marketing spend in 2021

It’s no secret that 2020 put brands in a big bind when it came to marketing and increasing sales during a time when many small businesses were failing and millions of Americans found themselves out of work. In order to survive, a massive shift occurred, from traditional advertising and in-person events to overwhelmingly online efforts.

Savvy businesses should expect this trend to continue in 2021, simply because we’re not out of the woods yet. We still have a way to go before “normal” returns, and in the meantime, technology is making things previously believe impossible not only possible, but commonplace.

Investing in many of these new technologies will be wise, not just because we still have months to go before the pandemic becomes a thing of the past—finally. However, after significant investment into these new (or improved) tactics, we can certainly expect them to stick around and perhaps continue to evolve as we slowly blend them back in with traditional techniques.


Marketing automation is nothing new, but it does continue to evolve according to the specific needs of marketers and the changes in buyer behavior. Automation has made it possible for marketers to track buyers throughout the entire purchasing journey for several reasons, with the most important being to provide the most relevant experience possible, whether through the content provided, the product information shared, or contact from a sales professional at just the right time.

Expect automation efforts to increase in 2021, starting with the use of AI for chatbots and email responses. Machine learning programs will make it possible for marketers to continue guiding consumers through the buyer’s journey without the need to be physically aware of and available to every website visitor.

First-Party Data

Third-party cookies are slowly disappearing due to increasing privacy laws. Browsers Safari and Firefox have been blocking cookies for several months, and Google recently released a new Chrome browser version that will also block consumer behavior tracking.

While the disappearance of cookies does have significant meaning for marketing, it’s important to first understand that the solution wasn’t great to begin with. This is especially true regarding data gathered from shared computers, as cookies had no real way of determining which user visited what site. This is, of course, before the issues of privacy entered the picture.

Expect the need to develop new solutions to data-driven marketing, the first of which is first-party data—or software that specifically gathers information about visitors to your own website and social media platforms.

Next, it’s time to head back to “Old Faithful,” or keywords. Without the assistance of cookies, you’ll need to drive traffic to your website based on what your specific buyers search for, and to do that you need content rich with keywords.

Company Blog

Speaking of content—during the pandemic, marketers discovered that their own company blog was one of the most important tools available when marketing their business. Just barely shy of beating LinkedIn for top spot, a company blog was found to be more valuable than all of the other social platforms put together.

importance of blog

Reasons for this vary, but we can certainly look to the previous section for some form of verification. Without third-party cookies, brands are relying on the right customers to find them, rather than the other way around. A blog gives businesses the chance to educate and inform their customers, yes, but also to use those very important keywords and search phrases that drive buyers to the website.

In addition to introducing new products and services—something blogs have always been perfect for—on-site articles also give brands the opportunity to share their stance on various social causes and issues.

Customer Relationship Management

Looking back at marketing budgets in 2020 gives us a pretty accurate look at what is likely to happen in 2021. Last year, over 60% of marketing departments shifted budget resources to building better consumer-facing digital programs. In 2021, we can expect an average of 5.7% growth in marketing spend on this and other customer relationship management activities.

First-party data will play a big part in this increase in attention to customer relations, as it will give a deeper look at consumer behaviors as they apply to the specific brand in question. Movement through the website and on social media platforms will give marketers data about their buyers that will make personalization even more personal than before.

Virtual Events

While it’s probably safe to say that consumers and marketers are tired of the word “virtual” and don’t want to hold or attend yet another virtual event, the truth is that in-person events—whether for marketing or rewarding brand loyalty—just won’t be possible for at least a while longer.

In 2020, we saw huge advancements in technology and how it could be used to improve virtual experiences for consumers. Because of this incredible investment, virtual events are likely to remain a part of marketing for the foreseeable future—even after “live” is allowed again. Expect to see more focus on making virtual events as fun and engaging as possible this year, and then a blend of virtual and live events as we become more comfortable with mingling again.

This could look like several things, depending on your brand and your proposed events this year. Buyers could gain access to on-demand videos in preparation for in-person events with staggered attendance over the course of a week rather than one large gathering over the course of a day. Or, you might present some virtual keynote speakers mixed with live, hands-on activities.