We’re in the final quarter of 2020, a year that packed in more than its share of surprises so far, and it’s not done with us yet. After a year like this one, so full of unexpected plot twists and unprecedented events, it’s difficult to make predictions about the future. 

Will we resume normal business activities in the coming year, crowding back into offices and attending large, in-person business events? That’s unclear — safety may depend the regional prevalence of the coronavirus at any given time. Some trendsetting companies have already announced that employees can work from home on a permanent basis or at least through next summer.

Also, it’s possible that the pandemic has changed the way we work and connect in more permanent ways than seemed likely in March. The uneven economic impact of COVID-19 makes recovery harder to predict. But here are a few predictions for how 2021 will unfold in the marketing space:

  • Virtual events are here to stay. Even if a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is developed and distributed on a wide enough scale to make large, in-person events safe again, we’ll probably do fewer of them in 2021 than we did in 2019. And not just because budgets are tighter, though cost is a factor. Out of necessity, marketers got better at producing virtual events. 

Early on in the pandemic, some virtual events had an experimental, shaky quality. People were adapting on the fly, and it showed. But as months went by, businesses improved their ability to engage customers virtually. They raised production values. Instead of trying to replicate in-person events, they embraced the advantages of virtual interactions in new ways. 

Companies are increasingly using livestreaming as a marketing tool, and some found that as they shifted to virtual mode instead of holding conferences, it lowered the barriers to entry for customers, and attendance increased. Virtual events will continue to be a force in 2021, so plan on brushing up on your virtual event production skills for more success in 2021.

  • CEOs will demand more marketing metrics. Even in an uncertain time, this is an easy prediction to make because CEOs are more insistent about marketing metrics every year. In some ways, marketing was an outlier in the shift to data-driven decision-making. The old school view was that marketing is more art than science, so it’s hard to measure. 

That’s no longer the case. We have the tools we need now to measure marketing’s performance across multiple channels. B2B marketers have adopted the CRM as part of the solutions stack, so with the right tools, they can measure the impact of their campaigns in terms of revenue on the platform that has credibility in the C-suite. 

In the year ahead, marketers who produce marketing metrics using the same source of data truth as the sales team (the CRM) will not only succeed, they’ll be acknowledged for their role as the engine driving the revenue train. They’ll earn their seat at the strategy table by producing hard numbers that demonstrate marketing’s value. 

  • Marketers will focus on efficiency. A Gartner survey [PDF] found that 44% of CMOs faced midyear budget cuts in 2020, and more than 10% expected budget cuts to be significant. This underscores the importance of marketing metrics to measure performance. It also underlines the need to be efficient in campaign investment and processes. 

As we’ve discussed in this space recently, there are two ways to boost marketing efficiency and two sets of metrics that can help. Campaign attribution data links campaigns to revenue, and when you analyze it, you gain insight into which types of campaigns resonate with decision-makers and drive sales. That helps you invest more efficiently. 

Funnel metrics tell you how leads progress through the marketing and sales funnel, providing actionable information you can use to clear bottlenecks, improve handoffs and otherwise upgrade processes. As marketers do less with more, operating efficiently on both fronts will allow them to maximize the revenue they generate while streamlining processes. 

If you’re formulating your marketing plans for the coming year, you’ll have a fair amount of uncertainty to factor into your strategy. But it’s a safe bet that virtual events will continue to be a significant part of the lead generation plan in 2021. And it’s certain that CEOs will want to see metrics and that marketers will need to maximize efficiency when planning for success in 2021.

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