Engagement Drivers: Five Digital Trends Businesses Should Tap Into In 2021

There is no denying that 2021 will be a year of disruptive thinking and innovation, as we emerge from a global pandemic, especially in how media is consumed and created.

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2020 has been an unprecedented year. How we live, work, and interact has fundamentally changed. From working from home (WFH) becoming a staple in everyone’s vocabulary, to the sheer dominance of social media as a way to connect and overcome “social distancing,” there is no denying that 2021 will be a year of disruptive thinking and innovation, as we emerge from a global pandemic.

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Most noteworthy however, is the fact that consumer behavior has changed– there has been a digital transformation, especially in how media is consumed and created. Backed by findings from Canon’s market intelligence team, here are five major trends that are critical in driving customer engagement in 2021.

1. Nostalgia marketing: the “feel good” factor

People are leaning on the past to comfort them in the present. In the two months following lockdown, the number of Google searches, including the terms “80’s” or “90’s” almost doubled. Research suggests that trends such as “nostalgia” move in 30-year patterns, so we’re likely to see a transition from 80’s nostalgia to 90’s in 2021 that will last throughout the rest of the decade. The power of nostalgia will not just be in the images we capture, but in the products we buy.

By harnessing the power of sentimentality, brands will be able to provide consumers with emotional escapism. During times of uncertainty, consumers want to connect with happier times, and thus, brands should build an emotional relationship with their consumers through nostalgia marketing. Within the imaging industry as well, devices used to capture still or moving images continue to combine retro-styling with the latest cutting-edge features. Even algorithms and filters used to process and edit images to recreate the imperfections of physical photos of the past, are gaining prominence, and this is something we will see continuing for a while to come.

2. AI-driven technology will become mainstream

While artificial intelligence (AI) itself is not new, what we’ve seen to date is a fraction of the impact that AI and machine learning will have on society, and its influence will only continue to grow. With most audiences shifting to online platforms during the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of vloggers and content creators, as well as a concentrated focus on content marketing via video (whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or YouTube,) as a key strategic marketing tool for companies.

Given the high level of interest in good quality content, AI-enabled devices and technologies will become more prevalent in the daily capturing of content, as people realize the potential it can give in capturing great images, with as little time and effort required as possible. Although human expertise will still be needed, AI's continued advances will tighten the gap, and enable everyday photographers to achieve professional-grade images.

There is also an expectation that AI-driven imagery will continue to grow in popularity in terms of the role it plays in streamlining everyday lives.

Recent findings highlighted that 62% of millennials want to be able to search using images -rather than keywords- over any other new technology. As a result, expect the return of devices like Google Glass and of lifelogging (a record of day-to-day activities,) which will generate huge streams of visual imagery to be captured, collated, understood, and archived. We may see the day, for example, when AI can populate our social streams, using images collected for us, with commentary added in a style that mimics our unique tone of voice, vocabulary, and personality.

Related: Four Lessons Brands Should Learn From The Accelerated Digital Revolution That Happened In 2020

3. Combatting online mistrust 

The abundance of user-generated content, contentious social media algorithms, and the rise in conspiracy theories have led to a mass distrust in information. To put it in layman’s terms: “fake news” is a very real problem in today’s hyper-connected world, especially given the ease with which it can now be created and disseminated. What makes fake news particularly onerous is the difficulty in identifying, and ultimately, removing it from online platforms. With AI-based methods for creating fake news becoming increasingly sophisticated and accessible, this gives rise to a range of concerns, especially as it undermines trust in all online content, particularly video content.

However, just as the tools for fake content production are being transformed, so too are the tools of authentication, and we expect to see the emergence of services and features that make videos and images more trustworthy. From embedding metadata about where and when a picture was taken, to tagging photos with edit history, advances in technology will help combat mistrust in media.

4. Body neutrality will be the new body positivity

It’s nothing new that body image expectations have been greatly affected by filtered images and unrealistic depictions on social media. Thankfully though, we are seeing a reset. 2020 has encouraged people to reassess what is really important, and as a result of this, coupled with societal shifts towards diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance, we’ve seen a refocus on what our bodies can do, rather than what they look like- a philosophy coined as “body neutrality.”

In 2021, therefore, we anticipate a shift towards the celebration of physical accomplishments over aesthetics, a greater demand for unedited, more inclusive images, which will see brands and media continuing to move away from championing a single type of beauty, and social media feeds set to become more authentic, diverse, and unfiltered as a result.

5. The secret to WFH: the home printer revolution 2.0

Lockdowns and social distancing measures have forced workers out of offices and into their homes, working on dining tables, sofas, beds, and, for a lucky few, dedicated home offices. Overall, 78% of employees indicated a preference for working from home at least occasionally, even if there were no COVID-19 restrictions.

Initially, most at-home workers were using a temporary set-up with a “make-do” attitude. However, many are now creating more sophisticated workspaces in their home, with a greater dependence on printers that are suitable for both work and creative pursuits. As a result, we are on the verge of a second home printing revolution, after the original advent of home computing in the 1990s. The WFH phenomena has created demand for improving the quality of at-home printing, where we see working professionals choosing laser printers for their “official” needs, but also looking at additional inkjet printers to support their children’s e-learning and artistic endeavors.

A study of hybrid working found that over three quarters of UK workers are printing in the home and 64% of homeworkers who reported higher productivity say they are printing more than they did in the office. In the US, 48% of businesses have assigned individual printers to employees, and a further 34% are planning to do so. GCC statistics also indicate that corporate entities expect to see a decline regarding in-office printing, especially with the rise of WFH, with 35% believing that the move towards digitization and cloud-enabled digital workflow services will further support this trend. 

Related: A Fresh Start: Business Trends For 2021 (Through The Lens Of Digital Transformation)

Venkatasubramanian (Subbu) Hariharan

Written By

Venkatasubramanian (Subbu) Hariharan is the Managing Director at Canon Middle East (CME), Canon’s regional headquarters. He started working at Canon in 2006, and assumed his current role in July 2021, to lead CME in its post-pandemic transition, business recovery plans, Canon Turkey integration, as well as geographical expansion into key markets and driving the customer-focused agenda. 

Previously, since January 2017, Hariharan was the B2C Business Unit Director at CME, where he was instrumental in securing a leadership position for CME across the GCC market, through successful channel and country expansions, streamlining operations, and implementing new business focused approaches.

From January 2012 to December 2016, Hariharan was the Sales Director for B2B and B2C in CME, where he oversaw the Sales and Area Management Function for the entire GCC, for Canon’s Consumer Imaging and Business Solutions business.

In his 15 years at Canon, Hariharan has been a part of CME’s journey from a shipping company to the strong B2C organization of today. He contributed towards new role creations, organization enhancements, regional channel and market developments, and implementing best practices, resulting in operational excellence, and strong business growth across the region. Hariharan has proven leadership skills, hands-on regional market understanding, and exceptional business acumen, all of which best position him to lead CME.

Prior to joining Canon, Hariharan worked in leading multinational organizations in sales and management positions. He is a graduate of the University of Mumbai in India with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Hariharan is interested in music and is fluent in English, as well as six Indian regional languages.