Predictions Watch: Googlers Weigh in on 2021

As part of our continuing effort to scour the internet to find some interesting and provocative predictions, today we share with you some that came our way via Google. These predictions are from a variety of Googlers. They work in places like Google Play, Insights Lab, Market Insights, Hardware, Media Lab, to name just a few. As we’ve done with all of our “Predictions Watch” posts this year, we apply a local lens to the predictions.


1. People will see through brand virtue signaling

It is not surprising that consumers can smell an inauthentic effort, even through their phones. According to a recent analysis from Fast Company, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, 25% of beauty ads featured models with darker skin tones. Just two months later, that figure had dropped to 16%. This reactive gesture won’t do brands (large, small, global, or local) much good.  Consumers are on to them. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that 63% of Americans believe that brands that issue a statement in support of racial equity need to follow it up with concrete action. 

This means that if you plan to take a stand, you had better be prepared to be consistent. You will need to take a position and reinforce it over time. A one-time acknowledgment may hurt more than it helps. According to a Google Play marketing team member, “research shows Gen Z and millennials are more inclined to hold brands accountable to their corporate social responsibility goals.” 


2. Diversity marketing will be about more than race and gender

For the local business owner, the notion of diversity marketing has got to be daunting. This research from Google suggests that brands that can prioritize diversity will have their ads perform better. But the local business owner isn’t likely to be running ad campaigns that suggest diversity. Instead, local businesses need to figure out what diversity means to them and how that plays into their marketing, advertising, and customer experience efforts.

All this means that the local business owner needs to figure out what the makeup is of their target customer base. Once that’s done, then maybe that means being more deliberate about hiring practices. Or getting reviews from a diverse set of customers. Or offering information in a second language if that’s appropriate. In many ways, it’s probably more challenging for the local business owner to consider the nuances of diversity than for the fortune 1000 company, but equally or perhaps even more important going into the next decade of the 21st century. 

Maybe that means hiring for diversity but that probably won’t be enough. Instead, local businesses should consider how they can communicate their core values around diversity in the website messaging.  But, while most of these efforts have focused on issues such as gender and racial diversity, the marketers we spoke to think 2021 will be the year that brands take a more holistic approach to inclusion.

Predictions Watch: Customer Experience Trends for 2021

3. UX will be a bigger priority than ever before

We’ve said for some time that user/customer experience will be a key differentiator in the months and years ahead. As some of the largest companies on earth — Amazon, Walmart, Target, United Airlines — pour more and more money into making sure their delivering a compelling customer experience, small businesses will have to keep pace.

In 2020, consumers bought more and did more on their phones than ever before. Making sure the customer experience is compelling and the website and app are on par with the world’s largest companies is a monumental challenge. In terms of the small business website here’s what one Google brand manager had to say. “As users get more used to digital tools and products due to the pandemic, they will get better at interacting with ads and demand a better user experience. That means no broken links, confusing CTAs, slow pages, or desktop-only websites. I see a bigger role this coming year for UX teams in creating delightful and functional end-to-end advertising experiences.”

Predictions Watch: Shopify’s Five Commerce Trends for 2021

4. Live-streamed e-commerce will help brands stand out

A marketing research manager in Google’s London office had this to say. “In 2020, it’s easier than ever to post a video, start a podcast, or sell products online, we see this behavior shift in Google trends, as searches for ‘how to be an influencer,’ ‘how to start a podcast,’ and ‘how to make money on social media’ are up globally.” This leads to what is known as live-streamed eCommerce which sounds to us a lot like QVC and the other TV shopping networks.

According to Bloomberg, live-stream eCommerce generates $60 billion in global sales. And the U.S. accounting for just a fraction of the total. And many of those in the U.S. are small businesses. We would think some of the traditional media companies like LocaliQ/Gannett or new local news platforms like Lookout Santa Cruz could find this as a new model to consider.  

5. Practical will become the new premium

At least for the first portion of 2021, the focus of consumers will be on things they need instead of things they want. Here is what a marketer in Google’s hardware division said. “People’s priorities have shifted to a lower rung on Maslow’s hierarchy. As a result, we’ve adjusted our spending toward essentials and crave products that truly meet our needs.” What that means for the local business owner probably isn’t very profound. After all, if you’re a small business owner and survived 2020, then you know that you had to take care of your customers’ core needs.

While the first months of 2021 will continue a focus on the “must”. This could be fixing a dishwasher that’s been overworked during the pandemic or the house that needs special cleaning because of the virus. The second half of 2021 might begin a shift toward the “want”.  Small business owners will have to make sure they’re in alignment with the buying sentiment of their customer or client base. 


6. Augmented reality will go mainstream

Our colleague Mike Boland has been covering the world of AR for some time on his Artillery platform. While brands have been playing around with AR for a few years, the pandemic-driven stay-at-home orders have forced compaines to take AR more seriously. Folks at Google’s hardware marketing team in London predict that AR will finally go mainstream. They said, “2021 will be the breakthrough year when AR will finally gain a strong foothold in every corner of our lives — shopping, entertainment, communication, and more.”

The most progressive local business owners will be playing around with ways to incorporate AR into customer experiences. We don’t pretend to know what that looks like yet, but some of the categories we imagine being impacted include home design services, perhaps some health care services, fitness, and athletic training, and food and cooking related. Over the next five years, we will see AR use cases emerge from local businesses triggered by what they’re seeing and observing from larger brands and in more obvious categories. 

Predictions Watch: Customer Experience Trends for 2021

7. Micro-influencers will have a macro impact

The influencer marketing industry is estimated to grow to $15 billion over the next two years. But a marketer on Google’s Brand Studio team, says the future lies not with megastars and their millions of followers. It’s with micro-influencers. They believe that the micro-influencer with 1,000 to 100,000 followers might be the ticket for really leveraging the influencer world. That plays well into the local small business space. And it offers up opportunities for forward-leaning local businesses to test the efficacy of influence marketing. By tapping a local influencer who’s well connected in a local market, they might be able to make a little go a long way. 

8. Personalization will scale massively

We’ve been hearing and expecting the shift to massive personalization for years. Googlers on the Media Lab team say technologies are coming that will finally enable personalization at scale. According to the Media Lab, “YouTube’s Director Mix is a nifty tool that layers video elements, meaning advertisers can tailor over 240 versions of the same six- or 15-second ad, we’ve seen these types of ads perform twice as well as generic branded assets.” Other Googlers believe the notion of account-based marketing will disappear. It will simply become the norm, not the exception.

For the local, small business, this means figuring out what CRM platforms can help with personalization. This doesn’t have to happen at scale as it does at large enterprises. But it must be easy to execute. Maybe it means the business owner takes pen to paper and sends a snail-mail piece that is just for a specific customer. What is certain is that you can’t get away with pushing generic messages out to the public and hope they’ll respond. 


9. Selling health and happiness will capture Gen Z hearts and minds

Well before the craziness of 2020 happened, the American Psychological Association had identified that Gen Zers were reporting more mental health issues than other generations. YouTube team members believe companies need to focus on health and happiness messaging into the 2021 plans. This doesn’t mean messages that ignore or pretend times are not tough. But it does mean offering ways to focus on a few well-being opportunities in the face of challenging times. For a small business, this is about speaking authentically about their own challenges while also sharing important moments of customer success. It probably means small business owners need to go beyond the perfunctory “how are you doing?”. They need to actually listen to the answers with intention. 

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