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After a Tumultuous Year, Examining Trends in Digital Marketing for 2021

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Successful digital marketing is about cultivating and maintaining relationships, and no year in recent memory has fundamentally altered the nature of our relationships more than 2020.

UVM Digital Marketing Instructor Erik HarbisonErik Harbison, lead instructor for UVM’s top-ranked and fully online Digital Marketing Fundamentals Professional Certificate, recently spoke with UVM Continuing and Distance Education about what worked for digital marketers in 2020 – and what we’re likely to continue seeing in the year ahead.

Digital Marketing Trends in 2021

Building and maintaining consumer trust has been key for digital marketers throughout COVID-19, with many businesses having to transition from in-person to digital in order to survive. “So now that you’ve gotten over that hump, how do you maintain any familiarity with your customers or prospects now that they’re relying on you in a different way?” Harbison asked.

According to Harbison, digital marketers can expect to see more of these trends in 2021:


Before 2020, who could’ve imagined that your feelings toward My Pillow® could be a fairly reliable metric of where you fall on the political spectrum? More than ever, brands are developing their own personalities, missions, and values in order to foster relationships and build virtual communities. Customer purchases are no longer simply transactional, but personal and political. From brand messaging itself to niche groups within brands, finding more ways to connect and developing virtual communities is an incredible way to increase customer loyalty and help users combat digital isolation.

What’s more, platforms like Facebook Groups, Mighty Networks, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom have experienced exponential growth. In April 2020, Zoom was seeing 300 million daily meeting participants, compared to 10 million in December 2019. And whether that virtual conversation is between the brand and the customer or peer to peer, Harbison believes these online communities are here to stay.


Interested in learning more about trends in digital marketing for 2021? Register for UVM’s free, informational webinar on January 14 at 12:30 p.m. EST.


Newsletters and Email

With email generating $38 for every $1 spent – an incredible 3,800% ROI (compared to social media, at 95%) – that makes it one of the most effective options available for digital marketers.

“Email is not dead,” Harbison said. “You’re establishing a way to say, hey, stuff is going on with our business.Now that I have you there, the smart marketer will start building that connection point through email, so now you’re relying on me to send you that update every Tuesday at 2. A newsletter is a way to announce a specific community and to drive people to check out the community.”

The low cost and relative ease of sending virtual newsletters to keep customers up-to-date means that most businesses can rely on this form of marketing over the long term without buying expensive television or radio ads.



“Audio is a way to distribute education, entertainment, information, and connect with customers and individuals when people are in a state of looking to fill time,” Harbison said. “We’ve become master multitaskers in the last year because of our reliance on working virtually. I have six screens open at any time. I’ve got to navigate between Teams, Slack, Zoom, my phone, et cetera. So in some ways, you may have the time, but you need to escape from that at some point. The moments you have to unplug, when you have the me time – even if it’s minutes – there are other vehicles you can use to plug in to get value for yourself.”

According to the Spoken Word Audio report from NPR and Edison Research, 40% of respondents say that they’re consuming more spoken audio since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and for those who dolisten, nearly half (48%) of their daily audio consumption is spoken word. For digital marketers, podcasts offer the opportunity to perform hyper-targeted marketing, but many brands, such as Nike, are also experimenting with creating their own podcasts, controlling the product from start to finish.


Voice Search

Are you and Alexa conversing more these days? Approximately 1 in 3 U.S. adults owned a smart speaker in 2020, up 32% from over a year earlier, and, according to Harbison, we’re asking our smart speakers to buy, refresh, and replenish (as many of us would prefer not to leave the house during a pandemic). “Because of the lockdown, we’re spending more time in the family room, influenced by so many things tied to being dormant,” Harbison said. “People are searching Carole Baskin and Tiger King. Because of The Queen’s Gambit, there have been voice searches on chess playing – a crazy number of searches for chess and chess sets – so we’re seeing voice search being influenced by factors on the household level.”

UVM’s Digital Marketing Fundamentals Professional Certificate Program is open for registration now.