2021 Marketing Trends

2021 Marketing Trends

Big Ideas

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February 12 2021
Big Ideas
Author: Marty Fisher
In my 30-year career, I hadn’t experienced anything like 2020. That’s saying something, given that I worked (and survived) through the Dot.Com bubble (and subsequent burst) and the Financial Crisis of 2008 – 2010.

The Pandemic in 2020 saw sales at marketing services companies like Sherpa fall harder and faster than ever. In some ways, we marketing vendors are a bit of a “canary in a coal mine”. We are the first to detect the noxious fumes of a downturn by way of reduced revenue. Most companies turn off the marketing dollars at the first signs of significant economic uncertainty.

Who can blame them?

Our first two quarters of 2020 were spent running and re-running scenario after scenario. Our definition of success was to remain in business without losing the incredible team that we assembled over the last 24 years.

As government support became clear, so did our new economic reality and we saw things stabilize and the opportunities and permanent changes to businesses - and the marketers that service them, became clear.

Sherpa has had a digital first mentality when it comes to solving marketing challenges and the Pandemic presented a few trends and served to throw accelerant on the flames of digital transformation for both the leaders and the laggards.

The list of trending activities below reflects what is happening, NOT what we think is going to happen.

Tradeshows/Conferences are Dead

  • Virtual Tradeshow/Meetup – Let’s face it, most people are NOT dying to leave their friends and family for days at a time to travel to some mediocre destination and eat lousy food to attend conferences and trade shows. I have been asked dozens of times in my career by C-Suite leaders “Are trade shows worth it?”. They are paralyzed by the fear of spending hundreds of thousands to be there - and the inverse, the fear of what the market will think of them if they don’t show. I can confidently say that 2020 signaled the death of most “middling” trade shows.
  • Technology has come a long way. Tools like Zoom and Teams have made it easy to time shift and meet with anyone in the world at a moment’s notice.
  • Virtual expo/event software like Hubilo, Encore and Communiqué have created a truly viable alternative to the drudge of 4 days in a Convention Centre. Keynotes, Panel Discussions, Breakout Rooms and Virtual Cocktails have all been facilitated through the cloud and allow us to get a good night’s sleep in our own beds.
  • Better bandwidth, more affordable and capable audio hardware, effective video capture, and prosumer lighting combined with accessible postproduction tools has made the home office a virtual studio. Today, we see branded corporate backgrounds, crashing waves or backdrops that look like something out of Architectural Digest.
  • Some companies got good at virtual meetings and sales very quickly, the next few years will see everyone else play catch-up.

CX beats UX

  • The companies that focused on building great customer experiences (CX) were ready for this change. Others are starting to focus their attention here. Great CX is all about finding the perfect balance of outstanding digital and analogue experiences. We learned that we can’t automate our way to success, and the no AI or chatbot can replace a friendly, efficient, competent human. The best virtual assistants are not virtual at all. Going forward, the most successful companies will find out how to show up as the best version of themselves in whichever channel their prospects and customers choose at whatever time suits them.

Full Stack Marketing is a Thing

  • As the lines between sales, marketing and IT continue to blur, the best and most effective marketers will be as comfortable recommending and implementing a SaaS tool as they are approving the creative for next year’s campaign. The lack of interconnectedness between these former silos was holding companies back and Sherpa’s best customers are sitting down and brokering connections with the internal leaders of these former kingdoms.
  • The best marketers will be “a mile wide and a mile deep” – Full Stack marketers need to be skilled in every aspect of modern marketing theory and must be proficient with the myriad of tools required to execute and measure effective marketing.
  • Our jobs are less about coding things from scratch and more about and connecting existing software to the best off the shelf SaaS (or custom tools) and platforms.

More and Better Data Will Fuel Predictive Modelling

  • Most marketers want to build measurable campaigns that lead to more predictable results faster. The ability to connect multiple and disparate data sets as well as the ability to understand what the data means is being democratized. Whether it’s Zapier, DataBox or Microsoft Power BI, it’s never been easier to analyze, interpret and recommend improvements on campaigns.


  • This could just as easily be in the section about Tradeshows and Conferences because this technology enables us to experience products and places without having to travel there or bringing virtual products to your customer. The technology to create and experience AR/VR/XR is improving exponentially and the value for this tech is becoming clear; education and training.

Collaboration Continues to Improve

  • Use of Teams and Zoom, facilitates more and more deep connections between vendor and client. While there is no replacement for in-person meetings, video calls are a reasonable facsimile. Yes, it’s fatiguing, but we see our clients more now than we ever did. It allows us to communicate in ways that help us understand our emotional responses and nuances much better than email, text or phone calls.
  • Tools like G-Suite, Office 365, Vibe and other cloud-based collaborative software are - and will be more widely used to help teams work more effectively. Now you can edit a presentation in real-time, and in one sitting, as a team rather than sending multiple variants around.

WFA Will be Better Than WFH

  • Commuting into the office 5 days a week is a thing of the past. Jobs (like ours) that can be completed with a competent human between the keyboard and chair are forever changed. The hours a week that folks have reclaimed has improved work/life balance.
  • Sherpa adopted a work from anywhere policy. This is an important distinction, by choosing anywhere, we are no longer limited to the best candidates in our immediate geographies. We recently hired several staff who aren’t close to our bricks and mortar locations. This has helped secure a more diverse and more capable team.
  • The one caveat is, it’s still important that people feel like part of a team and interact with their colleagues in person to spark creativity when needed.


More often than not, corporate change is slower and more measured, but the events of the last year have accelerated the consideration and adoption of all of the things listed above. We must, however, keep the following mind, if you don’t have happy, motivated and competent people working with you, all the technology in the world isn’t going to help.

If you are looking to shift your strategy from more traditional mediums to digital solutions, we can help you every step of the way.


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