14 Digital Marketing Leaders Give Their Predictions on the Future of Marketing

2021 digital marketing predictions from 14 marketing leaders and entrepreneurs.

If anything is certain, we don’t know where 2021 will take us. So we went looking for predictions from some of the marketing experts and entrepreneurs in our community, and they came back with a wealth of insights along several themes.

Product-led growth, customer marketing, increase in authentic video creation, and a swing of the pendulum towards empathetic and intuitive marketing factored heavily, as well as the growing role of AI. Enjoy!

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Product-led Growth FTW

Lauren Culbertson, Co-founder and CEO of LoopVOC

My mind is all on product-led growth for 2021! As more buyers expect to be able to purchase and get value from products without talking to sales, marketers will become more responsible for ensuring that buyers experience meaningful outcomes in product. Product marketing especially will become more responsible for active usage. Incentives will shift from tactics (volume of content pieces/ sales tools/ launches) to impact (how these things drive active and engaged users).

Megan Heuer, Managing Director of Winning by Design

I see a really interesting need to converge account-based models with product-led growth, all with a strong foundation of customer experience and feedback plus analytics. They're two sides of the go-to-market coin, and product teams can play a pivotal role in that work.

Cecilia Haynes, Product Marketing Manager, Sendible

The first prediction I have is that we should be leaning into personalization. This is specifically for ecommerce and SaaS platforms that are employing a product-led approach by mapping multiple pathways to success. You can identify exactly where users are in their journey, and help them reach the next milestone through targeted in-app messages and email sequences. This will boost conversion rates, retention rates, and help close more deals.

The second prediction I have is that brands should be leaning into their humanity. We're in a very crowded market with a lot of bots and showing that you're a real person behind your social media handle, will help you build empathy with your audience, and your customers. More importantly, it will help reflect that empathy back towards you when things go wrong. Right now we’re in a world full of crises, and any kind of opportunity we can have to build a healthier communication channel, we should be taking.

There are three ways that I'll be using video in my marketing efforts in 2021. The first is to continue creating lightweight training videos for our trialists. So these are all 1-3 minutes long, centered around particular features that help trialists find success on our platform. They're very easy to consume and easy to produce. The second is to lean into video case studies. These give our customers a voice and help them sell Sendible as a platform. They're also great to repurpose into multiple formats. The third is to lean into video on social media. So our social media manager Ellie has found that the greatest engagement on her posts tend to be video posts. So it's a great strategy to build your engagement and expand your audience.

Changes in Customer Marketing

Jeff Benanto, Head of Global Customer and Corporate Marketing, Logz.io

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2021 is the year when the Customer Marketing function finally breaks out and becomes a leadership role within SaaS, alongside and in tandem with product marketing, corporate marketing and demand gen. When it comes to digital marketing is: you're going to see more convergence between demand oriented digital marketing or general digital marketing initiatives and what's emerging as customer marketing. Historically, they've been siloed. Customer marketing has been a bit more focused on driving an advocacy and evangelism from the base, but I think increasingly, savvy SaaS B2B marketers in particular, will look to the customer base as a group of users that needs those additional touch points not only to increase engagement and make sure that they're receiving, the right messaging and product positioning and make sure that they're aware of the broad community that's building around the product but also to help drive account expansion. You can't just rely on account managers and customer success managers to drive that cross sell and upsell.

I think you'll see demand and digital marketers will look to the base, incorporate them in a lot of their programs and a lot of their campaigns, like ABM, so you can start to expose those customers to the same sort of ads and same messaging and the same nurture campaigns across different channels. You have to do it in a more tactful way, but I think you're going to see more of it. It's going to go a long way to helping organizations usher more multi product growth, improve their net dollar attention and obviously reduce churn.

Video will continue to be everywhere in 2021 for our organization and across B2B marketing, especially in SaaS. As we transition to a remote workforce in 2020 we saw the bar being slightly reduced for video communications. Not every organization every marketer had to create consistently high quality videos. You could create more informal, more off the cuff videos using things like Zoom and other and other tools. And it created more of an informal approach. Especially things like customer testimonial videos. You no longer have to rely on buttoned up formal case studies including a lot of b-roll. People are looking for more authentic, informal real conversations, whether it's from customers of software that you may be looking to purchase or whether it's from executives within an organization that you're looking to partner with, right. We use video extensively across all our channels, we pull off and execute two virtual events that were pre-recorded and highly reliant on video and we're going to do more of it in 2021. We're going to continue to focus more on the message, the conversation, on the relatability and a little bit less on the production quality. And we're going to try to continue to find different channels where video will make an impact, whether that's inside the application to our customer base or whether that's out there and in the broader echo chamber of noise across social media and whatnot. So, video will continue to be a super relevant tactic across net new demand generation, product, customer marketing and beyond.

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Tamara Grominsky, VP Strategic Growth at Unbounce

I completely agree with Jeff’s prediction about Customer Marketing. Last year we brought Customer Marketing and Product Marketing together to form a Strategic Growth department at Unbounce. Those two teams strategically working together is a multiplier for the business.

Karen Smith, President and CEO, Smith Communications

Prediction: customer references/customer testimonials will become more (and more) necessary in the buying and decision making process of customers. With less in-person sales interactions, and more online/self-service type purchases, online reviews and testimonials will become more necessary, and can make the difference in which product or solution the customer purchases.

I have found, oftentimes, companies do not include customer testimonial and success story creation in their marketing budgets, and my prediction is the demand for reviews, references, testimonials -- especially in the form of short video snippets -- will be more in demand.

my prediction is the demand for reviews, references, testimonials -- especially in the form of short video snippets -- will be more in demand

Carolyn Bao, Product Marketing Leader, Intuit

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Educational marketing will become the "marketing edge" for B2B SaaS. Gamifying the learning experience with easy-to-follow curriculum, completion certificates, digital badges will help improve awareness, adoption and advocacy of your products/features.

There is a dilemma plaguing much of B2B SaaS. On one hand, product owners continuously release new features and functionality - to meet voice-of-the-customer, to close competitive gaps, to appeal to adjacent markets, etc.  On the other hand, most customers do not have the time to learn new functionality of the software they bought, unless absolutely needed. Their main focus is to be the best at their main job responsibilities. Well designed educational content in marketing can help bridge the gap. A few companies have done so successfully, such as HubSpot with its Hubspot Academy.  For existing customers, the key is to build a habit so that they incorporate your software and your product, into their daily rituals. Building a habit requires training. Gameify the learning experience. Learning is not something natural and requires an investment. Gameify the experience with well thought through curriculum, give certificates for completion, give them digital badges so they can brag about the fact they have acquired a new skill set. Remember Maslow's needs hierarchy? Self actualization is the highest need for any individual for your customers to have the ability to follow a wealth planned out curriculum and receive a certificate of completion. This is a fast way to give them that self actualization.

For marketers, storytelling is the key component. We human brains are wired to remember stories way better than the abstract numbers. Video is the best former there is to convey compelling stories in digital space where you would use videos. So many places, I consider them as three main parts. The Why? type of video. Why you? Why your company? These are the videos that you can create by teaching your prospects to make them the heroes. And you can create videos with how-to kind of videos. How do I do this? How to use software to become a better self? How do I use this software to solve my problem in less time? There are many different moments you can create how-to type of videos. The last is an inspirational type of video. Record customers who are extremely happy with your product. Create social proof content so that these customers can inspire other people that are in the community.

Briannah Fisher, Marketing Manager at Sky Global

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Reworking marketing strategy and tactics to respect the individual right to privacy will be a major trend for marketing in 2021 and beyond. The impact of this will be felt across all industries, but especially within SaaS. Companies will audit customer data flows, customer experiences and data storage together with paying close attention to security principles as well as consolidating the lessons learned from 2020 to help build both brand equity and nurture future growth. So the individual rights privacy is something that hasn't necessarily been forefront, particularly with big tech. But I think we're seeing the emergence of focus in this particular area. I think that will continue, especially with the interest that Apple and Facebook are taking in on this particular issue.

Empathetic and Intuitive Marketing Becomes Essential

Chris Gillespie, Editor-in-chief and CEO, Fenwick Media

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In 2020 intuition reigns—"data-driven" starts to get a bad rap in marketing and everyone begins to applaud the intangibles we always knew mattered but couldn't prove. People invest more in brand, writing, and design and finally give up the volume ghost.

My prediction for this next year is that intuition is going to take precedence over data. And I say this because we've just completed a study with 11 of the top B2B SaaS companies and every product leader said some version of, "There are so many valuable things that we know to do by instinct that we just cannot prove. And if we limited ourselves to only doing what we could prove would miss out on some of those things." I think we're going to see a lot of that in marketing. We've gone down a route of performance, marketing and revenue responsibility where people are starting to focus so much on volume and conversions that we're losing the human element, which is why people purchase. How that may manifest - we'll probably, I hope, will be more investment in really clear writing, really clear brand, and really clear design.

One of the ways we're going to use video for marketing in 2021 is to expose our process and what happens behind the scenes to clients. I think now that we're all working remotely, it's a lot more difficult to do that. Video gives us one avenue for showing rather than telling and helping people really understand all that that goes into what we do, which is creating, writing, and designing content.troll

Ana Maria Gutierrez, Head Of Marketing at SaaStock

Predictions: There is more noise and digital offers out there than ever, resulting in overwhelming the audience. That’s why empathy in our messages, followed by authority in the subject matter will become imperative when talking with our audiences. It’s a year to rebuild and collaborate - going beyond customer focus, and support the success of our partners in the B2B ecosystem. It will be less about the flashy campaigns and more about a genuine empathetic message to support collaborative growth.

Peter Gillon, Product Marketing, Ziflow

The swing towards revenue marketing will slow. Focus on business imperatives brought by that swing will remain but the fact that marketing is (literally) about attention first will be reinforced.

Ashwin Balakrishnan, Senior Marketing Manager, Optmyzr

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My biggest marketing prediction for 2021 is about B2B brands, especially SaaS ones. We see so many brands in the space creating content and messaging and advertising, that's robotic, lacking in emotion. I believe 2021 is going to be won by brands that speak to people like people. This could look like anything like treating your YouTube channel the way that PewDiePie and Marques Brownlee, and other creators approach theirs with really high quality video content that your audience wants and craves. People are peak stress levels pretty much 24/7. Automation without emotion without intuition won't take you very far in this environment. But if you give people a show, you'll have their attention.

Video marketing at Optmyzr is probably going to revolve around our existing properties. So we'll be continuing our PPC Town hall property, which we started in 2020 just as the world got really crazy. It started as a safe space for search marketers to bend, and it's slowly evolved into, very strong and reliable learning session. That's something that we plan to continue through 2021. We're already off to a great start. We're going to keep pushing out more great content. We're also going to be continuing to do video content for our customers when we deliver new features, when we launch new products, walk-through guides basically helping them extract maximum value from their subscriptions. Video prospecting. There's a lot of other things that we're going to be experimenting with, but we're going to continue to build our library of great content, and that's going to take us forward.

Andrea Davidowitz, B2B Marketing Leader

Predictions: The focus on human-centered, emotional and inspirational stories will continue and customers, employees, and other stakeholders will continue to expect B2B brands to embrace and activate a social purpose.

The Growing Role of AI

Tamara Grominsky, VP Strategic Growth at Unbounce

Marketing in 2021 will require a philosophical change to how we think about driving conversions. Marketers at businesses of all sizes will be challenged to move beyond best practices and to embrace a new conversion intelligence mindset that requires them to pair their marketing intelligence with the power of artificial intelligence to create the highest converting content and campaigns possible. Those who nail this pairing and leverage machine learning algorithms to drive insights and patterns they simply couldn’t get on their own will come out on top.

Wiehan Britz, Digital Marketing Manager, Roon Labs

AI will continue its forward march. Automated content writing via AI and machine learning, etc. I’m busy beta testing an automated tool that aims to write FAQ copy, all automated.

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