To cap off an interesting 12 months, we asked 15 agency owners and executives at a recent Conquer Local Community session for their thoughts on the trends that defined 2021, and where they see the biggest opportunities for the digital marketing industry in the New Year.
So, what was the verdict? Five key themes emerged from our quick Google poll.
The most exciting was that agencies believe small and medium businesses (SMB) are more open to procuring marketing services than ever before. That means 2022 should provide plenty of opportunities for lead generation as local businesses seek help in adapting to a digital-first world.
Meanwhile, agencies say they’ll need to be smarter about how they operate and help local businesses target their clients more effectively. This includes implementing more automations and diversifying beyond social media marketing.
However, there are also developments agencies are concerned about. The impact of the ongoing pandemic on in-person networking events is making it difficult to develop meaningful customer relationships. Agency owners are also worried about their ability to execute effective ad campaigns due to Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update, which was rolled out in April 2021.
Read on for a deeper summary of each theme along with direct quotes from agency owners and executives who participated in the survey.
Theme 1 - More business opportunities
Nearly 30 percent of respondents in our survey felt that the propensity among SMBs to hire a marketing agency increased during 2021. This means there should be plenty of opportunities to sell digital services to local businesses in 2022.
“Due to COVID restrictions, the need for digital engagement has dramatically increased among brick and mortar and ecommerce-light businesses, and the need for collaboration between clients and businesses has opened many more doors for agencies,” said Cathy Poturny, Principal of Coram, New York-based Creative Canvas Media.
Poturny and other agency owners felt SMBs who were hit by COVID lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 have learned their lesson and become serious about investing or strengthening their digital marketing capabilities with an expert’s help.
“SMBs are reaching out and hiring marketing agencies as they don’t have the resources or knowledge of the rapidly changing digital platform,” said Cheryl O’Hern, Digital Marketing Specialist at Fort Dodge, Iowa-based Spin Markket + Digital.
“This will also be true for those businesses that have a marketing department but their staff is limited on their ability to implement and evaluate the data that is collected.”
While it may be easier to engage prospects and clients, local businesses have become more discerning about who they work with, and as such, agency owners shouldn’t take customer relationships for granted and focus on delivering strong results for them.
“SMBs have begun to recognize the difference between average and excellent marketing services,” said Tim Glynn, Managing Director of Nottingham, UK-based Adodo Consultancy Services.
Theme 2 - Diversifying beyond traditional digital marketing channels
More than half of our survey respondents said that in 2022, agencies and their SMB clients will need to be more strategic about how and where they market to customers.
For a start, this means not being too heavily reliant on any one specific communication channel.
“Instead of just relying on email or social media, they will need to be able to more easily use different channels including SMS marketing thanks to platforms such as Vendasta,” said David Kaufer, Founder of Edmonds, Washington-based KDMC.
“The other area where I see continued or more growth is video marketing. Any and every campaign needs to have some elements of video marketing.”
Adodo’s Glynn agrees with Kaufer, adding videos are an essential tool to create “authenticity and authority for local businesses.”
While video has been around a long time, Doug McGeehan, Vice President of Business Development at Laughlin, Nevada-based Outsource Services said agencies would need to keep a close eye on the metaverse and the massive marketing and ecommerce opportunities it presents.
“The move from Facebook to Meta will be a key component of social marketing going forward. There are new channels that Meta will be opening up and they will be the next big thing,” he said.
Theme 3 - Implementing automations
Nearly 50 percent of agencies nominated automation as a key theme for 2022.
“There is so much software out there and it's too difficult for a business to make it all work together manually,” said Julia Manaraze, Owner of Cecilton, Maryland-based Promoticon LLC.
Many agency owners felt the reasons for embracing marketing automation go beyond just alleviating the need to perform repetitive tasks and boosting productivity. Automations help marketers and their clients optimize the customer experience and the efficiency of the campaign process.
Examples of automations include scheduling social posts across multiple platforms via a single tool, using templated responses for customer interactions and reviews, and sending cart abandonment emails when shoppers don’t complete their purchase after a period of time.
Theme 4 - Ongoing concern over Apple’s privacy update on digital ads
Earlier this year, Apple’s iOS 14.5 iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5 updates created significant uncertainty in the marketing community. As part of the updates, Apple introduced its new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) prompt, which prohibits certain data collection and sharing unless device users opt into having their digital activity tracked.
The move is causing ongoing concern; particularly among marketers who rely on delivering personalized ads via Meta’s popular apps including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
One of our survey respondents, who preferred remaining anonymous, said Apple’s update “had a big impact on ad performance” in 2021 and several others expressed worry that this would continue to remain the case in the New Year.
Theme 5 - Networking and virtual events
Nearly 30 percent of respondents in the survey cited networking and virtual events as a key theme for 2022, and there were both negative and positive perspectives on this topic.
The negative view is that some agency owners are worried about the ongoing pandemic’s impact on real-life networking events.
“In-person networking is slow to return during the pandemic, although some recovery did appear,” KFMC’s Kaufer said. “Many industries rely on that face-to-face interaction for leads and growth. Finding alternatives for networking is a new challenge for many including myself.”
However, others seemed content with virtual events, citing benefits such as low cost and the ability to meet people across different jurisdictions.
“I think after the initial learning curve, people have started to adopt technology to meet and network much more than before. Even people I know who are terrible with technology are able and willing to use platforms like Zoom and Google Meet now,” Promoticon’s Manaraze said.
Several respondents were of the opinion that businesses that can figure out how to network and market via virtual events would be well rewarded in 2022.
The key to success will be in how agencies adapt to change and take advantage of new opportunities, and our survey suggests there are plenty of those over the next 12 months.
Agencies should be heartened by the fact there is a greater need for their services given local businesses are recognizing that it’s essential to have an online presence.
Meanwhile, headwinds such as Apple’s iOS 14.5 update should give agencies food for thought and an opportunity to showcase their value by helping businesses diversify away from social media marketing and into areas like video, SMS, and the metaverse to drive traffic and conversions.
We’d like to thank all the participants in our survey and wish our readers a safe and happy holiday season.