2021 Global Marketing Trends  

Navigating the ‘new normal’

2020 will not be looked back on as a good year for businesses... but perhaps unbeknownst the management, their customers were still watching them attentively.

Through a series of Deloitte surveys, respondents have made it clear that they favoured companies who responded to the Covid-19 crisis with compassion and authenticity, as opposed to self-interest. Customers also prefer brands that they can trust and that take a holistic approach in meeting their needs, including collaborating with other businesses or departments. Another key finding shows that customers also favour companies that were agile and could meet their quickly evolving needs (e.g. pivoting to online retail when brick and mortar stores were forced to close).

It is essential that businesses gain as much insight into their customers and their needs as possible. If businesses are not agile enough to pivot their model or adapt to meet changing customer needs, they face the risk of becoming irrelevant. Deloitte’s annual Global Marketing Trends report identifies seven key themes that can guide businesses on their strategy for the way forward. The report is based on two surveys; the first is a sample size of 2,447 customers and the second is based on 405 C-suite executives including CEOs, CIOs, CMOs, COOs, CFOs and CHROs. Successfully competing in a changing competitive landscape requires functions and leaders to cross-collaborate and work together to address evolving customer needs with a more holistic approach. Thus, the report’s insights are meant to provide insights to all members of the C-suite and not only marketing officers!


2020 put brands to the test; customers saw first hand how companies responded to the crisis... and they were paying close attention. Companies who relied on their purpose to define their strategy and who actually aligned their actions with their purpose, were much better prepared to respond quickly and authentically in such an uncertain business environment.

Customers appreciated the gestures of companies who responded with compassion. Some financial institutions allowed customers to defer loan payments and paused overdraft fees and some shoe companies donated thousands of shoes to health care workers. Our survey shows that customers are influenced by these acts; around 25% of respondents said that this has improved their perception of a brand and a fifth of our respondents said this has made them want to purchase from the brand. The lesson to be learned by the C-suite is that businesses that align with their purpose may be better positioned to respond in situations of instability and unexpected change.


Agility was the capability that could make or break a company in 2020. It was critical for companies to be agile and able to adapt to marketplace change quickly. This catalysed the shift to digital channels and many companies who did not have the capability to be agile had difficulty reaching their customers. 63% of survey respondents said that they would continue to use digital channels and technology more frequently even after the pandemic. 66% of respondents found that the pandemic made them appreciate well-designed technology more.

In these times, businesses that cannot meet customers where they already are (e.g. online) and don’t have the capability to be agile, risk becoming irrelevant. It is more important than ever for leaders to focus on developing agility by investing in their teams, technologies and tools to better position them for instability and change.

Human experience

One of the biggest effects of the pandemic has been reduced human interaction, which is necessary for the development of personal relationships. This had a particularly big impact on businesses as they rely on personal interactions to build important professional relationships with stakeholders (clients, employees, etc.). Unsurprisingly, the majority of our survey respondents had a common craving for more human interaction; 56% of respondents said that they want their virtual experiences to be more ‘human.’ This calls for today’s C-suite executives to gain deeper understanding of their customers and employees and create innovative ways to connect their people to each other so that we do not lose the human touch in the ‘new normal.’


Remember earlier we said customers are paying very close attention to brands? It turned out that many brands that acted in their own interest over the customers’ or did not fulfil their promises, ended up losing their customers’ trust. 66% of our survey respondents could name a time when a business chose to act in its own interest (e.g. by increasing the prices of essential items) and a quarter of them agreed that it caused them to dissociate with the company. The key takeaway here for marketers is that they can make stronger relationships and influence customer behaviour if they segment their customers based on their values instead of demographics.

Maintaining trust is essential for customer retention, however CMOs cannot achieve this alone. Developing customer trust requires C-suite collaboration and cross-functional teams to ensure that trust-related goals are in place and that every part of the business aligns with the goals and KPIs of the overall company.


Now that interacting with a brand is quicker than ever with digital technologies, it has never been easier for a customer to write a review or post content about your business on social media. Our survey showed that 56% of respondents engaged in a digital interaction with a brand in the last year. This level of engagement suggests that there is an opportunity for brands to form deeper connections with their customers by understanding them better. Who are they? What channels are they using? Why are they participating? We found that most respondents felt motivated to engage with a brand when they got the feeling that it would help others. The better you know your customers, the better you can interact with them!


It comes as no surprise that customers favour companies that can meet their needs. Nowadays, companies are beginning to partner with other businesses outside of their industry to create holistic solutions which can better meet their customers’ needs. In the last few months, collaboration has become essential as businesses are relying on their partnerships to be able to adapt to the unstable business environment and improve their service to retain or gain customers. One example of this is a bank that partnered with a wellness provider to raise public awareness about mental health issues and to spread resources for anxiety specifically for people who were experiencing financial issues. 78% of executives say that even after the pandemic is over, their businesses will maintain the new partnerships to some level.


The role of CMOs and other marketing executives has changed in the last few years, with marketers taking on responsibility for a range of areas, from customer experience to digital strategy. At the same time, employment trends have been changing. The use of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) is growing and people are increasingly working in the gig economy rather than having traditional 9-5 jobs.

This is an opportunity for marketers to create a competitive advantage for their brand by incorporating these talent related trends into their strategy. They could implement AI to automate repetitive tasks, develop an in-house creative model and use contract workers for tactical roles and upskill employees with in-house marketing learning opportunities. Again, CMOs cannot achieve this alone and successfully capitalizing on these trends requires strong backing from the C-suite.


The 2021 global marketing trends serves as a guide for executives looking to define their business and marketing strategy to meeting their customers’ needs holistically. The trends are not intended to predict the future, but rather as a suggestive road map to help companies to navigate their way forward and remain relevant even in trying times.


About the author

Ariana Kewalramani is an analyst with Deloitte Consulting.

Global Marketing Trends 2021
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