2021: Digital Marketing in the New Normal

2021: Digital Marketing in the New Normal

January 2021 | Marketing Operations

A series of operational challenges are preventing digital marketing from reaching its full potential. Marketers will need to focus on these problems in 2021.

After a challenging 12 months, 2021 is the year in which the digital business model becomes the new normal. Balancing this with previously successful in-person strategies will become important later in the year. First, marketers need to overcome the operational challenges that prevent the digital approach from reaching its maximum potential. There are still significant barriers in terms of data, technology and process that need to be solved.

Digital Optimisation

In 2020, the pandemic exposed weaknesses in digital programs that could be ignored in better times. Too many marketers simply weren't generating enough leads from digital channels. Events were relied upon to fill gaps in the funnel, while telemarketing was used as an alternative to lead nurturing. Such shortcuts were no longer possible in a world dominated by remote working, and digital programs were restructured to fill the gap. Use of webinars, content syndication and social campaigns have exploded during the last few quarters. Finding the right channels and content to keep those leads engaged until they're ready to buy has been more of a challenge and will be a focus area in 2021.

Sales Enablement

Sales processes have changed significantly during the pandemic and will continue to do so now that digital selling is embedded across the board. Digital selling changes what sales need to know about their customers. Marketing are being asked to up their Sales Enablement game, by providing more information about leads and how they qualified, as well as creating additional collateral to support the sales effort in a virtual environment. Those that don’t will struggle to convert opportunities as quickly as they would before the pandemic.

Tech Stack Consolidation

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation, leading to five years of digitisation taking place within a few months. This put strain on digital infrastructure across all sectors. At the same time, the switch to digital campaigns has caused marketers to reassess what functionality they require from their technology stacks. These ambitions do not necessarily require new technology. Updating the existing tech stack to work together more closely while taking advantage of unused capabilities within those platforms is sufficient in many cases.

Data Management

The biggest area of new technology investment at the moment is in data management. Marketing operations are looking to consolidate customer data and the processes needed to manage that data into one enterprise wide database so that it can be combined into a single customer view for more effective use across both marketing and sales. As part of that, the use of machine learning to organise the disparate sources of data has become an essential part of the marketing operations toolkit. There is now too much data for such processes to be done manually.

Data Improvement

Much of the data currently in marketing databases is either out of date, of dubious quality or simply isn't usable due to gaps in contact and account profiles. That's not a new problem, but the drive to replace generic content with personalised experiences makes data accuracy far more important than previously. Data quality is limiting the ability of marketing teams to run effective campaigns in a way that it wasn't two years ago. This will require marketing and sales teams to come together and agree what information they need about customers and prospects, so that operations teams can decide the best way of acquiring it.


Event organisers are planning their post-Easter schedules, but international travel restrictions will still be in place throughout the year, limiting the ability to organise larger events. As such, events will need to be live-streamed for remote audiences unable or unwilling to attend in person. The most successful events will be those that reach both virtual and in-person audiences, allowing interaction and two-way communication between audiences and exhibitors regardless of location.

2021 promises to be a return to normality. Spring will see a re-awakening for these sectors of the economy most affected by the pandemic. However, the new normal will not be the same as the old normal. The new digital ways of working and the old in-person methods will continue to co-exist. The most successful marketers in 2021, will be those best able to combine them.

Want more detail and additional predictions? An extended version of this article first appeared on the CRMT Digital blog at https://www.crmtdigital.com/insights/2021-marketing-operations-trends/

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.