants in the study said that they were currently using AI tools. Only 3% felt that AI could not benefit their activities in some way.

Towards the end of 2020, the Publishers Association published a fascinating report looking at the role of artificial intelligence in publishing. Some of its key findings showed that the range of current AI uses by the industry is broad:

“Some of the most common industry-wide applications include identifying market trends to inform content acquisition, carrying out copyright infringement checks, running language and grammar checks, recommendation engines and demand forecasting to inform marketing strategy and manage stock levels”.

It seems a pretty safe bet to assume that AI will continue to grow as we wade further into 2021.

If you’re looking to upskill in AI – discover our free live masterclass learning how marketers can leverage AI.

In storytelling, authenticity and empathy are key to connecting

The Scholarly Kitchen recently pointed toward the need for greater authenticity in marketing communications, particularly during a pandemic. This has been true of brands responding with support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

The same article highlighted desire from customers for companies to go further by prioritizing and promoting diversity and inclusivity, and to do so sincerely – and this has never been more apparent than this year. A 2020 report showed that 83% of millennials find it important for companies they buy from to have values which align with their own, showing how important it is to resonate.

We’ve seen service providers, societies and publishers proactively looking to help their stakeholders with support, advice and free access to content. Some have really grasped more compelling language to demonstrate that they really care, and it shows.

There has been a recent big push for strong storytelling in marketing – we’re seeing growing adoption of our storytelling training and not only at a marketing level but across organizations, including editorial and senior leadership. As our Managing Director Lou Peck says “People sell to people, not businesses to people. We need to ensure we craft marketing that we are proud of. We need to connect and resonate with our audience and show them we understand – whoever they may be.”

With the demands and strains involved in weathering a global pandemic, including many individuals experiencing social isolation and loneliness, empathy has been key. Through demonstrating social consciousness and awareness in marketing communications, brands are more able to connect with their audiences and establish stronger bonds.

If you’re looking for ways to give your brand story a boost, we regularly work with companies in delivering Storytelling. Get in touch and let us help you unlock ways to resonate with your audience.

The rise of engaging video content

Another impact of the events of this year is the rapidly increased use of video content to convey marketing messages. Though video has long been seen as an engaging medium for content, in a world where, currently, social connections are limited to the medium of a phone, tablet or computer screen, video is timelier than ever. Twitch live streams and TikTok have experienced a particular boom in recent times.

Back in March 2020, Forbes asked whether 2020 would be the 'Year of Twitch'. By December, The Verge declared that it had been, with millions having spent 1.6 billion hours on Twitch in October 2020. By September 2020, Tik Tok was able to declare 100 million users in Europe. So is the secret to success video?

In a Wyzowl 2020 survey, they found:

  • 87% of video marketers said that video increased traffic to their website

  • 80% say that video helped them to increase sales

This only further demonstrates the powerful influence that video marketing can have over consumer behaviour.

Videos can be highly engaging and impactful, allowing businesses the opportunity to demonstrate personality and that all-important authenticity mentioned above. But Twitch live streams and TikTok videos aren’t the only routes into the medium. Annie Kolatsis recently wrote for The Drum about the alternative ways of tapping into the right audiences using video, which don’t rely on Twitch and TikTok:

“If you’re not planning on getting your brands onto either of these platforms, you can apply their learnings to your current social strategy. Short-form video can live on any platform, the key take-out is to make it as entertaining as possible. If you can’t game with your audience, create gamified content to let them play with you.”

Another particularly interesting development this year was Twitter’s decision to wade further into the world of video content with Fleets. These are temporary video posts that expire after a day. It seems that social media platforms are increasingly conscious of the demand for highly engaging and instantaneously gratifying content, and Fleets are reflective of that.

Twitter’s Design Director Joshua Harris and Product Manager Sam Haveson recently discussed why they introduced Fleets. They said that users had fed back that “Tweeting is uncomfortable because it feels so public, so permanent, and like there’s so much pressure to rack up Retweets and Likes”. It remains to be seen whether Fleets will be here to stay, but video certainly is:

  • A Hubspot report showed that of the 79% of marketing teams that published videos on Facebook in 2020, 85% said it was successful

  • 65% of video marketers said that they planned to include Instagram in their 2020 marketing strategy because of how effective video content was on this social media platform

More specific to scholarly publishing, Tim Gillett recently penned an article for Research Information, stating that “there is much more to video technology than virtual meetings and recorded keynote speakers” in the industry. He provides the example of Cadmore Media, a company founded with “a view to transform the dissemination of video content in the scholarly and professional world through the use of the latest technology”. He goes on to state that this is something they achieved through “the use of extensive metadata, persistent IDs, full-text search, subject tagging and segmentation”. This has allowed publishers to disseminate content that is “fully discoverable, navigable, accessible and integrated with all other research and professional outputs”.

No matter the industry you’re in, video content can be incredibly beneficial to businesses when implemented in the right way.

If you’re looking to implement video marketing into your strategy for 2021, take a look at our recent blog post featuring tips on creating authentic and impactful video content. You can also check out our Hints and Tips playlist on YouTube to upskill and develop your marketing skillset. And if you want to know what we predict for 2021? Sign up to receive alerts when we publish new content.


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