Every year ushers in new changes to the advertising landscape, but 2021 will surely look more different than any other year. Thanks to a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter activism, and a notably divisive election, the digital space has had to adapt to the evolving needs of a market that has spent more time online than ever before.
On one hand, many content consumers took the plunge and became content creators during the extended stay-at-home orders. With people quarantining at home, they naturally turned to the internet to connect with others. Out of that need, we saw new TikTok storytellers, comedians, and activists, as well as viral dances and sounds. Podcast shows took off, with dozens popping up every day—the competition for people’s attention has certainly gotten tighter.
On the other hand, the volatility surrounding the 2020 election led to confusion over the difference between fake news and legitimate journalism. As a result, social media companies have been forced to rethink their role in content distribution while protecting both freedom of speech and the integrity of the media. Not a small feat.
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The changes ushered in by 2020 go well beyond standard typical algorithm changes and newsfeed saturation. There has been a significant cultural paradigm shift, both online and off. Keep these key considerations in mind as you map out your ad strategy for 2021.
Prepare for tougher competition than ever in the news feeds.
When COVID-19 first struck, ad placements became surprisingly cheap for a few months. People were concerned about the future of the economy and kept their pennies close. However, ad rates go up every election year because you are essentially competing with campaigning politicians for digital space. We saw this happen, as well as an increase of business owners pivoting to virtual consulting and coaching services and competing for more online space.
As a result, ad rates went up as the year went on and people grew comfortable with their quarantine habits. This trend is expected to continue on a national level, but you might see ad space free up locally as people leave the industry. In 2021, measure everything and pay attention because you may see ad rates go up and down all year as the market fluctuates.
Take a different approach to video.
Video content is the cornerstone of the modern marketing strategy, so if you’re not producing videos, it’s time to get on board. If you already are onboard, it’s worth noting that 2020 has seemingly swayed video marketing away from the stuffy, overproduced content reminiscent of a salesy TV commercial. Instead, the rise of TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram Reels has opened the gate for video content that feels more casual and authentic.
But, make no mistake: it’s still well put together, but there’s less of an emphasis on “perfect” in an effort to remain relatable. Skip the business professional attire and pull on a cute sweater with some leggings. Give your viewers a real look at the face behind the brand, while still providing the invaluable resources they need.
Following these organic trends, video typically outperforms still photos and carousels in ads. To win bids in the auction and get your ad costs down, make sure you’re producing and testing video.
Focus on Instagram.
If you only advertise on one social platform, let it be Instagram. Any time a social media app introduces something new and exciting, they adjust their algorithms to favor that content. This year and next, that hot new feature is Instagram Reels—Instagram’s take on the TikTok craze. Anyone who can master Reels now will succeed on Instagram in the foreseeable future, so start planning to create short bite-sized video content and put your ad spend there.
Keep an eye on the growth of YouTube Live.
This year, YouTube has really been pushing its Live feature, which straddles the line between social media and a search engine. Throughout the pandemic, we were regularly receiving updates from health and government officials, many of which came by way of YouTube Live.
We’re now seeing consumers becoming more comfortable getting their news from YouTube Live and this trend will only grow from here. Additionally, as people adjusted to
stay-at-home orders, they turned to YouTube for everything from making sourdough starters and DIY haircuts to how-to guides for fixing appliances at home. As a result, more consumers have been driven to YouTube than ever before and, in 2021, smart marketers will capitalize on this trend.
Currently, it’s not yet flooded with content creators, so it’ll be a great place to invest your resources in the long run. Not to mention, the SEO benefits that come from YouTube are unparalleled compared to every other social media platform. It will be a slower burn than other outlets, but it will become increasingly important so take advantage and get ahead of the curve.
Don’t lose sight of organic content.
With the changes to social media algorithms, we’re seeing the most successful brands combine organic and paid content for a powerful one-two punch. As more people create content and look to monetize, competition will be tight—however, social media companies are now looking to lift up brands that excel on both sides of the coin. Be sure to split up your efforts between organic and paid content to ensure that you’re hitting the mark from both ends, putting you in the best position to appeal to the algorithms.
Be mindful of larger market conditions.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that successful business owners pay attention and adjust to the ebbs and flows of the market. There is no “set-it-and-forget-it” tactic that will last forever. Nor is there a strategy of outsourcing your messaging with the hopes that someone else will figure it out. It’s up to you, the business owner, to take control of your marketing messages.
Routinely perform some simple market research to keep your finger on the pulse of your target audience, including where they are hanging out and any shifts in communication style you notice. You can also survey your clients that have postponed and ask them about their experience.
Armed with that knowledge, you can begin generating content that you know hits the mark with your ideal client. We have more time on our hands than ever before—use it to ramp up your blog or start a YouTube channel to answer your audience’s burning questions. Once you do, you can begin setting dollar-a-day ads that drive traffic to your website, build audiences, and retarget visitors at a later time. By the time business picks back up, you’ll be the most loved and trusted brand in your market!
In 2021, smart creatives will be intentional about monitoring everything to ensure their marketing approach is both effective and profitable. Gone are the days of throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick. Profit margins will be tight and there isn’t money to waste, so it’s vital to be strategic in your marketing and advertising plans. Track your successes and failures, monitor ad rates, and keep adjusting your tactics until you’re satisfied with the results.