2021: The digital trends that will define a decade

Juan Luis Polo

23 December 2020

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  There’s a rebel lying deep in my soul. Anytime anybody tells me the trend is such and such, I go the opposite direction. I hate the idea of trends. I hate imitation; I have a reverence for individuality.”Clint Eastwood.

People love and hate trends equally. On the one hand, we don’t want to be left out, and we are afraid society will not accept us if we don’t do this or that, if we don’t read a certain book or watch the series that everyone is talking about. On the other hand, we rebel against trends because that is what makes us feel unique.

But if we look at it from the point of view of an organisation that provides services or products to consumers, everything changes. Trends are a signal that our business’ radar must pay attention to when planning the future of our company: should I invest in this or that? What could I lose if I don’t?

Writing a post about digital trends, especially in a think tank like Rebel Thinking, is a risky exercise. Our contents are usually highly monitored in the medium and long term, and our words will remain for anyone who wishes to go back to them in the future and check whether or not we were right.

But Good Rebels wouldn’t be the company it is if we didn’t take on challenges like this one, would it? 😉 Make yourself comfortable, open your mind and get ready to discover an immediate future where putting people, data, creativity and technology at the centre of your strategy will be the key to overcoming the greatest period of uncertainty that both people and companies have faced in the last decade.

1. Purpose: Who talks the talk and who walks the walk

What gets your company moving at the beginning of the day?

Few businesses are able to answer this question with ease, and among those who do reply, responses tend to revolve around money. In contrast, as consumers we have listened carefully to how companies have answered this question in recent months, in the context of the difficult circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, when we assess companies in our minds, we ask ourselves: “Have they laid off workers?” “Have they given up benefits in order to keep their workforce?” “Have they done tangible things for the common good during lockdown?”.

In other words, we have gone through companies’ actions with a fine-tooth comb, trying to find out whether they were just pretending to be cool or actually making efforts to help society as a whole in these difficult times.

The transparency, credibility and purpose of organisations is what will attract consumers and talent. In fact, 64% of consumers say that they would reward companies that engage in some sort of activism, according to a survey conducted by Edelman in 35 countries. And more than

3,500 companies in 74 countries are already certified as “B-Corps“, which means they have voluntarily assumed the legal obligation to comply with objectives beyond their own profit.

In 2021, this trend will take on full force and companies will no longer be able to hide behind the charming messages carefully crafted by their marketing departments while waiting for everything to go back to normal with the arrival of vaccines. Because nothing will ever be the same again.

2. Human-centred organisations: beyond the emotional salary

This year has been all about efficiency. Clients have asked us to be quicker than ever, and we have had to increase our effectiveness to keep up with them.

This has impacted on our teams, who have been working from home non-stop (weekends included), immersed in a routine to which it is hard to get used to, trying to continuously be there for our clients and meet their needs in the best possible way.

At the same time, there has never been such a high demand for social interaction, such a strong need to relate to our colleagues and disconnect from our hard day-to-day. However, this personal aspect has been ruled by social distancing, with huge limitations that are still in place. How can company managers deal with the paradox of endless remote work vs. disconnection time?

The starting point will always be the same: leadership based on empathy. And that means listening carefully (which is a difficult art) to your consumers, employees and partners in order to understand what concerns them and how you can better address those concerns.

Paying attention to these elements and being a people-centred organisation has many advantages, the main ones being increased employee engagement and higher customer satisfaction. This is the starting point for those looking to work with the best talent and boost client loyalty.

3. Superdigitalisation: the digital world surrounding us

In all surveys (including our “COVID-19 and Marketing Barometer“) consumers are making it clear that they are increasingly using technology to carry out every possible activity, such as buying products, booking experiences or even exercising.

Moreover, consumers prefer to invest in well-designed technology, giving priority to companies that put user experience first when designing apps, websites or services. In this context, the inevitable question is: how agile is your company in the face of this challenge?

According to our Barometer, 29.70% of surveyed companies say they have not defined a post-COVID business strategy.  This has a negative impact on the whole business, as it is key to anticipate your customers’ needs by getting to know them and paying attention to the digital channels where they express their concerns. And this is especially relevant for CMOs and their marketing departments.  

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But how can you align your organisation’s response to your customers’ needs? This is a common point of friction in many companies: the agility to make and implement decisions without failing consumers.  We must not forget that we are in a race for the relevance of our brands and companies, and agility is key.

4. Direct-to-consumer (D2C): when consumers prefer to buy directly from the brand

Whether it’s on the essentials market or on the luxury products one, direct to consumer implies that brands need to own the customer relationship from beginning to end, taking advantage of all the data to create unique, personalised, more efficient and maximum return experiences.

And, in case you still think that consumers are reluctant to share their data, this year we found out that 61% of consumers would be willing to share more information with brands in order to improve their shopping experience.

D2C accounts for 40% of all online sales, with sustained increases (data from eMarketer | Digital Commerce 360), a trend that has consolidated in 2020 and is likely to grow in 2021.

At this point, the issue is not only whether physical shops will continue to close (they already do), but to what extent it will be necessary to reinvent those that remain open, so that consumers keep considering they are necessary.

The key aspects of this trend will be:

  • The importance of minimising channel conflict
  • The pricing policy
  • The fight against online distribution giants
  • The necessary investment in data and technology
  • The undisputed cultural change within organisations

If you’re still unsure about where to start embracing D2C, these steps will help you join the challenge.

5. The luxury sector: the most surprising digitalisation for the new decade

The luxury sector, which has always been closely linked to the physical and retail experience, has nevertheless proved to be a great player in the context of superdigitalisation that we are facing.

Before the pandemic, it was difficult to imagine anyone acquiring high-end cars or luxury jewellery online, without seeing or touching them. However, many consumers have now embraced the purchase of high-value products through digital platforms, as we have seen in our report “The Superdigitalisation of the Luxury Sector in Mexico”, developed in collaboration with L’Officiel.

In 2020, online sales of luxury products and services have grown by 16%. This figure sheds light on the fact that those who buy premium products are not willing to wait until we go back to normal. The process of discovery and decision making has been based on online access.

This has forced brands to change the way they interact with and give advice to their customers. Gucci, for example, has created virtual tours for their clients.

Two clear levers pose a challenge to luxury brands: customer experience innovation (with a very demanding customer) and the cultural change needed to keep moving in this direction.

6. Homebound economy: home is not only a place to spend the night

During the past few months, as the economy as a whole has suffered a heavy blow, the demand for products that make our homes more comfortable and livable has grown steadily. Suddenly, our homes became the place for work, exercise and digital leisure.

And although the promise of vaccines and the safety they will bring, will eventually allow us to go back to outdoor activities, the truth is people think remote working is positive: 51% of the population prefer to work remotely, as opposed to the 25% who prefer to work from the office, and the percentage of employees working remotely is expected to rise from 63% to 87% after the crisis, according to Bain & Company.

Moreover, the search for properties in rural areas has increased by 46% these days, according to Fotocasa. Now that our home has become a place where we spend a lot of time and from where we can work, people start looking for housing alternatives outside the city.

Innovative solutions for working from home, such as those of Stykka or Playroom Home, keep arising, which shows the growing interest in this modality. In this context, companies are rethinking the concept of the office: how much space will be needed, when some of the workers prefer to alternate between online and offline working?

7. People, data and AI: a rigmarole for brands

Because of the complexity that surrounds them, it is not easy to keep track of trends in Artificial Intelligence. However,  it is worth highlighting two marked trends: towards companies’ internal processes and towards consumers.

AI applied to business processes: AiOps

AiOps is the abbreviation used to refer to artificial intelligence for IT operations. And it refers to multi-layered technology platforms that automate and improve IT operations through analysis and machine learning (ML).

Or, to put it simply, everything that seeks to save time spent on processes within companies so that people can use that time more profitably. However, these technologies will make their greatest effort in aspects related to cyber security and automation. In a year in which consumption of and access to the internet from our homes has increased significantly at a global scale, it has become more evident that security has been compromised.

AI applied to marketing and consumers

As we collect and optimise customer data, our ability to predict the next effective action or the perfect offer will continue to improve, because the foundation of AI is its ability to learn and further infer user preferences.

With time, as this cycle keeps powering itself, we will be able to deliver the best experience based on our knowledge of the customer, which is the desired goal.

The investment in DMP, customer intelligence or CDP and CRM tools that are capable of hosting the necessary data and automation processes will increase. Simultaneously, however, many companies still use Excel to host their clients’ data.

The beginning of a decade filled with uncertainty

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that 2020 has definitely proved wrong most of the predictions made at the end of 2019, except

for those that showed the way to greater digitalisation. In fact, not only were they right, but they fell short.

For those of us who have been considering digital transformation as an unstoppable trend for many years, this year has shown us that fact can indeed be stranger than fiction, and that a virus can become the CTO (Chief Transformation Officer) of many companies.

If I had to highlight a trend for the upcoming year, I’d say that digital means relevance. And the consequences are clear for those who have not yet taken the first step towards addressing the many digital challenges ahead of us: in 2021 they will be absolutely irrelevant.

It is time to rebel in order to remain relevant 😉