Marketing Trends to Watch in 2021

2020 was a tough year and has had a profound impact on the way we communicate with brands, customers and each other. Here’s what will continue into 2021 and beyond.

E-Commerce & Social Commerce

COVID-19 restrictions and the subsequent mass closure of brick-and-mortar retailers drove shoppers online in 2020. Of course, this isn’t a new trend. E-commerce has been increasingly chipping away at in-store sales for a number of years. 20% of UK transactions took place online in 2020. That’s including the pre-pandemic months of January – March and loosening of restrictions over the summer.

Shopping online has become embedded in the consumer psyche, even for those reluctant to shop online prior to the pandemic. Accenture expects an 160% increase in the amount of online purchases made by ‘low-frequency’ shoppers. This is promising news for e-commerce businesses, as it means there’s a large, newly digitally-savvy audience to target online.

Accenture Consumer Research Graph on E-commerce Trends

Not only are there new demographics to target, but new means of reaching them as well. Social Commerce, or S-Commerce, is a rapidly growing arm of e-commerce. If you’re not familiar with the term, Social Commerce is selling products and services directly through social media, rather than a website.

Facebook are leading the charge in this space, launching FB & Instagram Shops over the summer.

Facebook Shops 2021

Other platforms such as Pinterest and TikTok have also developed their own s-commerce iterations. Even messaging service WhatsApp is exploring its options. This trend is being spearheaded by social media giants looking to diversify their revenue streams rather than by users. Digital ad spend dropped for the first time ever in the early stages of the pandemic.

Regardless, we feel that social commerce is here to stay. The average 16 – 24 spends 3 hours a day scrolling through social media. 40% of people use social media to research products. Social commerce seems like the natural next step – streamlining the customer journey by cutting out the website-shaped middleman. We wouldn’t be surprised if websites go the way of the phonebook – an outdated medium that hasn’t kept up with evolving consumer preferences. 

Live-streaming & Influencers

With most people confined to their homes in 2020, we desperately sought out forms of home entertainment. On-demand video services such as Netflix experienced exponential growth, and pretty much everyone took up baking if social media is anything to go by.

But these pastimes aren’t a substitute for live interaction. Zoom calls allowed us to interact with friends and family, but what about brands and celebrities? Live-streaming was the solution, and it took the world by storm. This isn’t going to be limited to 2020 either. 17% of all internet traffic is expected to be live video by 2022.

Live-streaming provides a way to host ‘virtual’ events. Musicians have had to perform free-of-charge in the early pandemic as there were no ways to monetise the experience early in the pandemic. Thankfully, online platforms have caught up and are starting to introduce ways to monetise live-streaming. Zoom for example, is launching its own paid-events marketplace called OnZoom:

Zoom OnZoom 2021

Seamlessly blending Social Commerce and Live-streaming, Instagram has added shoppable product tags to live-streams and IGTV.

Live-stream Instagram Shopping Tags 2021

This is perfect for influencers. Love them or loathe them, the use of influencers (or ‘content creators’) as a promotional tool is here to stay. 8 out of 10 customers have purchased a product after seeing it on a content creator in 2020. Influencers are valued for their ability to reach target audiences without consumers feeling like they’re being ‘sold to’. This is especially poignant in 2020, where rampant consumerism took a step back whilst caring, community-focused issues came to the forefront. With regards to promoting products, the ‘soft sell’ became more effective than aggressive sales tactics. Content creators are the perfect vehicle for this.

We will feel the effects of the pandemic for a number of years, on both an economic and social level. Consumers will have less disposable income and will need more coaxing to make purchases. Influencer partnerships are great for making those early customer interactions, as their fans trust their judgement and the brands they advocate. 


2020 made us rethink the way we live. The pandemic brought to light the fragility of the planet and the ecological challenges we face. Despite heart-warming stories of animals returning to urban areas during the 1st lockdown and temporary reductions in C02 emissions, the environmental situation is still dire. Wildfires, floods and drought are all on the rise. 18 billion pounds of plastic fill the ocean each year. Society is beginning to take notice – we documented the rise of the ‘conscious consumer’ in our Green Marketing blog piece.

Today’s customer expects the brands they associate with to minimise their impact on the environment. Promises aren’t enough, the conscious consumers see through attempts of ‘green-washing’. Cutting single-use plastics, reducing carbon footprints, green delivery vans – these real action companies need to take to win their trust.

Tentree Instagram Post

We may speak of the ‘conscious consumer’ as a niche demographic that can be ignored, but it’s growing rapidly and can make or break a business. 27% of Gen Z (who are particularly eco-conscious) have boycotted a brand for its below-par sustainability practices. As Forbes rightly say, ‘sustainability has become a business necessity, not just a differentiator’.

Concluding Words

Its hard to accurately predict what 2021 has in store for us. The pandemic will no doubt continue to severely impact businesses and wider society. Trends like environmentalism have been steadily growing in influence over the years. Others, such as live-streaming and social commerce, have been supercharged by the pandemic. Regardless of whether the global situation changes soon, the E1MA firmly believe these are long-lasting trends that marketers should be implementing into their strategy for years to come.

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