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2020 certainly served to prove that no one has a crystal ball. This time last year we looked ahead at 2020 with a huge sense of optimism, sure there were challenges ahead, but we were looking forward to knuckling down and starting off the decade with a bang.

How wrong we all were, no one had any idea of what was in store. Months where some of the biggest brands and businesses on the planet ceased to advertise, doors remaining shut and by now we’re all well and truly fed up with being at home.

But I can’t help but feel that same sense of optimism as I did 12 months ago. Sure, the world has changed, but with vaccines on the horizon we can perhaps feel bullish and positive about 2021. This year I’ve sworn off predictions, but here’s my take on the issues we might be discussing in 2021.   

A radical approach to data

Apple’s changes to the IDFA are due to come in this year, having been delayed. No one knows how users will react to the change (remember the crystal ball is broken). Estimates vary wildly from every single user opting out to no change whatsoever. It’s impossible to predict, but there’s one thing I do feel confident about, whichever way it goes. The industry will thrive. We have our brightest on it. Marketers will still want to target audiences digitally, after all it’s a huge part of how brands interact with their customers. We might have to adjust our methods for finding these audiences, looking more at the general and less at the individual but that’s a good thing for privacy and the brand/consumer relationship overall.  When it comes to measuring campaign effectiveness, marketers have been doing that for decades, well before the IDFA was a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye. iOS14 will bring change, but that’s what innovation is for.

Untangling the marketing mix

2020 turned how brands interact with consumers on its head. Ecommerce penetration increased more in the last year than it ever had in history. This only goes to make an already complicated buyer journey even more complicated. Because the idea that a consumer goes from one brand touchpoint to another in a nice linear fashion before buying something online or offline is completely incorrect. The consumer journey is more like a knot of threads, that is continually twisting, turning and changing. When we factor in that this journey changes, not only from industry to industry, but brand to brand and location to location, it becomes almost impossible to untangle and incredibly difficult to judge one touchpoint against another. They don’t exist in a vacuum but one fantastically effective marketing mix. A challenge for our industry in 2021 is to deliver technical solutions that enable marketers to reach their consumers across every single thread of that interaction, tailored for each and every store location in a way that is effective and measurable.

A different normal?

I don’t want to speak to soon, but I think there will be a return to some kind of normal across many aspects of our lives. As soon as lockdowns eased across the world consumers went back to their old habits. Queuing up outside Ikea, going for dinner with friends, visiting theatres and cinemas. But some things will have changed for the better – many businesses have adapted and found new and better ways of doing things – easier click and collect, better booking options, new ecommerce stores.  Some haven’t survived, but they leave space for new, entrepreneurial businesses, who can adapt and provide consumers with the experience we are looking for.

Time to give back

Data is often described as ‘the new oil’ and 2021 is the time to recognize how our industry affects the planet. Maybe not as much as the original oil barons, but we do have an impact, we must take care of our people, our partners and our planet. Last year S4M made a commitment to go green and plant trees, we’ll be doubling down on this commitment in 2021 to make sure we are giving back. I hope everyone takes the chance to build back greener this year - if we all play our part, we can deliver a sustainable future.

The one thing I can be sure of, is that I’m ready to say goodbye to 2020. I’m ready to tackle 2021 head on, to see what it has in store – who’s with me?