Send us a message
ON JANUARY 4, 2021
By Rick Milenthal

What to Look for in 2021: Empowerment and Positivity

Let’s start with an obvious and optimistic prediction: 2021 will be better than 2020.

Though it was not the year anyone foresaw – and certainly not the year anyone asked for – 2020 accelerated marketing trends we’ve been watching unfold for the last half decade.

Consider recent history: as we had predicted before 2019, brands have started embracing the idea that creative and data should no longer be relegated to different silos; rather, the two disciplines must work together towards the common goal of creating deep and meaningful connections with audiences. And, in line with our predictions of last year, 2020 was about re-learning fundamental truths, questioning what we’ve always thought and embracing new challenges and opportunities made possible by advances in technology and strategy.

2021 will be about these trends coming together leading to new levels of brand empowerment.


2021 will be the year that, at scale, brands start redefining their relationships with retail partners when it comes to D2C (direct - to - consumer) marketing. The first - party data that brands generate through D2C will be critical to their own consumer insight and empowerment. Imagine how it can be used, for instance, to inform product launches. Further, the data generated in these efforts will be increasingly important for use in targeting as the 3rd party cookie continues its long walk towards the exit.

Also D2C campaigns are no longer the existential threats that retailers once imagined. Amazon has shown them they have far greater things to worry about. This means that, for brands, D2C is no longer considered taboo.


Whether you consider it good or bad news – or, like most us, both – the decline of the 3rd party cookie portends important shifts that will continue gaining momentum in 2021. Some solutions to managing this change are new. As noted, one consequence is that marketers must learn how to collect and best leverage 1st party data more adroitly than has been strictly necessary in the past. At the same time, some important responses to the new reality will be classical: New emphasis must be placed on traditional marketing strategies like leveraging contextual communications, building effective partnerships, and working hard to create excellent and thoughtful conversations with consumers.


This new marriage of creative and data – of art and science, of new and classical marketing techniques – requires entirely new ways of managing consumer communication planning and execution. The agencies that thrive in 2021 will be those that best develop data, technology and talent, and the efficiency and potential of independent agencies will continue to pay important dividends in these regards. This is true both for attracting highly talented employees who are not interested in working with all the baggage they find at larger agencies, and it is also true for clients who are looking for partners that are agile, attentive and innovative. The historical inefficiencies of large, traditional marketing firms will weigh heavily on them.


Articulating (or re - articulating) brand purpose and what a brand stands for is more important than ever. Consumers care deeply about transparency and want to understand the working practices, conditions and philosophies of the brands they support. Additionally, there is an increasing need to make digital experiences more human. The accelerated digitization of people’s lives (work, church, doctor, yoga, friends/family, etc.) means brands who can communicate with empathy, authenticity and elevate a human experience will have greater appeal.


Finally, brand positivity and action will continue developing as a major factor in how brands should engage with the world. For all the anger and fear in the world as 2020 finally comes to an end, there continues to be goodness all around us. Brands who understand and communicate this become forces of positivity, generating more than just good karma.

Consumers are reacting more positively than ever to the brands that say and do the right thing – that care about and participate in the world around them. We ourselves at The Shipyard are working to lead by example, with our efforts towards our own chosen causes – promoting racial equity and promoting education and investment in mental health issues, are paying dividends not only for our communities. They are also attracting the type of people we want to work with – dedicated, smart, and passionate about improving the world.