The year 2020 taught us nothing stays the same. That's why it's important to stay abreast of current events and digital trends that affect how your customers interact with your products and services. One way your brand can stand out among the ever-changing marketing landscape is with consistent, high-quality content.
Content can take on many forms like videos, email, PDF downloads, blog posts, and webinars. But no matter what kind of content you produce, the goal is to draw customers to you by establishing authority and building trust. You achieve this by focusing on your product's benefits and demonstrating how it's the best solution for your leads.
According to Contentful, leaders across industries plan to spend 25 percent more on digital marketing in 2021. With more consumers spending time online and more businesses increasing their investment in inbound marketing, you need to know the latest trends and proven strategies to capitalize on your digital marketing efforts.
Before diving into the most notable digital marketing trends of 2021, let’s review why inbound marketing remains the most cost-effective strategy for tech and SaaS companies.
What Is Inbound Marketing, and Why Should You Invest?
Inbound marketing attracts quality leads with content that is relevant, valuable, and helpful. According to a 2018 HubSpot survey, acquiring leads through inbound strategies is 61 percent less expensive than outbound leads. Check out how this tech brand grew revenue by 300 percent in one year with inbound marketing.
Today’s consumers want more control over how they interact with brands. In fact, 70 percent of consumers would rather learn about a company through an article than an advertisement.
Instead of a disruptive ad, your leads want to learn about your product on their own time with a Google search or watching an explainer video. Once they see your content is valuable, they are more likely to engage with your sales team, and you’re more likely to close a deal. It’s all about the Like, Know, Trust factor, and inbound marketing is an opportunity for you to check all three boxes for a potential customer.
Inbound marketing can also help with customer retention goals. SaaS companies can combat churn with content and communities that encourage engagement. While startups tend to focus on growth goals, it’s important to note that even a 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits between 25–95 percent.
Now let’s jump into the six digital marketing trends to look out for in 2021.
6 Inbound Marketing Trends for 2021:
1. Forms are Dead
Nothing is more annoying than clicking on a CTA with the hopes of gaining an answer to a pressing question only to land on a page that is gated by a form. Today people aren’t as willing to give up their email unless you give them good content upfront. This will sound crazy to marketers who swear by gated content, but if you want to get more views of your high-quality content, then make it public with no barriers.
But if you can’t get people to sign up for your PDF download or video series, how do you capture the inbound lead? One alternative is to use targeted messaging with chatbots. Chatbots can nurture leads in the decision and consideration phase by giving them the freedom to book appointments or get immediate answers to their faqs.
ManyChat uses a lead’s Facebook profile info to send personalized automated messages. Through a series of short questions, visitors can decide if they want to book an appointment or talk directly to your sales team. You can even direct leads to content on your website, all under the guise of interactive conversations instead of the dreaded form.
Another way to get a lead’s contact info is with interactive quizzes. More tech and SaaS brands use quizzes to help leads diagnose their problems before they prescribe a selling solution. Quizzes work because they are a) fun, giving leads time to think about themselves and their challenges, and b) the five minutes a lead engages with a quiz becomes a bit of emotional buy-in. By the end of the quiz, they are primed and ready to share their email to get their results.
We know what you’re thinking. A quiz is still a lead-magnet that requires a form. Well, yes, you’re right. So keep the questions to a minimum. We’re talking name and email. That’s it. You’re not trying to qualify your lead yet. You’re just trying to get them to share their contact information now so you can nurture them with more content later.
2. Virtual Events and Communities
We’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue after the endless online meetings and webinars of 2020. But experts like 6sense CMO Latané Conant insist there will still be a place for virtual events even after states reopen for phase 3 and beyond. Virtual events and online communities provide a way for audiences to connect and learn more about your brand from anywhere. Leads and customers can save time and money on travel while still accessing insights from community members, your internal leadership team, partners, and industry leaders. The convenience alone will continue to make virtual events relevant in 2021.
Hosting an online event or webinar allows you to capture leads during the registration process. You can also engage with many leads at once. In 2020, 45 percent of organizations said they were investing more in event technology than the previous year. Platforms like ON24 and Adobe Connect allow you to incorporate supporting content and pdfs directly in the presentation.
Recordings of virtual events can also be repurposed for on-demand plays on your blog or website.
Starting an active online community increases brand engagement turning customers into evangelists. Platforms like Slack, Discourse, and GitHub provide a safe place where customers can answer each other's questions on their own time. The interaction between other customers builds a sense of community and brand affinity.
Online communities give you an edge on social listening. Seeing real-time discussions helps you keep a pulse on your customers' questions and get inspiration for product-led content. When you release new content or product updates, your Slack channel can be a great place to promote the content and see feedback immediately.
3. Live-streaming and Videos
In 2017, a Cisco study predicted that by 2021 80 percent of the world’s internet traffic would be video. Now Cisco is estimating that by 2022, video content consumption will increase 15 times more than what it is today. The 300 percent explosion of the use of live streaming technologies like Zoom confirms this trend. The consumption of more online videos and the emerging live-streaming technology on social platforms, including Facebook and LinkedIn, make it a strategy that businesses need to adopt.
Facebook experienced a spike in messaging and live-streaming because of the need for social distancing. Savvy brands followed suit by increasing their live streaming video content. Today 81 percent of marketing teams use video content to attract and engage leads. That’s because a study found that 75 percent of people prefer to watch a short video to learn more about a brand’s products or services instead of reading text. If you think live streaming only works for consumer products or services, think again.
Here are five ways you can use live-streaming for your tech and SaaS brand:
1. Walk a new customer through any process: Present a quick start guide for your software platform or introduce a new product. You’ll get real-time feedback and questions.
2. Answer FAQs: Stephanie Liu, the host of Lights, Camera, Live, has a brilliant technique called a 10x10 that she uses to develop a series of Facebook Lives for her clients. All you do is round up your sales and customer success teams and ask them to make a list of 10 frequently asked questions from customers and leads. After the team compiles the list of common questions, answer each question with a different live stream so that leads can find it on social media. This is a great place to start if you have no idea what to talk about live on FB or LinkedIn. Plus, you can repurpose the content into a blog post with the video and transcript after the live broadcast. Just make sure that you later add captions to the video to increase your chances for views and engagement.
3. Stream digital events: SAP used LinkedIn Live to broadcast their #SAPPHIRENOW Converge event and share new company initiatives.
4. Share project updates: Give customers and partners full transparency into the development of new software or programs. You can present demos or celebrate milestones. Again, this is an opportunity to get immediate feedback from your audience on how to make improvements.
5. Interview a thought leader: Talk to an influencer that your clients follow on LinkedIn and ask them questions about best practices, tools they love, books that helped them level up, or trends they see in the industry. Your customers will take away insights from an industry leader and you’ll reach a new audience that follows the influencer.
If you’re still not convinced that you want to invest in video content, remember that videos also help with SEO. Adding a video on your blog post drives organic traffic from SERPs by up to 157 percent and can double visitors’ time spent on your website pages.
4. Conversational Marketing and Chatbots
Using chatbots improves the customer experience on your site and social media platforms by shortening the time it takes for visitors to get answers. A critical factor that impacts your likelihood of closing a deal is your response time to a leads inquiry. When you’re shopping around for a service and one company responds to you in five minutes and another gets back in a day, the obvious choice is the company that responds with urgency. It shows that the company will prioritize your account and puts you first as a customer.
Chatbots like Drift and ManyChat can be automated with messages that answer common questions and allow visitors to schedule meetings at their convenience. ManyChat can even personalize messages using the name associated with the lead’s Facebook profile. All of this creates a more customized and seamless interaction that users will love. Also, it will save you time and money. Instead of hiring more customer service staff to answer a high volume of faqs, you create conversation flows in advance and input keywords or phrases that trigger automatic responses.
Messaging open rates are 85 percent, significantly higher than the average email open rate of 20 percent. To get the attention of customers who are bombarded with online messages, sending a text message with Sakari or ManyChat will have a better chance of being seen. You can use text notifications for appointment reminders or special offers. Seventy-five percent of people would like to receive offers via SMS as long as they opted in on the brand's website.
5. Machine Learning
Machine learning helps you create more personalized and relevant experiences for your customers at scale. A Gartner survey found that SaaS and tech companies that use AI technology improved their revenue streams and increased sales efficiency, reducing costs. HubSpot CRM allows you to personalize your website pages based on a contact's site behavior and location.
Here are a few ways machine learning is used in digital marketing:
Curating content and suggestions
Timing email and social media campaigns
Social listening and monitoring
ABM (account-based marketing) targets specific companies or contacts instead of a niche market or persona. Your sales, marketing, and even executive team work together to close a single account by catering to that client's unique needs. Businesses can identify contacts on LinkedIn and use email marketing or social ads to engage with leads. This strategy requires a robust CRM like HubSpot to integrate marketing automation with sales activities.
What Won’t Change in Inbound Marketing in 2021
The cost per click for tech and SaaS companies is usually high because of high competition. Writing a long-form blog article can generate more leads over three years compared to a three-month ad campaign that costs you $30/click.
Creating high-quality content optimized for SEO requires a strategy for targeting high-intent keywords and a plan to generate new content. Two effective types of articles for tech and SaaS companies are thought leadership and product-lead posts, which we'll explain later in this article.
Needless to say, planning content is time-consuming, which is why many businesses don't create long-form articles. But if you create a plan and stick with it, the result is traffic that compounds overtime from quality backlinks. Fair warning, blogging is a strategy that takes time to develop and see results. If your goal is to increase brand awareness, then an educational blog or resource library that drives traffic and captures leads is the perfect solution.
Core Web Vitals, Google’s latest update expected to take effect in May 2021, is all about the page experience. One major factor determining your blog’s content performance is site speed. SEO expert Dana DiTomaso says, “Site speed is one of those great parts of technical SEO where the benefit isn't only for search engines — it also helps the people visiting your website.”
Personalization and Segmentation
Ninety-one percent of people prefer to buy from brands that provide them personalized recommendations. Personalizing your content can increase your traffic, customer retention, and close rate. Website personalization allows you to create tailored recommendations, dynamic content, and unique offers for your customers. This requires intelligence from a CMS platform like HubSpot that tracks a visitor's behavior, interests, and demographics.
Segmenting your email list divides up your contacts by personas, demographics, or where they are in the buyer journey. If you think about it, you won't send a customer of three years the same offer as a prospect. The offer wouldn't be relevant because they would have different needs and objections.
When you segment your email and tailor your messages, you get better open rates and conversions. Again, having a CRM and CMS like HubSpot makes this heck of a lot easier to manage contacts and track conversions for email marketing. That's because its marketing automation platform uses machine learning, which we explained earlier in this article.
Proven Inbound Marketing Strategies for SaaS and Tech Startups
Product-led Focus on Content
Product-led content emphasizes mapping your customer's journey and brainstorming topics directly related to your product or service. This type of content isn't necessarily a use-case study. It can share a customer's challenges and subtly weave your product into the story. When creating product-lead content, map topic ideas with keywords with search volume. It's OK if the keywords you identified don't have a ton of volume as long as they align with your audience's search intent.
Thought leadership content can be webinars or blog posts. Thought leadership posts can also create a buzz by taking a conventional idea and challenging it. The goal is to share industry trends or best practices, not sell your products. One example is customer service software company, Zendesk, whose blog provides their clients with advice and ideas on creating great customer experiences.
To discover trending topics, try Peep Laja’s trick. Do a quick search on Twitter to see what posts get a minimum of 500 likes from influencers.
Original studies like white papers are scarce because their high cost makes them difficult to produce. This does not mean you should avoid this type of content altogether. Publishing a survey of your audience or doing a benchmark report is great thought leadership that can lead to PR opportunities like speaking engagements and podcast interviews.
When developing original research, Mantis Research recommends finding a topic that is meaningful to your audience, brings a fresh perspective, and aligns with your brand. This is great advice for creating any thought leadership content.
Using live streaming technology, SaaS and tech brands are taking their in-person events online to reach wider audiences. Events are great for educating leads and customers on your product. You can show them why your software is the best solution for their problem with demos or invite industry leaders to present trending topics. Fishtown Analytics Coalesce event spotlighted their DBT product to data analysts with presentations like DBT 101 on YouTube.
The overarching theme of 2021’s inbound marketing trends is taking a human-centric approach while using the power of technology.
There are many inbound trends to choose from, but don't bite off more than your content team can chew. Discover the most effective inbound marketing channels for your brand and create a revenue-generating strategy.