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PHOTO: Jason Dent

It was the year that all companies had to rethink their businesses. No one was prepared for a pandemic in 2020, and as the world shifted from in-person to digital only, many companies were left scrambling to navigate this change seemingly overnight.

Marketing technology companies had a unique perspective on this seismic shift, as email, push notifications, and other forms of digital communication became the primary way for brands to connect directly with their customers during this time. In fact, some argue that martech was at the forefront of digital transformation in 2020.

I reached out to some of my colleagues at Braze as well as martech executives from Movable Ink and Segment to ask about current and upcoming trends. What were the key learnings from 2020 that will carry over into 2021? What are the main challenges for the new year? And what advice would they give as companies prepare for the new year? This is the first of two articles that will explore these questions. First up, a look at 2021 trends.

The 'D' Word Will Continue to Ring True in 2021

Digital transformation has been a buzzword for the past decade. This year the rubber met the road, and companies had to execute their five-year digital transformation plans in three to six months in order to stay in business.

“COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation faster than ever before, putting us in the midst of the most competitive digital sprint we’ve ever seen,” said Peter Reinhardt, CEO and co-founder of customer data platform provider Segment. “Many companies were left overwhelmed by an influx of direct, digital interactions they weren’t prepared for. It has become clear that the true winners will be those with organizational agility, a true understanding of their customer base, and the tools needed to fully take advantage of and act upon their data.”

Related Article: 5 Myths About Digital Transformation

Martech Interconnectivity Will Be Critical for Companies and for Teams

Interconnectivity is central to any successful digital transformation. If teams are operating in silos or technology isn’t connected, subpar customer experiences will result, which no company can afford at this time. It’s crucial for any company to build in interconnectivity as a pillar of digital transformation, and also to leverage platforms that non-technical people can use.

“In 2020, brands are quickly realizing that you need your martech stack to be deeply interconnected. Messages across channels need to build a cohesive experience for the consumer based on the data they’ve given you at every touch point,” said Will Crocker Hay, VP of customer and partner marketing at Braze. “Interconnectivity at the team level is also critical with product and marketing teams blending into one another more than ever before.”

One way to break down silos and better connect teams is to get more non-technical functions using marketing technology to create a more cohesive customer experience. “One trend we saw in 2020 that will continue to grow in 2021 is the adoption of low-code/no-code platforms,” stated Tido Carriero, chief product development officer at Segment. “In the future, companies will orchestrate their data and software tools in more ways that won’t require an engineer. Businesses will be able to tweak everything from product experience to messaging, based upon rules and workflows that they know about the user—and it will be all done by business marketing people in a few minutes, without requiring an engineer at all.”

Related Article: Martech Sandwiches: A Tasty Approach to Integration Mapping

Privacy Will Return to the Limelight

Largely absent from any discussion last year was privacy. This was due to two reasons: all businesses were busy figuring out how to navigate the new normal (even Apple kicked the can to 2021), and it wasn’t a high-priority agenda item during the US elections. With the pandemic hopefully coming to an end in 2021 (fingers crossed!) and a new administration coming into office, expect to see privacy back in the limelight and a real distinction between first-party and third-party data sources.

“The privacy regulations that have stalled under the current administration will see the light of day in 2021,” stated Julio Lopez, director of client strategy and retail practice lead at personalized email marketing provider Movable Ink. “These changes will underscore the need for first-party data and the importance of permission-based marketing. If marketers hope to continue to deliver personalized content to their customers, they’ll need to be more adept at collecting, processing, and activating customer data.”

Carriero took a similar stance, exploring what better consumer privacy would mean for the marketing and advertising industry: “We’ve seen industry predictions estimating that as many as 90% of iOS 14 users are expected not to opt in to IDFA tracking, compared to 20% today who manually opt out, which will have huge implications on digital and mobile advertising and marketing. As new regulations and stricter platform privacy policies are introduced, businesses will have to leave personalized ads driven by third-party data in the past and instead build direct relationships with their customers.”

In the next article we will explore what challenges 2021 will bring for the marketing technology industry and how companies should be thinking about the “end” of COVID-19.