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Some Emerging Themes To Guide 2021 Digital Marketing Plans

September 10, 2020   By Jim Cuene

Building a digital marketing plan has never been harder, but some themes for 2021 may be emerging

If you’re working on your 2021 digital marketing plan, you how what a strange dilemma it is.  How can you plan that far ahead when there is so much uncertainty? Pandemic, social movements, election year anxiety, media fragmentation are some of the obvious external pressures that create the fog that marketers must manage.

So, how are marketers thinking about 2021? We found some emerging themes that might be useful as you build your 2021 digital marketing plan.

Preparing for Business As Usual Relatively Soon

First, marketers have to complete the adjustments they made to their ’20 plan, and understand what strategies and tactics will carry over into next year.  The 2020 Gartner CMO survey suggests that most CMOs expect the short term impact of Covid to have only a modest impact on the company’s ability to meet  performance goals. Marketing leaders seen to be looking ahead to post-pandemic efforts. Even though 44% experienced budget cuts in 2020, 57% expect “Business as Usual” within the next 18-24 months.


CMO’s Are Going Back to Digital Basics, Now

The Duke CMO survey  makes it clear that CMOs are retrenching during the pandemic. They’re refocusing on the basics: Retaining existing customers and investing in “value” and experiences that create better connections with customers. They are leaning into digital experiences, better interfaces, and exploring alternative business models.


And, they believe the strategies they’re pursuing this year in response to the pandemic will continue to drive business next year.

Marketers Are (re)Building Brand Strategy Muscles

Marketers are putting more focus on their Brand Strategy capability in 2020 and beyond. Paired with a strong focus on marketing analytics, it appears CMO’s are tuning their positioning, their understanding of their buyers and sources of growth.

’21 Budgets are Still Ballparks, But More Dollars Are Flowing to Digital

The IAB report on the Covid impact on advertising gives us a glimpse into the future of media spending. It’s clear that marketers and ad buyers are NOT clear about budgets for 2021, with 70% suggesting that budgets are still up in the air.


During the pandemic, marketers are accelerating the shift to digital out of more traditional media. We’d be really surprised to see that stop in ’21.


CMO’s Expect the Increased Spend on Social Media to Continue Into Next Year

During the pandemic, CMO’s authorized a pretty significant shift towards social media (as a percentage of spend), and it looks like they expect those levels to continue into the next year.


Product Innovation Might Be Limited in 2021

Gartner’s survey shows CMOs are leaning into their existing clientele and markets to drive growth. By either focusing on increasing sales (via frequency of purchase or promotions) or bringing new products to those buyers, CMOs are seeking safer plans. Unfortunately, bold innovation (new products to new markets) seems to have been de-prioritized.

Marketers, Learn to Pivot!

The Duke CMO survey makes it really clear CMO’s are seeking to inject agility and flexibility into their cultures. As they’re bringing talent onboard, they’re prioritizing the ability to pivot, creativity and the ability to navigate ambiguity.

Co-Founder and CEO

Jim has over 20 years of digital brand building experience. From running a start up digital agency to leading digital strategies for global brands at Ameriprise and General Mills, he’s been at the front of digital marketing his whole career. He loves the web and the opportunities it is creating for people and businesses to actually make the world better. Jim has an entrepreneurial mindset, the ability to see how the dots will connect in the future, and the knowledge & experience to put plans and teams in place to get results now.

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