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  • Writer's pictureRooshabh Doshi

Digital Marketing Trends In India For 2021

Updated: May 12, 2021

There is no doubt that there has never been a more significant shift in customer behaviour, psyche and intent in a year than the mindset change in the year 2020. Covid-19 has lead to a change in customer priorities and consumption patterns, which in turn means that marketers will need to be on their feet and aware of the different methods and channels of engaging with customers.

In the process, the pandemic shaped a new marketing framework for brands struggling to make ends meet. Even conventional and old-school businesses in India decided to make the plunge and utilise digital to retain customers, generate more sales and keep the conversation alive.

1. The Year of Voice Search

With the increase in time spent at home and with all our smart devices including a functionality for voice search whether TVs, mobiles, laptops and smart home devices, voice search is more important than ever before.

From an SEO perspective it would be wise to optimise content for voice searches especially for brands that have more day to day utility such as ride hailing apps and food delivery apps. The keywords used for voice search are also slightly different from regular text based searches.

Example -

Voice Search - ‘Book me a taxi to _______________ ‘

Regular search - ’Taxi booking services’

Voice Search - ‘Play WAP by Cardi B’

Regular search - ‘WAP Cardi B’

Voice Search - ‘Suggest a good Italian restaurant in Mumbai’

Regular search - ‘Italian restaurant mumbai’

In a nutshell, the content optimised needs to be more direct and conversational. It should include phrases rather than just keywords.

Statistics show people use voice for mostly food-related requests so brands in the food space should definitely make note:-

  • Restaurants/cafés (51%)

  • Grocery stores (41%)

  • Food delivery (35%)

  • Clothing stores (32%)

  • Hotels/bed and breakfasts (30%)

According to Google, more than 28% of searches in India were done through voice search in 2019 and with people spending more time at home than ever before, this is bound to increase even further. According to Google and Amazon, India is seeing a whopping 270% year on year increase in voice searches

For a diverse market like India, it is also important to optimise for a multilingual voice experience, especially if your brand caters to a demographic where English is not the spoken word.

2. Virtual Events

During the lockdown, events went digital out of necessity. Over time, we noticed that a lot of events continued being digital not only due to safety concerns but also from a strategic perspective. Virtual events opened up so many doors (figuratively, not literally) -

1. No travel restrictions and hence reach can be increased. People did not have to be in the same city to attend an event

2. The comfort of attending from your bed or in your PJs. There is a certain prep required for attending events in person

3. Virtual events are more cost effective to host as well. All the logistics and costs that go into a live event (collaterals, production, travel, food, venue) are considerably reduced with virtual events

Art exhibitions, music shows, charities, chef masterclasses, plays and other forms of live entertainment have also migrated to online platforms and while there is no doubt that nothing beats in-person events for its more social touch, virtual events are here to stay.

3. Snackable Video Content

This has been a trend for the longest time with 6 second vines and Dubs. It did not take long for the most popular platforms and brands to come to the party as well.

It is well documented that people have the attention spans of goldfish these days, which is why short form snackable content is going to be more relevant than ever before.

TikTok was one of the most popular platforms for Gen Z till the ban was implemented in India, Snapchat implemented a major redesign, and Instagram and YouTube both launched Reels to get in on the action. Given the boost in social media consumption for all generations, CMOs have redirected budgets to these channels — in Q2 of 2020, social media accounted for almost 25% of total marketing budgets, a rise of 13% from 2019.

4. Purpose-Driven Marketing

A 2018 Shelton Group’s ‘Brands & Stands: Social Purpose is the New Black‘ study stated that 86% consumers believe that companies should take a stand for social issues and 64% of those who said it’s ‘extremely important’ for a company to take a stand on a social issue said they were ‘very likely’ to purchase a product based on that commitment.

Avoiding potentially controversial issues may have been the marketing mentality for years, but in 2020, things are changing. Millennials and Gen Z want a brand’s ethos and purpose to align with their own individual preferences. Consumers want brands to be socially aware and take a stand.

In the yesteryears, brands would tread on the line of caution to avoid the risk of antagonising an interest/ideological group but with an increase in the number of brands trying to vie for the same customer’s attention, it matters to stick your neck out and take a stand to get noticed.

In India however, brands are wary of the political scenario and have recently become circumspect about taking sides when it comes to certain sects or ideologies for the fear of getting trolled online. Unfortunately, brands such as Tanishq and Swiggy had to bear the brunt for the same.

However there are some safe and universal issues across diaspora that can still be tackled by brands and that were addressed in the year 2020.

Campaigns such as Axis Bank’s #ReverseTheKhata and Cadbury’s Diwali #NotJustACadburyAd Campaign for SMBs struck a chord with people all over India.

5. User-Generated Content

Brands and agencies might spend a lot of money and effort on content marketing, but when it comes to authentic, credible and relevant content, the customer crafts content better than any other internal resource. In fact, one survey found that 90% of shoppers reported how UGC influenced their decision to buy a product more than any other form of advertising.

UGC can be as as simple as reviews, comments and testimonials or more layered in the form of images, videos, etc.

Having a smart UGC approach in place will go a long way in helping the brand treat its end customers as content creators. What better way of creating content than having your customers advocate the use of your product/service?

User-generated content (UGC) ticks all the boxes when it comes to connecting people:

  • It builds and strengthens communities

  • It is a stamp of approval from another customer

  • It helps brands generate tons more content against a backdrop of restrictive measures

Some great UGC campaigns that I wish I was a part of include the Go Madbury campaign in 2019 that asked its fans to create their own version of the Cadbury bar with ingredients of their choice. Zomato asked its customers to shoot its next ad campaign. The winning team would receive a prize of Rs. 25 L. The result? They had interesting video content being created on their behalf from all over the country.

The Lays #SmileDekeDekho campaign is another personal favourite as influencers asked people all over the country to click pictures with the quirky Lays packaging that had smiles imprinted on them.

6. OTT Platforms

It’s time for brands to engage and entertain and not advertise.

Limited access to cinema halls and live events has lead to a massive adoption of OTT platforms. During lockdown, customers flocked to Video & Audio streaming platforms such as Hotstar, Spotify, Gaana, among others.

The OTT sector in India witnessed a 30% rise in the number of paid subscribers, from 22.2 million to 29.0 million between March and July 2020.

India registered a 60% increase in the adoption of OTT platforms in the year 2020.

Advertisers have hence identified these platforms as a new channel to reach out to the end consumer.

Advertisers are spending more on podcasts too, which is a hint to their continued success in 2021. Collaborations with existing content creators on YouTube or podcasters on Spotify will allow brands to connect with customers in a more seamless, subtle and intimate way. As of 2020 January, 20% of Audio streaming platform listeners were also podcast listeners with the trend slated to increase further.

Brands such as Tropicana, Storytel, Accenture, Motilal Oswal, Aditya Birla Mutual Fund, Paytm money and more have already leveraged digital audio podcasts.

Only 7% of OTT subscribers consider English as their primary language and hence, there is a massive opportunity to create content and connect with customers in their local languages.

7. Social Commerce & Shoppable Posts

With e-commerce and social media both growing at alarming rates, it’s no wonder brands are using the two together to maximize opportunities for sales.

In March 2019, Instagram unveiled Instagram Checkout, which lets users complete their purchase on Instagram itself.

Generally most brands I have worked with have seen organic social media account for only 2-3% of overall conversions. There are several reasons for this but one of them is customers having to move onto another platform or having to sign up or install an app to complete a purchase.

According to Instagram , the platform has over 1 billion users and over 90% of them follow e-commerce brands they like. With the breadth of shoppable posts spanning all major social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest, Shoppable posts are a great way to channelise and leverage this intent in a faster way, hence shortening the sales funnel.

While still relatively new and unchartered territory in India, 2021 promises to have an increasing number of brands take the plunge.

Curious to know how to set up your own Instagram shop? This article breaks it down.

8. Interactive Content

Did you know that 96% of consumers who start BuzzFeed quizzes actually finish them?

Interactive content has been popular for a while but social media platforms have been introducing even more interactive features such as quizzes, polls, questions and AR filters.

In 2021, we’re destined to see a shift from traditional text and visual based content towards more dynamic and engaging content that offers an immersive experience to customers.

As far as engagement rates are concerned, marketers have seen a 4-5X increase in ER with such formats compared to regular forms of content.

In fact, even live online events these days such as cricket matches streamed on Hotstar or gigs on PayTM Insider have plenty of interactive features to comment, cheer, ask a question, quiz or engage with a community at the same time.

Tourism Australia’s official website, for example, uses compelling interactive content to engage with potential tourists and convert. Its series of 360-degree virtual reality video tours allows individuals to truly immerse themselves and virtually experience various stunning adventure spots in Australia.

The Alienist is a dark thriller set in New York in the 19th century. Their official website allows you to explore the city in the 19th century and compare it to modern day New York.

9. Automation & AI

30% of Indian B2C businesses are predicted to use AI and automation in their marketing and sales processes in 2021 which is far higher than ever before.

Automation helps reduce the time and effort put in by human resources and enables smarter and more relevant engagements with customers.

Automation and AI is most commonly seen for the following tactics for Indian businesses -

  • Predictive Analytics for a personalised experience- OTT platforms such as Netflix, Spotify use this to make recommendations

  • E-mail and push triggers - Not made a transaction for a month? here’s a coupon code to bring you back through an e-mail. Order a roll every Friday night at 11pm? Here’s a reminder from Swiggy at 10.45 pm

  • AI powered chatbots - Social media platforms introduced chatbots a few years ago but almost every business these days whether e-commerce or even B2B have their own chatbots to give prompt responses any time of the day or week. Chatbots never take vacations. Brands that commonly use chatbots in India include Swiggy, Zomato, Amazon, Ola, Haptik, Book My Show

  • Programmatic advertising

10. Content Creators as Influencers

The pandemic amplified the impact influencers have on the purchase of products, due to limited intent and ability to shop at stores.

Indian brands have not been far behind using plenty of influencers to spearhead their campaigns to reach out to a new set of eye-balls like never before.

However the impact of micro-influencer campaigns over time have started to wane given their sheer volume, lack of authenticity and poor engagement rates. It is pretty obvious that a lot of micro influencers have bots as followers, hence lacking a genuine follower base.

With ROI becoming more important than ever post pandemic, Influencer marketing started becoming more about quality rather than quantity and that trend is certain to carry on.

Enter the content creator who became even more relevant in 2020. Content creators use their own brand of humour, music and sketches to subtly promote a brand. The hero in such cases is usually the content and the influencer, and not the brand.

Content creators represent the brands they actually use through unique, informative, often funny and catchy content, and build a community around it. In simple terms, content creators create and harness real connections with their audience through common interests and shared values, without forcing people to buy the product. They advocate the use of a brand indirectly through their art without really saying so, unlike endorsers and micro influencers.

What’s more? Content creators in the macro-influencer category (between 100k and 1 million followers) seem to have a greater ROI than even celebrities according to industry experts.

Promoted tweets have become quite the trend and we see comedians, musicians and actors creating content around brands without directly endorsing such brands. The recent Cred campaigns have struck a chord with the youth through its zany and contemporary messaging with the help of content creators.

Other examples include:-

  • YouTube content creator and comedian, Bhuvan Bam became Myntra’s first ever digital ambassador last year

  • Cadbury roped in Pooja Dhingra, Kunal Kapoor and other influencers for its Celebrations UGC campaign - #MeethaBanaoPyaarDikhao . The content creators urged their followers to make desserts using Cadbury Celebrations

  • Prateek Kuhad wrote a song for Bira91, reminiscing about the summer that went by

Engaging content creates a bridge between brands and customers, something that micro influencers often failed to do, but that content creators in the macro influencer category latched onto in 2020.


So there you go! Which trends do you think will be most important this year? Would love to hear from you in the comments below or you can tweet to me directly at @doshmeisterr

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