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Better Times, Bigger Successes Ahead

Leaders from PDMI member companies share their visionary expertise as the performance marketing industry heads into a new year. What are their fearless predictions for 2021?

By Thomas Haire

Is anyone else ready to leave 2020 behind? Our longest and shortest year — time dragged and flew, seemingly bending with each twist to the year’s ridiculous storylines — provided one challenge after another. And that’s putting it kindly.

We’ve all spent so much time this year looking back and wary of looking ahead — but we’re all still a little unsure of what next year holds in store. But look ahead we must. So, we at the PDMI thought: what better opportunity to break the chains of wariness — and look forward with anticipation rather than dread — than to hear and consider our members’ predictions for 2021. So, in late October, we reached out to all PDMI member companies asking one simple question: What’s your fearless prediction for 2021?

During the following weeks, visionary leaders (we hope!) from 16 PDMI member companies took us up on the offer. With responses ranging from somber to celebratory and from amusing to enlightening, our members’ thoughts touch on nearly every facet of the performance marketing industry.

Let’s hear from the PDMI membership about what they believe is not just possible but likely to happen during the next 12 months.

Dieter Ammann, Fulfillment Express

At Fulfillment Express, we have been experiencing phenomenal growth this year, because of the pandemic and Amazon. Because Amazon is at capacity in most of its fulfillment centers, it is making some of its sellers remove excess inventory. Sellers that previously were shipping container loads of merchandise into Amazon for FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) are now forced to ship smaller quantities, more frequently — Hence, more business for us. This has also driven higher volumes of FBM (fulfillment by merchant) orders. I foresee the growth continuing through 2021, simply because Amazon has found its groove in dealing with the vast number of sellers and shortening their inventory storage. The pandemic has forced everyone to buy online, and those of us in the logistics business have benefitted greatly from that. People are much more comfortable ordering online, and I believe this will continue past next year. People are going to be slow going back to buying from brick-and-mortar stores, and the fallout for those retailers will continue to take its course, driving more people online.

Al Diem and Matt Greenfield, Cannella Media

A COVID-19 baby boom will spark the emergence of new direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands for home delivery of baby goods. Amazon will create brick-and-mortar "Baby Centers" to compete with Walmart and Target. In related news: family, friend, and coworker baby shower fatigue sets in, registries go away, and new parents are on their own.

Large traditional brands will continue a steady migration to DR — and Cannella signs Coca-Cola for a new DTC campaign!

Web attribution becomes as reliable as phone-based attribution. All the walled gardens release their data to external attribution partners and agencies.

Chris Foster, Modern Postcard

2021 is the year of "cozy": soft products, advertising display, comfort products, home self-care, CBD, crafts, etc. This will be a growth space that cuts across industries but has the primary characteristic of customers showing an increased interest in cozy. You’re seeing retail stores have more soft fabrics, fabric block lettering, pillows, blankets, "calming" bath bombs, etc.; online searches for "crafting" are exploding; Netflix has imported more "Hallmark"-style movies into their lineup; CBD for anxiety and as a sleep aid is expanding and expected to double in four years. More themes, products, brands, and growth around people being cozy and safe are on the horizon for 2021.

Anat Freed, Kingstar Media

It seems nearly impossible to make a prediction for 2021 given the whirlwind of 2020, but one thing that we have confidence in is the ongoing surge of DTC brands moving more ad spend to traditional media like television. Seasoned advertisers understand that TV is an imperative part of their top-of-funnel marketing plans. However, I believe we are really just seeing the tip of the iceberg of DTC brands eating up a larger share of voice on TV.

With consumers expected to spend the majority of their days at home during the winter and spring months due to COVID-19, it only makes sense to include TV in marketing efforts to maximize their reach. We are seeing some of the lowest CPMs in years and know that TV works best when telling the story of your brand to a large audience. This will, in turn, drive higher levels of web traffic, opportunities for digital retargeting, and help them remain competitive among the rest.

Ed Glynn, Locke Lord

The Supreme Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision in AMG Capital Management v. Federal Trade Commission (to be argued in the first part of 2021) thus eliminating the FTC’s ability to get consumer redress in an injunction action in federal court. The result will be a legislative struggle to amend the FTC Act to explicitly grant such power to the Commission and restore an enforcement tool the FTC has utilized since 1982.

Joseph Gray, DRMetrix

Based on DRMetrix’s prior studies, we’re feeling very optimistic about the performance-based television side of the industry in 2021. We anticipate historic levels of TV spending from traditional DTC advertisers that leverage consumer-response attribution in order to track their media efficiency ratios (MER) to the network and daypart level. These types of advertisers have been uniquely positioned to measure consumer sentiment during the COVID-19 crisis.

The combination of higher viewership levels and lower media rates fueled 2020 industry growth like never before. Moving into the latter part of Q4, with the political season behind us, we expect to see a huge upswing continuing through Q1 of 2021, which may very well become another record-breaking year should traditional brand campaigns continue to hold back on television spend.

Linda Goldstein, Amy Mudge, and Randal Shaheen, BakerHostetler

With Joe Biden being sworn in as our next president, the FTC will shift to Democratic control. Our prediction is for an even more aggressive FTC — but with a twist. Even under the current Republican-controlled FTC, the Democratic commissioners have been calling for more aggressive enforcement against bigger, more established corporate advertisers as opposed to simply focusing on smaller players engaged in fraud. Larger, more established corporate advertisers offer deeper pockets and are often engaged in activity that impacts a wider segment of the population, so look for the FTC to become more aggressive when it comes to more traditional advertisers. Also, look for the FTC to demand even more significant monetary relief, whether in litigation or as part of a settlement. The Democrats’ criticism of a recent $5 billion privacy settlement as being too low is a good predictor of things to come.

The twist is that while the FTC is looking for even bigger money cases, the Supreme Court will decide whether the FTC has the authority to obtain consumer restitution under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. Even we aren’t bold enough to predict how the Supreme Court might rule — but we wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court at least clips back the FTC’s authority in this area. If that happens, we predict a more aggressive push by the FTC to persuade Congress to come to its rescue by passing legislation directly expanding its ability to obtain penalties and other monetary relief.

We also predict that 2021 may see increased regulation and scrutiny of social media practices and the big technology giants. Congress is already looking at increasing oversight of the major social media platforms, and the Biden administration is likely to be sympathetic to those efforts. One major shift could be the elimination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently provides ISPs with immunity for content posted on their sites. Marketers have also relied on this provision as a shield against actions resulting from third-party content posted by users of the site. The Biden administration has already indicated that it is supportive of those efforts. Activity in the Department of Justice’s recent antitrust action against Google may also signal major changes for the giant tech companies to come.

Amit Khubani, Ontel Products

Direct response should continue to be strong through 2021. Until we have a vaccine, or the unlikely natural herd immunity, the most vulnerable in society will remain cautious and likely stay home. This is generally our core customer, so DR results should benefit from the additional viewership in this demographic. Even though people are abandoning cable at alarming rates, our core customer likely will not.

The larger marketers with retail presence will be the biggest beneficiary of increased TV viewership, as our distribution in "essential" retail has increased significantly with the added TV exposure. Strong TV, leading to great retail sales, will definitely help to keep the categories alive in the mass market. As long as the category lives on at retail, marketers will continue to spend on TV, call centers, web marketing, fulfillment, and logistics — which should help to maintain, or even grow, the industry for 2021.

Fern Lee and Lori Zeller, THOR Associates

THOR predicts in 2021, the industry will continue to morph to a more permanent work-at-home model, diminishing flex time, which has been regarded as an employee benefit. Flex time suited the needs of the employee (including working from home), offering a change in terms of start and finish times, job sharing, and working part time. Replacing this will be "agile working," which is business-driven, utilizing technology platforms. Employees will be given the leeway to work from anywhere provided business needs are met. Successful agility in the workplace may result in higher productivity and lower costs that will strengthen the P&L. This will only occur with marketing technology driving the exchange of information.

That said, THOR predicts the following logistics and operational efficiencies in our industry: video conferencing will be a welcome addition to call center services and privacy regulations will redefine information capture; merchant processing will go through a governmental overhaul with changes to royalty payments and tax withholding; fulfillment will need organizational delivery construction as Amazon and e-commerce orders become habitual for personal and professional retail; and customer service will be a priority for marketing.

Also, travel restrictions are changing the way business is conducted. The use of video telephony (Zoom, Team Meeting, Google, etc.) has provided solace that work gets accomplished without the need of a conference room meeting. Using these changes as an example, there will be a complete overhaul to company culture, resulting in weakness to the organizational structure — goals will change and KPIs (key performance indicators) will change.

The past 10 years provided opportunities for boutique digital and traditional agencies. In 2021, these small businesses will see a wave of acquisitions, forming multi-industry services with a multi-national reach. The result will create larger parent companies with varied product offerings, allowing for a new and wider base of customers and redefining our industry at large.

Marcelino Miyares, d2H Partners

Our No. 1 prediction for 2021 is also our biggest challenge — from a Hispanic/multicultural perspective. The U.S. Census report will be released in the first few months of the year. It has not come without controversy regarding the accuracy and representation of undocumented immigrants, as well as other non-white racial and ethnic groups in general. The report will be confrontational — essentially documenting the emergence of a non-white majority in the United States. On the one hand, this should lay out an obvious and wide-eyed roadmap for growth for virtually any marketer in the U.S. But, on the other hand, I have counseled clients during the previous three decennial counts and very little seems to change in the apathetic attitude of most advertisers toward the Hispanic market. My prediction this time around is that our contributions to the economy, to innovation, and to essential coronavirus industries will finally be reflected in the growth of diversity marketing initiatives throughout our industry.

Heather Molina, Red Door Interactive

Marketers better stay agile. Why?

Because we will continue to see marketing plans focus on the shorter stints (rather than longer three-six-12-month locked-in plans) as we continue to ride out this pandemic. Consumer behavior patterns in media consumption — and spending habits that developed in 2020 as a result of it (and everything else that has unfolded this year) — will continue to be unpredictable. So, 2021 will be about performance marketers truly showcasing their ability around agility with data and performance — and ready to activate more quickly to change things up based on what they are seeing.

If marketers/planners can’t adapt quickly, they will be of no use to anyone.

Andrea Pass, Andrea Pass Public Relations

When it comes to public relations outreach related to the performance marketing industry, I see continued growth in securing press coverage in new media: podcasts, LinkedIn Live and Twitter broadcasts, and the increasing world of blogs and online media outlets. While traditional broadcast and print media covers the industry, earned media opportunities continue to decrease in these categories as pay-to-play interviews and coverage are on the upswing.

Marketers and business service providers alike benefit from public relations outreach and recognize the value of increasing brand awareness, growing reputation, and driving sales with a PR component in marketing mixes. Today’s companies are looking for authenticity and use news coverage to do research leading to sales. Since the public continues to secure information from media, the performance-driven category will certainly get its share of press coverage in 2021.

Kyle Patten, Univision Communications

My prediction for 2021 will have most people saying "accelerated digital transformation of consumer habits" but I think it’s more awareness about privacy due to regulations and big tech. How that will play out will be interesting. Viewing habits will continue to migrate to different platforms: OTT/CTV, podcasting, social.

Nielsen measurement just launched a new way of aligning CTV measurement and understanding and verifying an ad’s audience across smart TVs. The AVOD and SVOD spaces will continue to provide consumers with more content options, but the competition for eyeballs has never been higher.

Patrick Raymond, Really Cool Ideas

During what has been a perilous 2020 across the world, companies and professionals in the performance marketing business were given an incredible opportunity with a more engaged audience at home. This offered opportunity to focus directly on relationships with our audiences and/or customers, whatever the case may be. I’ve seen leaders in our businesses put into action planning that had been waiting idle or even create and implement brave new ideas and action plans in a month or two that normally would take a year or more to put in place — all while navigating the tough times we are living in.

It’s been a real-time experiment on what happens when forced to think outside the box and fix what doesn’t work fast without relying on what was done before — and put into action the now while blueprinting the shape of the future. As we move into 2021, and hopefully start to emerge quickly from the pandemic mid-year, we will learn from everything we were doing both right and wrong before our planet’s most challenging year in generations, but also take the new innovations and ideas we all put into our respective businesses during this time. Those will garner more exponential growth that will surely domino across all businesses specializing in performance marketing. We have learned how nimble we can be, adjusting with our changing world in real time without putting too much red tape in the way, and this will undoubtedly continue in 2021 and beyond as we build and grow our businesses. A very happy 2021 to all!

Greg Sarnow, Allegro Response

The marriage of technology and people seamlessly working together will change the landscape of sales, customer service, and business process automation in the direct-to-consumer space like never before. This will help redefine performance, as the expectations of consumers and marketers alike dramatically increase. This will also create another round of acquisitions as the capital investments necessary to fulfill these new expectations will be significant. But, more importantly, marketers and vendors will scramble to catch up to the levels of service required to improve customer satisfaction, increase sales, and improve lifetime values. Branding will be influenced far more by technology than ever before.

Shira Witelson, RSLT

In November, Pfizer and Moderna provided some optimism. Vaccines might be ready for distribution in the coming months. If these prove to be efficient and the distribution progresses smoothly, then by the end of spring 2021, life might begin to return to some normalcy. Nevertheless, health concerns will not dissipate quickly, and customers will want to feel secure. Messaging will probably focus on safety compliance in order for major players to gain trust and make a comeback.

Our prediction for 2021? Analytics departments will revamp how they measure loyalty and engagement. Reporting will adapt to include new key performance indicators. Monitoring customers’ levels of trust, brand adaptability indices, and industry interest scores, will all be included in weekly reports. Insights around brand agility and adaptability will become the norm.


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