Why 2021 will be the most important year in the history of marketing

history of marketing

Traditionally, this is the time I would write a post projecting how I see marketing evolving in the coming year. In this period of obviously weird disruption, I’ve decided to write a weird and disruptive post. Instead of the list of trends you might expect, I’ll tell you a short (and true) story demonstrating why 2021 will be the most important year in the history of marketing.

Here we go:

Last week I visited a friend who showed me an Instagram video of her young nephew blowing out candles on a Barney birthday cake. “I freaked out!” she said. “In this day and age, how can anybody be blowing all over a cake? I will never blow out birthday cake candles again!”

That’s it.

In less than 60 words, I’ve described an entire world of cataclysmic marketing trends. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Our pandemic selves

In this little story, we see a young lady “freaking out” over the simple and normal act of a boy blowing out birthday cake candles. In 2019, we would have thought her statement to be a bit extreme. In 2020, her strange new view would be easily understood and accepted by most people.

Here’s the point. She is telling us that her “normal” behavior will never be the same again. This is no small point.

This episode is a symbol of a significant marketing trend: Our customers are becoming different … permanently different in many ways. This pandemic has been going on so long that it is literally re-wiring consumer behavior in millions of unexpected ways.

We need to assume nothing and reconsider everything. These changing habits, attitudes, and values will certainly impact

  • product development
  • design
  • packaging
  • distribution
  • channels
  • messaging
  • content strategy
  • trust

If you think you know your customers, think again. 2021 is a time for marketers to be humble and engage fully in “listening mode.”

Ummm … Barney?

history of marketingDid you think it was odd that the cake was decorated with Barney the purple dinosaur? This character was popular with children in the 1990s and has more or less been retired. It was probably much more relevant to the child’s mom than to the little boy.

We are in a period where consumers are seeking comfort, safety, and things that are familiar. It’s not surprising that the little boy’s mom chose a cake that comforted her more than the kid.

I recently wrote a post predicting that nostalgia marketing will be a HUGE trend for the foreseeable future. We’re living in a whacked-out world and we’ll be reaching for recognizable icons of a happier past.

Start paying attention to how the past is being used to connect to consumers today.

Freaking out

It seemed to me that this overreaction to a normal birthday video is a sign this woman is STRESSED.

In 2020, the news has been dominated by surging illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths (on top of civil unrest, political divisiveness, joblessness, and an imperiled economy!).

There has not been enough attention paid to stress and the mental toll of the pandemic, which may exceed the physical damage in the long run.

  • For every person who dies, there is an average of nine people who are thrown into a deep state of grieving.
  • Pandemic fears are amplifying slightly neurotic behaviors.
  • People on the front lines like hospital workers, nursing home aids, teachers, and childcare professionals have been stressed at dangerous levels for months.
  • One in five COVID survivors has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or insomnia — for the first time in their lives—within 90 days of infection.
  • For women, the pandemic’s mental toll is disproportionally high: one in four senior-level women are now considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.

In the backstory to our birthday cake episode, the woman viewing the video has seen her successful small business crumble during the pandemic. She has been unable to see her elderly parents. And she is viewing this video on Instagram instead of being at the party herself because she CAN’T be there live due to fear of the spreading disease.

That’s a lot of stress. Life-changing stress. No wonder she’s freaking out.

Folks, our world is about to explode under the weight of a year of anxiety. Is that a marketing issue? Yes, it is.

The online nation

Here is a final observation to tease from this tiny tale. It’s about relationships and lifestyle.

What’s happening between the people in this story — me, my friend, her nephew, and her nephew’s parents? Why am I visiting a friend but she can’t go to the birthday party? It’s because of the virus. I’ve had it. So I have some immunity. In the coming months, more people will be safe as the vaccine rolls out.

But for now, my friend can’t visit her family or anybody as she tries to protect herself and her own family from the deadly virus.

So her only option is to live vicariously and visit her loved ones through the web.

I cannot imagine a scenario where anybody reading this post hasn’t dramatically altered their lifestyle to become more web-oriented in how you shop, work, and connect to people. Marketing innovation comes from a response to unmet needs and my friends, there are SO MANY unmet needs right now!

An example: I’ve recently signed up for a service called LunchClub where I can meet and network with relevant business professionals. Normally I would have no need for something like this since I’m ALWAYS meeting new people as I jaunt around the world.

But stuck at home, I’m missing the serendipitous energy provoked by random new connections. Think about how profound this is. Our world has changed so dramatically I even have to seek randomness through an app!

In 2019, the web was a utility. In 2020 and beyond, the web is our heartbeat.

Your time in the history of marketing

If you look at the lessons from the birthday cake story, you can see why I can easily claim that 2021 will be the most significant year in the history of marketing.

Classic marketing research shows that people are creatures of habit, buying the same things over and over. But there are certain gateways of personal disruption — leaving home, getting married, having a baby — where consumers are open to new purchasing habits.

We are now immersed in a new global consumer gateway of opportunity. Almost every normal habit has been disrupted and ripe for new products and services.

When the pandemic began, my attitude was, “I just need to hold on until we’re back to normal.”

I now know that there is no “back to normal.” I’ve adopted a new mindset and opened myself up to consider every idea and opportunity and change and un-met need that is hurled my way.

I intend to embrace the chaos. As we enter this year of overpowering change and excitement I hope you will join me.

In 2021, we re-write the history of marketing. How will you shine?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and can help you prepare for the most important year in the history of marketing! He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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