Digital Marketing

11 Key Trends in Mobile Marketing for 2021 and Beyond

How Mobile Grew from Nice to Have to Must-Have

11 Key Trends in Mobile Marketing: 2021 and Beyond

Guest post from SMU Digital Marketing instructor Abhi Vyas. Originally published to LinkedIn on March 1, 2020.

In recent years, mobile marketing has become an increasingly important component of many businesses’ overall marketing strategies and last year was no exception. 2020 saw explosive growth in online commerce – US Ecommerce sales hit $791.70 billion in 2020, up 32.4% from $598.02 billion in the prior year whereas the total retail spend reached $4.04 trillion last year, up from $3.78 trillion in 2019. With this ecommerce trend comes a significant growth in mobile marketing as well. After all, mobile devices are responsible for around half of web traffic worldwide, and that number will only continue to grow. Even with people staying home across the world, we saw an acceleration of mobile usage habits by 2 to 3 years – strengthening mobiles role as the most crucial instrument for engaging customers and growing top line revenue.

Mobile apps played a vital role in digital transformation during the pandemic. They acted as the centerpieces to bring users and businesses together during the lockdowns. Their capability to enable a mobile workforce, real-time communication and digital customer experiences made them inevitable for the rapid digital transformation in 2020.

From digital CX, effective self-service, to omni-channel experiences, and curbside pickup to touchless retail, mobile gaming & entertainment to livestream shopping – 2020 was a banner year for mobile.

Here are few key developments and trends that will influence mobile in 2021 and beyond.

1. Apple IDFA deprecation – The most important development in Mobile Marketing is the Apple’s IDFA deprecation that is looming on all the advertisers, attribution providers, app publishers and media companies. First party data will be very critical in cookie-less and IDFA-void world. iOS 14 brings on many changes to marketers: collecting accurate data and, at the same time, complying with data protection regulations will be a central challenge in 2021.

Apple’s new privacy guidelines, which aim to prevent unwanted user-level tracking by giving users more control over their data, will force marketing executives to change their approach. AppTracking Transparency (ATT) and SKAdNetwork is one way Apple will implement these changes: in effect, it will require all apps to ask permission from users to track their data, and many industry professionals anticipate that the majority of users will not grant permission. This means the existing methods for tracking and optimizing marketing campaigns and ad monetization will not be possible most of the time.

Brands who have a well-established loyalty program, will have access to gold mine of first party data and will not encounter any problems. Loyalty programs will gain even more importance in 2021 and beyond.

2. Mobile apps are new storefront – During pandemic, brands who had successful mobile apps, quickly rolled out BOPIS, curbside pickup and touch-less retail experiences to their customers. Many retailers invested heavily to place their app front-and-center as the main entry point for Omni-channel commerce and experiences. In US, several supermarkets and stores developed and improved their proprietary native apps. Kroger launched a new app version that saw a 92% increase in digital sales, and Walmart combined its main app with its Walmart Grocery app for users to shop across departments. This surge in downloads and app adoption has given retailers a much larger base of mobile users through which to drive online sales and brand engagement and apps are not just add-ons, but they have become entire store experience for many shoppers.

As consumers, we all got spoiled by the ease and convenience of Uber Eats, Target, Instacart, Klarna, DoorDash and many more. Brands for many years invested in driving foot traffic to physical stores, now they need to reinforce shopping behavior and changing digital habits by embracing mobile as the most important channel.

US food and beverage retail e-commerce sales were expected to total almost $24 billion in 2020 and surpass $38 billion in 2023, but this would only account for a 2.3% share of total US food and beverage sales in 2020 and 3.5% in 2023

3. Social Commerce and Mobile Commerce (M-commerce) – Mobile shopping in 2020 got boosted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People prefer to use their mobile devices to shop in a lockdown environment. By the end of 2020, mobile commerce in the US reached $338 billion—up 25.8% year-over-year when total e-commerce sales touched $791.70 billion in 2020, hence accounting for 42% share.

In 2021 and beyond, retailers and marketers will also be looking to leverage the selling opportunities on social media. More and more brands are adopting social commerce every year. Social commerce will create frictionless shopping experiences that will offer direct and 1 click purchase options to offer ease of shopping and boost customer confidence. Social commerce is championed by apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and several new emerging apps like Klarna will take this trend even further by combining live-streaming & shopping. Social media continues to evolve, and the explosive growth in e-commerce last year will create more opportunities for brands to create social commerce experiences.

Cosmopolitan and Klarna host second virtual shopping event for Gen Z and millennials. The 48-hour event on March 1-2, 2021, will feature a new livestream shopping element and exclusive deals from top fashion, apparel, beauty and footwear brands.

There have also been innovations in one-to-one communication seen in the development of messenger apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, social commerce through conversational chatbots will pick up. Chatbots powered by AI can provide quick, simple answers to consumers’ questions. And they provide many business benefits, too; they can save time, money, build trust and help personalize customer experiences.

One of my favorite examples of a brand using a chatbot to enhance the customer experience is LEGO. Nicknamed Ralph, the bot is available to consumers every day of the year and provides a great experience by quickly helping people choose and buy the perfect gift based on the age and interests of the recipient.

4. Voice Commerce and Mobile – Voice recognition technology is improving and getting far more accurate every day. Alexa, Siri, and Ok Google are being used to query shopping-related suggestions more than ever. They are also becoming commonplace in many households through smart home devices. Voice search in eCommerce is all set to transform the future digital commerce landscape. More than 50% of all searches were voice searches in 2020 and Voice Shopping is estimated to reach $40 Billion in U.S. by 2022. More than 44% of US internet users have used a voice assistant to look for product information or purchase products.

Use Voice Search in mCommerce to

Personalize shopping experiences by providing recommendations based on individual preferences. Reduce screen interactions and time taken for checkout.

Collect reviews and feedback. Provide users with the ease and convenience as against the time-consuming task of typing long feedbacks.

5. Rapid Adoption of Mobile Payment – Online sales, smart devices, and mobile payments are not only changing the way consumers find and pay for goods and services, they are also changing the way payment processors accept, secure, and facilitate payments. Mobile payment technology is evolving rapidly with the consumer adoption of Mobile Wallets. Mobile wallets are one of the fastest growing trends concerning the future of mobile payment technology. That’s because mobile wallets offer speed, convenience, and security for consumers. And as popularity for mobile wallets in purchasing, digital coupons and peer-to-peer transfers grows, biometric authentication also grows raising the security for the apps.

As consumers turn to contactless payment methods, retailers are aligning their hybrid shopping experiences and point of sale technology to match. Mobile point of sale (mPOS) refers to the wireless devices merchants use to accept payments anywhere — no longer tethered to registers at a single checkout location.

mPOS isn’t just a flash in the pan, it is truly the future of mobile payment technology. According to Business Insider, there will be 27.7 million mPOS devices in use by 2021, up from 3.2 million in 2014.

6. Mobile devices and rise of OTT – Mobile devices are an important part of the OTT mix, whether at home, in the living room or on the go streaming apps. Every major network is coming up their own streaming apps – Disney+, Discovery+, Peacock, HBO Max and more.

Advertisers are shifting budget to Connected TV, a majority of marketers plans to increase spend on Connected TV in 2021, hence brands can no longer ignore OTT as a channel. The opportunity is so alluring that many marketers will shift budget from multiple existing ad channels. And while many will pull from existing TV budgets, over a quarter of marketers are using digital budgets instead. I expect that number to grow in 2021 since CTV’s targeting and reporting capabilities function like a digital channel and we can track every cross device journey.

7. Mobile is sweet spot for Augmented Reality (AR) experiences – My favorite is the Beauty industry which has truly leveraged AR to create stellar customer experiences. Currently, big brands (Ulta, Sephora, L’Oréal and more) are using mobile and AR technologies allowing us to see how cosmetics, hairstyles, and jewelry will look on consumers. Giving consumers a virtual option to shop has been an important trend for many retailers, such as American Apparel, Uniqlo, Lacoste, Kohls, Sephora. Others have made virtual fitting rooms a reality for their customers. This allows customers to gain a try-before-you-buy experience from home. This is especially important due to the way social distancing policies affect retail during the COVID-19 pandemic. AR is in a great position to resolve this problem.

With more bandwidth and control over an interior environment, the advantages offered by AR for indoor navigation are clear and will boost its adoption as in-store navigation tool. There are a wide range of tools that can be used to enhance this experience at different scales, such as Bluetooth beacons, ceiling antennas, and QR codes. Gaming has the highest share of the industry’s revenue and will remain a relevant driver of augmented reality. Practical uses of AR such as those used by the healthcare and engineering industries will also gain traction.

ModiFace latest AR nail polish try-on tool for Essie works in the mobile web, no app required. Using camera technology, the web-based AR tool virtually applies polish on users’ hands by tracking nail shape and movement of fingers through the back-facing camera. The tool’s AR application and color depiction allow users to visualize how the Essie nail polish shade will appear on them.

8. Mobile gaming as social network – Titles such as Among Us and Fortnite have ushered in a new era of gaming, one where games become social networks. Gaming has already established itself as a mainstream spectator sport – Not playing, just watching!! A report from Neilson suggests that 71 per cent of millennial gamers watch gaming content on YouTube and Twitch, while stream tech outfit Limelight reckons most 18 to 25-year-olds would rather watch gamers than traditional sports.

Consumer will spend over 120 billion in mobile games in 2021. Mobile games saw record downloads in 2020 — carrying momentum from peak lockdowns in Q2 into Q3 2020, where average weekly downloads of games worldwide were up 15% year over year. Amidst increased demand for both casual and core gaming, consumer spend on mobile games will reach new heights in 2021, surpassing $120 billion.

Playable ads specifically have become an increasingly popular ad format due largely to their ability to give consumers the chance to experience a game before downloading it. 2021 will see more game developers take advantage of this unique ad type, as well as new and immersive interactive ad formats – such as Snap’s deal with Unity – to reach more players along with Travis Scotts performance in Fortnite.

9. Mobile and Gen Z – If you’re a brand eager to maximize reach and engagement amongst younger demographics like Gen Z Young, tech savvy, and socially-minded, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever with a spending power of over $140 billion – Mobile is the most important channel. Having grown up with smartphones, the Internet, and social media, these digital natives are more likely to buy from brands that have established clear values, are inclusive, have a strong online community with a significant mobile presence.

10. App monetization through subscription model – At the end of 2020, a lot of apps in EdTech, online communication, gaming, home fitness, and some other verticals became quite popular and have seen significant growth this year as users now use their mobile devices for a variety of activities. While it’s safe to say that these verticals will continue to grow after the pandemic is over, the question is — for how long? Humans are social creatures, and once we can reconnect and get out without fear, we could see a decrease in use of apps in these verticals.

The remote communication tools, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and others, are likely to stay indefinitely now that the businesses took their time to adopt this tech into their workflows.

11. 5G and mobile – The next generation of 5G mobile technology truly arrived with Apple joining Samsung and others in officially announcing 5G-compatible phones. This new age opens up a variety of opportunities for marketers as 5G wireless promises speeds that are at least 10 times faster than today’s 4G. The new technology provides more space, supporting 4K video streaming and a high-defense augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experience. For brands, they can enable richer videos, websites, emails, custom ad units, and precise location-triggered messaging.

5G will spur the adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in gaming, spectacular events & concerts, autonomous driving and more – creating more immersive and hyper-personalized experiences for customers. VR is where a completely new landscape is presented to viewers, while AR is where information and graphics are overlaid on top of whatever the viewer is looking at. More bandwidth and more powerful apps naturally create opportunities to weave various channels together to enhance the customer experience. Digital wallets for in-store contactless payments, app-based check-ins for curbside pickup, are just the tip of the iceberg of what will be possible.

The Future is Mobile and serves amazing opportunities for Omni-channel and connected customer experiences.

Abhi Vyas is an online marketing expert with a proven track record of driving results and delivering innovation in the mobile marketing arena. Abhi’s expertise is based on more than a decade of experience across all online marketing channels. Abhi teaches Mobile Marketing and Analytics in the SMU Digital Marketing Certificate program.