Predictions2021: Marketing technology by Hearts & Science’s Dana Sarkis #Marcomms360

Dana Sarkis, General manager of Hearts & Science, identifies the five dominant technological advances that could make or break brands in a post-pandemic world.

By Dana Sarkis, general manager, Hearts & Science

The unpredictability of 2020 has forced us to become cautious predictors when looking to forecast the future of the media and marketing industry. Yet one thing is for certain: The speed at which technology is advancing is not slowing down. The acceleration of tech development is challenging the marketing world and putting it through various tests of endurance.

In fact, it can be said that technology is advancing faster than the rate of knowledge and tool capacity. Enter 2021, and we are witnessing the fastest game of catch-up we have ever seen. 

Covid hasn’t necessarily created any new shifts, but instead augmented the speed of adoption of several floating business concepts such as remote, digital transformation, and e-commerce enablement. Marketers who are able to harness new and emerging technologies can implement faster, provide more efficient go-to-market strategies and, as a result, attract a wider and global customer base.

It has taken us a long time to reach this point of technology adoption. 2020 was only the beginning for brands as they quickly understood if they didn’t take a firm grip on digital marketing technologies it could mean make or break in the face of a pandemic. This was just the beginning, and the challenge will increase now that the tech flood gates have opened. The need to continuously evolve, adopt and upskill your marketing capabilities is only building momentum.

We concluded 2020 with a tech audit to identify what would be the five key building blocks to protect, defend and build business growth for our clients in the new year.

The five topics we identified to be the dominant factors were: privacy, tech & design, analytics, ML/AI and remote.

1 Privacy

Privacy will challenge the ad world as we know it in 2021. You only need to look to Apple and its newly embedded privacy pillar in its 2021 marketing strategy and its $2 trillion valuation response from shareholders and consumers to recognise how significant a player privacy is going to be this year.

In addition, 2021 will be the final year of the cookie. The impact this will have on the marketing value chain will be detrimental in challenging the norms of targeting, optimisation and tracking unless collaboration on the unification of IDs is established across publishers and marketers. In turn, marketers will need to make sure that they develop seamless, beneficial and reciprocal experiences for their customers to voluntarily opt-in to share their data for greater personalisation. Furthermore, publishers will need to focus on great content as a hook to a subscription-based model. This is a trend we have seen over the past couple of years as more subscription-based platforms shift away from the advertising model.

Lastly, expect to see the ramp-up of government regulations around big tech. 2020 witnessed some of the most aggressive hearings against the big four and talk continues to increase around breaking them up. If history repeats itself, we could be looking at another splitting of big business like AT&T in the 1980s and the attempt against Microsoft in the early 2000s.

With the rate at which privacy matters are escalating and the conversations around them concerning ethics and safety are building, be sure to be include a privacy pillar in your marketing strategy, sooner rather than later.

Tech & design

If there is one thing we have learned from observing winning digital-first businesses like Uber, Airbnb, or Netflix, it is the level of focus and emphasis they place upon improving their customer experience. We see them in a constant mode of innovation and improvement, tailoring their brand experiences to suit the needs of their customers. As brands move towards replicating successful models and learning from the market leaders, we see UX/UI leaving its position at the long tail of the digital transformation journey. Ultimately, the sole purpose is to build brands that fulfil user needs through efficient and effective interactions. Companies that wish to stay ahead of the curve need to institutionalise audits and make it a recursive process. Audits are essential to vetting current partners and technologies and scouting the next big thing. In addition, with 40 per cent of businesses ranking CX as a top priority for digital transformation, expect UX/UI-oriented roles to rise in demand and prominence. This will in turn add to the exponential speed of tech advancements in CX-centralised tools and solutions.


The talk about big data that has taken the limelight in the past couple of years has recently been overshadowed by simpler and more relatable concepts around data centralisation and usability. Marketers have come to understand that for any analytics project to be performed, no matter how simple or complex, the main prerequisite is for the data to be clean, organised and centralised for ease of accessibility. The depth and the breadth of the data will always remain important in carrying out advanced analytics projects, especially when we talk about first-party data and ID-level data. This kind of data capture requires a reciprocal value exchange between parties.
This applies to the exchange between a brand and an end user or two distinct brands in making sure the transactional value of the exchange adds business value and enriches the user experience.

Thanks to the pandemic, two key trends have accelerated:

First, the focus on tailored CRM systems and connecting that to the full marketing ecosystem stack. Marketers have started stitching their direct and indirect marketing channels together to minimise redundancy in communication, reduce the impact of message fatigue on end customers, and provide more value to their customers through personalised loyalty programs.

Second, the emphasis on “applied cloud solutions” wherein the requirements do not stop at finding a solid cloud partner but more on the kind of user applications that are overlaid on top of that solution that the marketer can have access to. It has become evident to marketers that tech partners that have an ‘open source’ solution are the easiest to work with as they are agile, connected and transparent. Tech partners need to plug in to several other different kinds of tech partners in order to provide the most value to the end-users – who in this case are the marketers. In today’s landscape clients need to have easy access, they need to understand what data they are working with and be able to have one connected dashboard.

These two trends are going to increasingly become available to marketers, fast-developing their understanding and ability to build disproportionate growth for their brands.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are also by no means new concepts, yet we’ve seen rapid advances in their applications as well as their impact on businesses and sectors at scale. The time is finally here when we will have a real feel for the application of algorithm scripting to solve a marketing problem and even reach a business target. That is definitely beyond how we’ve witnessed the big players such as Google and Facebook using these technologies across targeting, optimisation and measurement. For tech companies, ML/AI is more of a foundational layer by design. Netflix and Spotify are good examples of how ML is used to understand user preferences and decode that into an assortment of content choices.

Marketers undergoing a transformation will start harnessing code scripting to improve their customer experiences across not only their digital assets such as websites, apps and chatbots, but also in physical stores, call centres and maybe even going a step further into developing ML scripts for existing tech like CRM. As a direct consequence of this upcoming use case, the selection of talent and partners based on traditional merit won’t suffice. The marketing ecosystem will need to start building talent pools and partner relations with those who can creatively solve business challenges by thinking in pseudo-language, and fast.

5 Remote

Our final accelerated transformation is remote, which also means the flexibility to work from anywhere. Remote has been a forced experiment that turned out to work well for most companies, transforming talent, partnerships, and competition.

The reduced reliance on physical space engagement has opened the doors for a wider access to talent that could potentially be working from anywhere across the world. This in turn poses an opportunity to create our ideal notion of the office of the future where recruitment is more solution-based and modular. Team structure will become more agile as resources shift according to business or project needs. This will create a new rise in offshoring and, even more stimulating to any business and economy, partnerships. As marketers look for solutions and transformation, agencies and technology teams will forge partnerships.

Marketers who have the attitude and brands who have the culture to identify, understand and adopt tech at speed will win in 2021. Here are few pointers to help navigate the upcoming five changes we will experience this year:


1. Develop a data-driven strategy to increase opt-in customer data collection.

2. Relook at your business model and see where you can increase customer convenience by adding recurring revenue through subscriptions.

Tech & design

1. Institutionalise tech audits as part of a recursive process in your ecosystem.

2. Invest in talent and partnerships that help your business better understand UX/UI.


1. Focus on ensuring that the right data is being collected and is at the closest point to activation.

2. Use cloud to its full potential, invest in a CRM system and develop analytics that work for your business.


1. Think of how your business can benefit from ML/AI for greater usage or product recommendation.

2. Recruit and work with teams that understand platforms and code.


1. Re-design your company structure and processes for a remote-friendly world.

2. Don’t limit your partners geographically; go global for best service and cost.