4 Trends Set to Dominate Digital Marketing in 2021, by AppsFlyer Paul Wright

By Paul Wright, managing director UK, FR, ME & Turkey at AppsFlyer.

After all the uncertainty and rapid developments in 2020, it might seem hard to predict what is in store for businesses in 2021. The new strain of the virus, ambitious vaccination programs and other political and economic factors such as the renewal of ties between GCC countries further cloud the crystal ball. But if there is one thing for certain, it’s that digital transformation will continue to accelerate, and with it, the relevance and value of mobile apps.

With new advertising platforms emerging, renewed privacy concerns, and ongoing app regulation, there are several changes that marketers must adapt to when planning their campaigns for the months ahead.

Mobile app market growth

A consequence of lockdowns was the dramatic rise in the popularity of mobile apps. From online shopping and entertainment to socializing and staying healthy — consumers became increasingly depended on their smart devices. In fact, according to AppsFlyer research, the mobile app install rate in the Middle East grew by a staggering 55 per cent year-on-year in 2020.

With this mobile culture becoming so embedded in our day to day lives, we can expect this trend to continue to accelerate, particularly when it comes to applications for entertainment, productivity, online shopping and food delivery.

Omnichannel marketing and measurement

As users get more comfortable using smart devices as the primary means of engaging with brands, advertisers will recognize that creating strong, focused mobile-first strategies will be key to attracting and retaining customers.

As a result, the customer engagement journey will continue to evolve, presenting marketers with a complex web of interactions that span multiple touchpoints as consumers navigate fluidly between web, mobile, telephonic, and even physical channels. A prime challenge for Middle East marketers in the year ahead will be to accurately capture and measure user interactions across all these channels and devices. As a case in point, according to a recent study from Salesforce, UAE marketers cited ‘measuring marketing ROI/attribution’ as their foremost challenge.

Because of this, 2021 will see marketers renew investment and focus, both on omnichannel marketing, and measurement capabilities. Leveraging data-driven insights to obtain a holistic view and understanding of the customer journey will be critical to success.

TikTok set for prime time

Facebook and Google continued to dominate mobile advertising with a significant majority of the non-organic install market. The search and social giants hold the #1 power ranking position in 79 per cent of breakdowns, and 82 per cent of volume rankings across all indices.

However, the hugely popular app, TikTok, earns a well-deserved spot on marketers watch lists. It’s now the world’s fastest-growing social media platform and was the most downloaded app last year with over 817 million downloads in the last twelve months alone.

Just when Middle East marketers might feel like they have finally made significant strides in optimizing their digital marketing and social media marketing strategies, TikTok Ads have burst into the limelight and changed the game. Marketers need to adapt and mimic the platform’s genius of placing the user at the centre of the action. The focus should be shifted towards producing high impact, engaging content that drives user-generated videos and scale views around campaign initiatives and Hashtag Challenges. With feeds saturated with content, the shorter the better when it comes to TikTok Ads.

Prioritizing privacy and probabilistic attribution

One of the biggest developments of 2020 was Apple’s announcement of its decision to release the highly anticipated App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework. This is expected to have a pronounced impact on Identified for Advertisers (IDFA) collection and will consequently make it significantly harder for marketers to accurately measure the efficacy of their ads, retarget users and monetize their work.

This will have a ripple effect and present a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for the entire industry in 2021. Marketers will have to adapt and innovate to ensure they adopt solutions that are compliant with iOS and end-user privacy needs — even when certain identifiers are absent.

While this may seem daunting to marketers at first, Apple’s changes are in line with a growing shift that’s putting consumer privacy front and centre, in part driven by regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US. Changes around IDFA will help drive adoption of the mindset that aggregated data should be preferred when user-level data is not required or permitted with proper user consent.

In line with this, recent research from the Mobile Marketing Association found that marketers now agree that probabilistic data will gain traction as a meaningful marketing metric. Probabilistic attribution does not rely on deterministic identifiers, like IDFA, and instead uses machine learning and probability to attribute users’ activity. As a result, marketers can continue to measure campaign performance without compromising on privacy.

A year of change

The ongoing evolution of customer behaviour will continue through 2021, and beyond, as individuals, and consequently businesses, place a greater deal of emphasis on privacy. It is by no means a threat to the thriving mobile marketing industry but rather, an opportunity to pioneer and gain a competitive edge through innovation. Measurement will adapt to this new privacy-centric reality that eliminates the bad of personalized advertising and keeps the good to allow data-driven performance marketing to continue to thrive.

2021 will be a year where great user experience and great user-privacy co-exist.