The past year has challenged business owners to take stock of both how they operate and how they connect with their customers. A global pandemic and widespread job loss have placed enormous pressure on our communities. In some cases, social distancing and community restrictions have made it difficult for businesses to serve customers in person.

However, the shift to doing business online has provided valuable insights into new customer trends. These insights can help you create a better marketing plan for 2021 and prepare for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Change is the new normal

We now know how quickly things can change for established businesses. Everything from human resources to supply chains and delivery systems can face disruption. As things change in business, you’ll need to be thinking ahead and staying on top of digital trends.

Make plans to the best of your ability but set aside time to discuss contingency plans if a shift in direction is needed. What changes can you make to offerings, methods of delivery and communications if needed? What other options might you need to consider?

Your customers are human

Build genuine relationships with your customers and treat them with care. Create an experience based an understanding of their needs, and remember they are real people, not just numbers. Reach out to them through personalized email marketing and make connection the goal of all your advertising.

If your business isn’t online, act now

What’s the biggest take-away from 2020? Business is moving online, and companies got a sharp reminder of what it could cost them to not be fully operational on this front. For example, retail e-commerce sales nearly doubled in Canada between February and May 2020. Many businesses will need to consider how they can deliver products and services online if these trends continue in 2021.

What are some necessary steps to getting your business online?

● Make sure your website functions well on desktops and mobile devices, and fix any hiccups.
● Update your website with whatever information customers need to shop with you.
● Put a plan in place to generate your own content.
● Explore paid advertising to help boost website traffic.
● Get your social media accounts active.
● Explore ways customers can shop right from your social posts.
● Consider paid social ads to reach wider audiences.
● Work to develop a robust email list.
● Keep your customers updated across all channels with promotions, early releases and other essential updates.

Expand your online shopping experience

Many businesses had a digital presence in 2020 but had never sold anything online. You’ll need to develop the e-commerce functionality necessary to sell, complete financial transactions, and facilitate online or physical delivery of what you sell. Test whatever functionality you set up frequently to ensure smooth transactions.

Seamless shopping

Make it easy for customers to buy from you, no matter how they find you. That means easy navigation, an updated online store, and financial transactions that feel smooth and secure. Explore options for returns and other customer support needs, like messaging to ensure their experience is positive.

Social commerce

People want to buy right from your social media channels, which means enabling click to purchase features in your posts. Paid social ads can be a helpful way to reach new audiences.

What you need to know about online search

As you move your business online, you’ll need to get up to speed on how to make sure your customers can find you easily.

Semantic search

Search engines are now doing a better job of figuring out what searchers want though semantic search principles, by prioritizing topics over exact phrasing. When you type a few words into your search engine, semantic search helps you get the most relevant information available, by showing you results that match your intent. With no extra effort, you’re able to more easily find what you need without having to use a certain phrase or perfect sequence of words. This shift is already taking place, but will become even more relevant in the future as users embrace voice search and virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa.

User experience (UX) matters

Make your content easy to find, and check site structure and navigation to make sure it makes sense to a new site visitor. Test how long it takes pages to load and see if the mobile experience is as smooth as possible. Learn about Google Core WebVitals, a new set of ranking factors released by Google to help users find valuable content faster.

Zero-click search results

Offer the most critical information early in your content, answer common questions and take advantage of the search snippets that show in the first search results. In many cases, people can get the information they need without clicking through to any sources. Can you provide this kind of fast reference information?

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Pay-per-click is still essential, with a few updates. Automation possibilities will expand but watch your ads to ensure you aren’t running campaigns during sensitive news cycles. Responsive search ads introduced in 2019 can make things simpler for marketers and improve ad performance.

Local search

Don’t forget about local search in your drive to expand your business. The number of searches performed by people looking for local products and services is vast, with a 500 per cent increase in “near me” searches with an intent to buy between 2016 and 2018. Capture this traffic with features such as Google My Business.

Marketing trends and opportunities for 2021

The year ahead holds plenty of opportunities for businesses to make the necessary shifts in planning and operations. Every company will need to respond swiftly to changes, adapt to new challenges and find new ways to connect with their customers.

Here are a few areas of opportunity for your business:

Live video

Video has been a significant driver of traffic for some time. But if video content, in general, is growing, live video has exploded. Users watched 1.1 billion hours of live video in 2019. Social distancing protocols kept many people at home in 2020, giving them even more time to be online.

User-generated content (UGC)

What’s better than offering up content telling people how great you are? Your customers raving about you online, in their own words. Look for ways to inspire your customers to adopt your hashtags, share photos or video and bring your marketing to life.

Nostalgia marketing

People are loving flashbacks and reminders of favourite and familiar things. In a time of deep uncertainty, using nostalgia in ads may be a source of comfort, so keep this in mind when developing your marketing strategy.

Conversion rate optimization (CRO)

How many of your customers visit your website and convert to customers? Conversion rate optimization means making sure customers make it through their journey to purchase, contact, download and submit when they visit your site. Examine each step customers take when interacting with your business. Look for where they seem to lose interest and fix the gaps where you can.

What 2020 insights will you use to drive marketing in 2021?

What do you need to include in your 2021 marketing plan? It will take more than one solution to succeed.

Focus on the customer experience and develop your online presence to expand your reach. Sell with as little disruption as possible. If the elements above are beyond your team’s expertise, consider bringing on help so you can navigate the coming year with confidence.