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2020 was a year like no other. What does this mean for global marketing trends in 2021? Our digital, brand and localization experts have their say.

Remember the ‘new normal’ of summer 2020? The short-lived period was quickly usurped by rapidly changing COVID restrictions, ending any sense of predictability for brands and customers. As the situation continues to evolve, countries around the world are adapting differently – while local consumer expectations vary widely and shift quickly.

This extra complexity can make it feel almost impossible to plan for the year ahead. To help, we’ve asked our brand, digital and localization experts to cut through the confusion and identify the top global marketing trends in 2021. So you can navigate the continued uncertainty, maximize your budget and find new opportunities.


2020 sparked a marketing shake-up for many brands. Companies needed to engage (and retain) customers without appearing cynical or profiteering. Many chose to focus on tone of voice, channel reviews and corporate social responsibility.

Because customers remember positive actions taken by brands. 79% of global consumers are aware of brands that redirected profits to good causes during the pandemic. (Including support for their own employees.) And 37% intend to continue purchasing from brands that responded well to the COVID crisis.

So it’s no surprise the triple-bottom-line ethos of People, Planet and Profit has become a priority for many businesses:


Working from home is likely to spark lasting change. Many capital cities have a high percentage of jobs that can be carried out remotely. However, regional and country averages vary widely, depending on income and internet penetration. Women are also less likely to have access to remote working opportunities.

The coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests also focused customer attention across the globe on employee experiences. In the Edelman Trust Barometer’s COVID-19 report, based on a 12-market survey, 90% of consumers said they wanted businesses to protect their employees. 52% said it was essential to earning or keeping their trust.

Brands whose approach was deemed inadequate were punished around the world. 20% of French consumers said they’d convinced others to stop using a brand they felt hadn’t acted appropriately during the pandemic. This figure rose to 27% in the US, 35% in Brazil, and 76% in China.


Source: Edelman Trust Barometer

To manage these new workforce challenges, we expect to see more brands aspiring to awards like ‘We Invest in People’ and B Corp certification. And talking about it.


There was some good news in 2020. Global CO2 emissions decreased by 8% compared with 2019 – an unprecedented fall. And in a surprise move, China pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2060. There are now 110 countries with similar mid-century pledges.

This fast-growing trend means that for businesses, sustainability can no longer be ignored. 71% of consumers worldwide agree that climate change is as important an issue as COVID. And they’re willing to exercise their spending power in line with their beliefs.

Although discussions around climate change have arguably been eclipsed by COVID talk, sustainability is still a key issue. Be ready with your brand’s answers when it returns to the forefront again post-COVID.


It’s not surprising that the pivot towards cause-related marketing has sparked a backlash. Consumers are aware that Profit is the top priority for many businesses. It’s all too easy to champion social issues for selfish reasons. Brand causes must stack up or they’ll be accused of woke-washing or greenwashing.

For example, Starbucks publicly tweeted its support for Black Lives Matter. But they said that allowing their staff to wear BLM T-shirts or pins would “amplify divisiveness”. The company made a swift U-turn after facing boycott threats. And Amazon’s stand of solidarity with black workers rang hollow, as they’d done little to protect warehouse workers from COVID-19.

So yes, look after your People, do more to save the Planet and take a stand on social issues. But don’t fall into the trap of posturing for Profit. And remember to adapt any initiatives to meet the priorities and experiences of customers in each market. Back up well-meaning social media posts and emails with tangible action – or your customers will look for a more authentic alternative elsewhere.


COVID-19 pushed people and businesses across the globe online, making a digital-first approach essential.

  • In the UK, 85,000 businesses launched online for the first time between March and July 2020.
  • Chinese online retail reached 24.6% of total sales in the first half of 2020 – up from 19.4% in 2019.
  • Non-store sales in the US (mostly on e-commerce sites) increased by 14.8%.

Even after the crisis, we won’t be returning to the way things were. The pandemic is driving behavioural change, which is likely to last.

For example, due to increased cashless payments during the pandemic, Japan has begun to run out of credit card numbers. The shift is particularly noticeable in the over-70s, with a 9.5% increase in card usage.

Not all markets were affected equally, of course. China, India and Indonesia have a consistently higher level of consumer confidence. Meanwhile, consumers in countries with a lower economic impact, like Germany and Japan, are less likely to experiment with new shopping behaviours.

Regular local-market audience research and strategy reviews offer brands a chance to connect with audiences across the globe who are willing to spend online.

So how can you stay on top in 2021? Here are some starting points to consider per market:

  • Review how digital touchpoints play a part across the entire customer journey, identify visibility gaps and make sure you have a consistent presence.
  • Accelerate digital commerce and communication processes – if your customers can’t walk into a store, how can you engage them?
  • As local COVID restrictions fluctuate, so will category demand and relevance. Keep on top of this and adapt accordingly.


Your international markets can be a much-needed source of growth and revenue at the moment. If you’re in an industry that’s grown during this period, you may even be considering further expansion – and the localization that comes with it.

In economic downturns, businesses sometimes choose to scale back localization (and marketing). The Common Sense Advisory has found that discontinuing language support runs two primary risks:

  • The lack of language support may compound revenue loss as customers abandon your brand for a better-localized (or local) competitor.
  • It may set back global growth significantly, making it harder to gain global revenue in the future.

Source: Common Sense Advisory

In fact, 31% of international consumers are unlikely to purchase products without information in their own language. And some of the most English-proficient countries in the world (such as Germany) are least likely to purchase without quality localization. A clever localization strategy balances what matters most to your audience with creating the most value for the least budget.

Our second trend is an increase in tone of voice localization. In a digital world, your content is your brand voice. What works in English won’t necessarily chime with overseas consumers. And leaving the interpretation of your brand up to a remote translation team is an unnecessary risk.

A firm brand framework that’s consistent but appropriately localized will mean you can respond to changes faster. And to win your customers’ loyalty in a period where many are trying new things.


The key takeaways from our 2021 global marketing trends: corporate social responsibility and purpose-driven practices are increasingly important for customers – but they must feel authentic and locally relevant. A digital-first approach to marketing is critical for all markets. Audience research and targeted localization are crucial to winning (and retaining) customers in new markets.

If you need advice on how to approach your global marketing in 2021, please get in touch.

Photo by Eun-Kwang Bae on Unsplash