Well…this post is going to be a little different than in previous years, isn’t it? I guess that’s true of most things in 2020, so it’s no longer surprising.

Usually, when December rolls around, we wax poetic about the joy of Thanksgiving, which carries into the merriment and wonder of the holiday season, culminating with Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Then we write our annual marketing predictions post and all is right in the world.

We’re still going to do all of the above. And we sincerely wish you still find the joy and merriment of years past throughout the 2020 holiday season, all the while staying safe and healthy.

In case you’re new to the WSI blog, every year, we publish a set of predictions for what lies ahead from a digital perspective. This dates back to 2014 (see past predictions for 2015, 2016, 2017 , 2018, 2019 and 2020), and allows us a theoretical platform to analyze and predict the future of marketing and – if we’re correct – get a jump on our competition.

Here’s the grading legend we created for the original post way back in 2014:

  • Oracle (+2) – when we’re so right it’s like we channeled that nice lady from The Matrix
  • Oracle In-Training (+1) – we didn’t quite see the whole picture, but hey, we still saw the future
  • Clear As Mud (0) – we weren’t right, but we weren’t wrong, either
  • Just A Bit Outside (-1) – we tried to paint the corner of the plate, but the ump didn’t give us the call
  • Swing And A Miss (-2) – like a batter who expects fastball and gets a curve, we weren’t close

As usual, before we dive into the predictions for 2021, let’s take a peek at how we did in 2020. Fair warning, this may or may not be a rough set of predictions since it was made in December 2019, before we knew what 2020 truly had in store for us:

#1: Zero-Click Searches Are Going to Continue to Take Over

Grade: +1
There is no doubt in my mind that the number of “Zero Click” searches increased again in 2020, though the data to prove as much is harder to come by than last year. Anecdotally, three fairly large sites that I work on all received ~20% less organic traffic year-over-year through 11 months of 2020 vs 2019. This is enough for us to take a point.

While in most cases the data is extremely important to us giving ourselves a win, it’s definitely clear Google is trying to keep users on its pages. Check out our post here to read about some featured snippet changes from early 2020 and this post for why you should care about on-SERP SEO.

Over on the Moz blog, they actually excluded the blog’s content from featured snippets, just to test whether a true #1 ranking was actually better than an answer box or other featured snippet. It wasn’t, but the fact they even considered and then acted on something like this tells you what they believe Google is trying to accomplish.

#2: It’s Time to Consider Other Communication Channels (Besides Email) As Key Conversion Points

Grade: +2
While w’ere not in any way happy about it, this one is a big win, and it was partially aided by the pandemic. It’s no secret COVID-19 has pushed retail to the brink as more and more brands move sales online. Obviously, human customer service touchpoints, through email and phonelines, played a huge role in this, but so did chatbots.

Here are some stats to back up our two point claim:

  • 85% of customer interaction will be handled without human agents by 2021
  • Experts predict 90% of customer interaction in banks will be automated by 2022
  • 55% of people who use chatbots would expect them to provide instant responses and answers to simple questions

#3: Software Vendors Will Focus on Customer Data Compliance

Grade: +1
See #2 for reasons that this definitely did happen, though we’re not over the moon as to why.

The pandemic not only pushed more people into buying online, it also sent the vast majority of those working in a digital industry home. Posts like this one indicate the improvement of data compliance is happening now, all over the world, in real time.

#4: Influencer Marketing Will Continue to Soar

Grade: +1
When searching for stats in support of this one, I found this here: “…influencer marketing is the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition method.”

There are many other nuggests in that article that suggest influencer marketing remains a hot tactic in 2020 and will only continue to grow, such as nearly 70% of major brands indicating they will spend more on influencer marketing going forward.

I also think it’s a big win (and certainly something I’ve been looking forward to) that SparkToro finally launched its main product offerings in 2020. A paid service to help you “discover the publications and people that influence any group of people online” is surely a sign that influencer marketing has arrived and is here to stay.

#5: Alternate Search Engines (NOT Bing or Yahoo) Will Come Out of the Woodwork

Grade: -1
As much as I think this one should come true, especially with Google up to no good, I don’t think this chart indicates that we were right:

So we’ll take the L and move on!

Final Score: +4
Well, we once again came up a point or two short of the previous year’s score, and we were three off our all-time record from 2018’s batch of predictions. But given the extremely volatile year we all had in 2020, we’ll take these results and move onto bigger and better things in 2021, thank you very much!

Moving on, let’s put 2020 in the rear-view mirror! Here’s are a few things we think will come to fruition in 2021:

#1: Sales Will Continue to Skew Further Toward eCommerce

We feel a bit sheepish about making this prediction because, well, it happened throughout 2020 and it’ll definitely continue. But not everybody thinks it’s as obvious, and that includes some businesses who would rather bemoan “lockdowns” and “restrictions” than adapt their business along with changing times and market conditions. It might be hard, but it’s the truth.

Because here’s the thing. While the pandemic has pushed companies to up their eCommerce game and expand their digital presence, consumers have quickly realized how easy and convenient shopping online is. This is dangerous to businesses that don’t like change.

#2: The Workforce Will Remain as Remote and Digital As Possible

Again, this is a common sense prediction. Much of the workforce that could work seamlessly from home, did work from home in 2020. In a post-pandemic world, offices will still be a thing, but for the workforce that moved completely remote with no issue, business will be much less office-centric than it was previously.

Need to go into the office once a week for a team meeting? Sure. But the days of commuting to and from an office, spending hours of your day simply going from point A to point B when you can accomplish everything you do at point B from point A, are over. And that is an extrememly positive thing in a number of ways.

#3: Communication – Both Internal and External – Will Matter More Than Ever, And Improve

What we mean by this is as a result of prediction #2, co-workers and teams will get better at communicating with each other. This has already happened in 2020, but it will continue. Working remotely has been a positive thing for keeping meetings short, and communications brief and to the point, which allows everyone to be more efficient with their time.

In the same vein, businesses will need to revamp their prospect and customer communication funnels, if they haven’t already. Retaining customers is very important in these tough times, as we all know it’s easier to keep a customer than find a new one, so let that dictate how and when you communicate to your existing paying customers.

#4: Virtual Events Will Increase and Evolve

Out of necessity, many 2020 events that were already planned were moved online. Some were rocky to say the least, but we all got through it because there was no other choice.

In 2021, events will be planned as virtual from the outset, and they’ll be much better for it. We even wrote some tips for you.

Additionally, virtual events will improve because there will be more tools and services launched to make it easier to host large online conferences and gatherings. Which leads into our more general fifth prediction…

#5: New Digital Tools and Services Will Emerge

Tough times breed innovation. The 2020 pandemic is living proof of that, as the world is on the cusp of the fastest vaccine development and distribution in history.

In the same way, we truly believe we’re going to experience immense innovation across almost every major industry in the coming years, beginning in 2021. There will be tools, software and devices – some that haven’t even been invented yet – that change our lives.

This is a general prediction, yes. But the important thing is using it to remain open to adapting and changing on the fly. When something new emerges, the earliest adopters are often the biggest winners. Keep this in mind and give some extra consideration to new things or ideas when they pop up – you never know where they’ll lead you or what successes they’ll bring.