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BrandContent’s 2021 Vision

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As we come to the end of a rollercoaster of a year, we share our thoughts on how things may change in the world of PR, content and social next year, as well as the trends we’d like to see less of in 2021. 

1: The rising importance of brand and content in a cookie-less world 

The relationship between consumer and brand has evolved a lot over the last few years. The rise of hyper personalised advertising and targeting opportunities through social platforms like Facebook led to an increase in direct to consumer (DTC), and brands like Dollar Shave Club and Gymshark are finding niche audiences. 

Our Associate Director and creative lead, James Cuff, says: “Data privacy legislation like GDPR, scandals like Cambridge Analytica, and increased web privacy standards like Apple’s ITP have truly placed the power, and the rightful ownership of personal data, back in the hands of the consumer. 

The commodity of personal data has always had a value but now consumers understand it more than ever. Brands that also understand this value, and move away from fostering a solely transactional relationship towards one that provides an adequate value exchange through content will win out in 2021. Especially at a time when it’s tone deaf to push sales-focused messaging. 

2: Are planned PR campaigns are dead? 

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that even the best-laid plans can quickly go awry. But does the same stand for planned campaigns? With so much uncertainty in the world we live in and the news agenda reflecting just that, we predict planned campaigns may continue to take a back seat in 2021. 

Our Account Manager, Alice Lally, says: “This year has seen brands pivot and pause campaigns more than ever before, and it’s certainly something we’ve had to do for our clients. With a rapidly changing news agenda rendering angles redundant so quickly, it can be tricky to plan too far ahead. So, does that signal an end of the traditional PR plan? 

“While we’ve certainly seen more success this year when it comes to reactive activity, particularly for our clients Admiral and Equals Money, I’m confident we haven’t quite seen the end of planned campaigns. 

“What we do know is it will be more important than ever to consider your angles, and make sure the campaign you’re working on is right for the audience at that time. There’s no use pitching a campaign about drinking in pubs to a journalist covering a location in lockdown – the content will be useless to readers in that area and the journalist will know you haven’t done your research. 

“If you’re creating additional assets, such as visuals or tools, it’s also worth considering whether the lead-time will mean your campaign is no longer relevant. Perhaps think about whether there’s something quicker you could do to reflect the original idea.” 

3: Merchandise is it here to stay and not just for Christmas?  

In the lead up to Christmas, we’ve seen food brands producing merchandise, from the Heinz baked bean Christmas jumpers to Pizza Hut’s pizza shaped gravity blanket. Although some of the items have been labelled as ‘limited-edition’ will more brands be jumping on the merchandise band wagon in 2021? 

This Christmas, Warburtons has given a nod to how difficult 2020 has been for many people across the UK. The famous bakery brand has created crumpet slippers to help not only put smiles on faces but to also give back to those in need. For each pair of slippers purchased, 64 meals will be donated to FareShare – the charity network is aimed at relieving food poverty and reducing food waste in the UK. 

Rebekah Hewett, account executive, says: Lots of food brands in particular are designing ‘comfy’ piece of merch which is fitting for this time of year and the current climate where we’re all being told to ‘stay home.’ 

“Some bigger brands, like Warburtons, have also considered the wider impact of their campaigns, and have either chosen to partner with a charity or offer donations to organisationswhich is great to see! 

“As we head into 2021, we may be faced with some more challenges as we start to rebuild after Covid-19 and the year where things stood still, and so more brands could be thinking about what they can do to give back and offer more support to their consumers – which is something I’d welcome! 

4: Macro influencers are over, it’s all about micro 

In 2020we’ve seen many brands turning to smaller influencers at the lower end of the ‘micro’ category (1,000 to 100,000 followers), whether for a paid collaboration, or even just gifting products in return for promotion. It’s commonly assumed that if you have more followers, more people will see and engage with your posts, however this isn’t always true.  

Instagram’s algorithm is always changing, and it’s hard to keep up with what you need to do to ensure your content shows up at the top of your followers’ feeds. Posting consistently, at peak times and engaging with your audience and similar accounts are just a few of the things you can do to ensure your content is seen.  

Our content executive, Molly Geddes, predicts a rise in brands opting to work with smaller micro-influencers in the new year. She explainsAs we’ve seen from some of our own influencer campaigns, the number of followers don’t always equal engagement. Often someone with 2,000 followers could have a greater post reach than someone with 20,000. Many brands are becoming aware of the power and influence micro accounts hold, and in turn will implement opportunities for smaller influencers in their marketing strategies. 

We’re also becoming far less trusting of brand’s collaborations with big influencers, as social media users are far more aware of the scale of paid promotions. Content from smaller influencers, however, still has an element of authenticity, and brands and agencies should look to take advantage of this in 2021. 

5: Audio will find its voice 

Podcasts will become even more popular as people take to the roads more again in 2021. They’re already hugely popular as they’re so convenient to listen to when you’re doing other things, like driving or cooking – not to mention easy to create. They provide a welcome break from screen time, which we’ve all had a lot of in 2020 (a report into Gen Z and millennials by Spotify found that 56% believe that audio can serve as a distraction from too much visual stimulation.) 

Another way that audio will sing in 2021 is through voice search. There are 4.2 billion voice assistants in use in 2020 and 41% of people who own a smart speaker say it feels like talking to a friend. So it’s crazy not to consider voice assistants in marketing strategies. One simple first step is to optimise content for voice search. 

Chris Marshall, content editor, says: “Audio always seems unloved by marketers, but that’s unjustified.  Podcasts and voice search are just one element. There’s so much going on: from YouTube’s trials of audio ads, to Twitter’s invite-only voice chat rooms, and efforts by the likes of the BBC to create new ways to listen to their written articles.” 

6: Not all small businesses should advertise on social, just because it’s easy to do so 

Fewer small brands and businesses will be advertising on social as the barriers to advertising on platforms like Facebook are artificially low, and it’s possible to spend a lot of money without seeing great (if any) results. 

Rachel Besenyei, head of growth and social, explains: As budgets are squeezed in 2021, I expect to see a greater marketing spend on investments such as an improved website that’s SEO-optimised and loads more quickly, or on traditional marketing methods that get the product perfect before it’s pushed through Paid Social.” 

7Brand purpose will be more important than ever before  

In a year which saw millions of people stuck at home, 2020 confronted the world with important social issues, bringing them to centre stage and forcing conversation, and action, around the world.  

Whether it was the death of George Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement, the mental health crisis which shadowed the pandemic, the rise in domestic violence reports as lockdown took over, the loneliness that faced our vulnerable neighbours or the efforts of Marcus Rashford to end food poverty, we had no choice but to consume the news and follow the stories. We watched to see how other people, and brands, reacted.  

Our senior account manager, Laura Jones said: “Brand purpose has always been important and should always be at the forefront of every campaign. Unfortunately, for some brands this has slipped down the list or fallen off completely in the past, and other brands survived so far by paying lip service to it. In 2021 brands won’t be able to get away with this, and rightly so.  

“As a nation and as a generation, we’re more aware of the wider world and the issues it faces, and we understand that we all have a responsibility to tackle them, even if we’re not directly impacted by them ourselves. Consumers will be looking to see how brands are reacting and responding, and looking for action, not just words. Consumers are more equipped to see through the façade that brands have been able to hide behind in the past and will be looking to see real, genuine change. Brands need to be ready for this, as consumers no longer make choices based on price and convenience, but also purpose. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that doing or saying nothing is not enough and brands need to take note.”  

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