Digital marketing predictions for 2021 and beyond

2020 has well and truly been an ‘unprecedented’ year, and with Brexit underway and vaccines on the horizon, next year is likely to be a chaotic one too.

Through all the uncertainty, some key trends have emerged over the last 12 months that we expect will shape the face of digital in 2021 and beyond.


In our latest podcast episode, Search Laboratory’s founder, Ian Harris, is joined by Jimmy McCann, head of digital strategy, Pete Whitmarsh, head of paid media, and Rob Marsden, head of digital – earned and owned to discuss the long-term effects of Covid-19 on businesses and how this has accelerated the shift to online.

The team explores the evolving role of automation, AI and machine learning in digital marketing. They also consider the future of the crumbling third-party cookie, which we also cover in more detail in our previous podcast episode ‘Cookies + Tracking: What It Means For Marketers’, and the growth of other channels including marketplaces and non-website shopping.

But for those who prefer to read than listen, we have summarised a few of the key discussion points below.

Online shopping is here for the long haul

The pandemic led to massive shift in how – and where – people shop. Lockdowns left brick and mortar stores closed for a large part of the year, so naturally more and more consumers have turned to the internet for their purchases.

While shops are now back open, it seems apparent that online shopping is here to stay. Many of the initial barriers that prevented people from shopping online have been broken down. The forced closure of shops sent consumer online, and now their accounts are set up and they are increasingly comfortable with e-commerce, it is very likely that online shopping will have a bigger share than it did pre-pandemic.

Automation and machine learning will be more accessible

Automation and machine learning is starting to become more accessible to marketers and small businesses who may not necessarily have the in-depth knowledge and expertise previously required to optimise their campaigns with machine learning.

Google is leading the way in this area with several updates that aim to make machine learning much more accessible.

As machine learning in businesses becomes more prevalent, the role of the agency will evolve into being more strategic, helping companies determine what data should to look at and how, rather than the manual day-to-day management of accounts.

The rise of Amazon and shoppable social

The accelerated the growth of Amazon due to the pandemic has been widely reported on, and we can expect to see an even bigger expansion of marketplaces over the next year.

We are likely to also see a rise in the number of shoppable platforms, where users can buy direct from the SERPs or social media. Instagram’s updated layout change highlights a push towards this in-platform shopping, and we expect other platforms to follow suit.

These trends are covered in more depth in our podcast, so if you’re interested in knowing more about the data behind these predictions, give it a listen. You can subscribe and tune in to the Search Laboratory Podcast today on iTunes or Spotify.

Chris Attewell is chief executive officer of Search Laboratory.

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