Marketing forecast 2021: there will be no coming back

Last year was unusual for everyone on Earth. Surprisingly, Ukrainian marketers happened to be better prepared for this crisis than our counterparts from other “stable” economies. For decades local marketing professionals have not had a single year without economic, political, or social surprises. Therefore, the last year only highlighted and accelerated some of the emerging local trends.

So, after the first quarter, it is about time to look at the main trends which will be guiding marketing in Ukraine (and probably other countries) in 2021.

1. Brand will become more purposeful … or slowly become extinct.

Mission and purpose of the brand is not a new notion. However, lockdowns X-rayed the core of the brands, separating lovemarks from imitations. Customers of the first ones were ready to support them in the unusual and not always conventional ways.

For examples, loyal visitors of “Planeta kino” (one of the largest cinema chains in Ukraine) were willing to buy tickets for the post-COVID viewings, and many customers were ordering cocktails deliveries from the local bars.

I think that in 2021 we will see less and less “COVID content”. It will not be enough this year to issue branded banners with “Stay at home” slogan. Customers rightfully expect that brands will step up and demonstrate genuine care for their customers — care that will not be superficial but rooted in DNA of the brand. Good example of such care is “Isolated” taxi from Bolt in which a driver is separated from a passenger with a transparent film. Or possibility to pick up pre-gathered groceries from Silpo to minimize time spend inside (one of the largest national grocery stores).

Consumers are tired from empty branded cheering, they want to engage in a meaningful dialogue with brands.

2. Consumer habits have changed, and this is permanent

We all must have already understood that 2021 will not be the year when we return to the previous world order. Or that we will ever do so. Consumers have already changed their habits significantly. And if the first lockdown led to “panic purchasing”, the subsequent waves did not cause such significant fluctuations. This year, in my opinion, is the year when customers will fully embrace volatility of the situation.

Coupled with the tendency to visit physical outlets less frequently and the growing popularity of e-commerce, we are likely to observe less impulsive purchases and more rational consumption. For example, this year I expect to see growth of “value packs” which will offer consumers better price and longer time in between stock-ups.

3. At home, but not watching TV

Changing consumer lifestyles mean that in 2021 brands will have to revise which communication channels they use. And not once but make a habit of revisiting media plans regularly. After the first quarter of 2021, it is clear that TV viewing in Ukraine continues to decline, despite a short-term peak during the first lockdown.

I am confident that in 2021 we will see active growth of legal online movie theaters. For example, last year we noted active growth of MEGOGO, this year it is quite possible that new players will appear in Ukraine.

Tik-Tok, which shows explosive growth in many countries, remains a wild card for the Ukrainian market. Last year, several local brands have launched trial campaigns in this network, and I expect to see more in 2021.

4. Unpredictability and inability to plan.

Unfortunately, this year will be as unpredictable as 2020. Even more so for Ukraine, than for our western neighbors. Political instability, exchange rate fluctuations and … chaotic and totally unpredictable competitor actions add up on top of the quarantine uncertainty.

I expect that throughout 2021 most companies will revise their marketing tactics at least several times. This means that marketers will have to respond to the actions of competitors very quickly.

5. Digital is no longer just a channel.

This is not a new trend, but last year has dramatically accelerated it. The joke that coronavirus was the main sponsor of digitalization in Ukraine, is only partially a joke. This year, brands will be working on improving their digital assets, many of which were launched in the rush of last year crisis.

Most likely, digital will become more than just a place to make a purchase. It is becoming an integral part of the overall customer experience. We will see more and more hybrid activations happening simultaneously offline and online. Virtual events will evolve from a webinar-like format into full-fledged interactive events. Some traditionally offline, such as tasting or samplings, will also migrate online.

In the coming year, marketers will likely have to work with smaller budgets. Therefore, the main bets will be on creativity, and choice of the most effective communication channels.

However, the main danger for marketers in 2021 will be not the lack of budgets, but the false belief that all the worst is behind us and the world is gradually returning to its former lifestyle. Last year we all worked “under stress”, realizing that we urgently need to invent new ways of working and adapt innovations roadmap to the new reality. This year, it is important not to succumb to the illusion that everything is returning to normal.

Brand manager, Danone Nutricia. Professional marketer with a diverse experience in various industries and geographies. Owner of a small wellness business .