Looking forward, 2021 won't represent a return to normal for any industry--and certainly not marketing.

Customer expectations have made a permanent shift, with many expecting more convenience, authenticity, and personalization than ever. Marketers have to embrace these needs if we're going to represent our brands effectively this coming year.  

With that in mind, here are three steps every marketer should take to prepare for 2021. 

1. Get ready to go all in on earned media. 

In 2020, marketers began to realize that earned media is more important than ever before in increasing credibility and closing sales. In 2021, marketers will have to transport that insight into action.

As that happens, they will start to look at B2B influencer marketing as well as branded storytelling as key gateways to connecting with their audience via already established and trusted sources.

The reason? The online "noise" continues to grow, accelerated by the shift that we all made this year to online work. As that noise increases, consumers need more filters and more gatekeepers. As a result, branding, from branded search to branded content, will explode in value and importance. 

2. Embrace the metaverse. 

The "metaverse" has been defined in a few ways, but ultimately, it refers to a persistent, shared virtual space that encompasses all shared virtual worlds, the internet, and augmented reality. 

There's no doubt that the virtual and real worlds are beginning to integrate on a level we haven't seen before, and faster than would have happened had the coronavirus pandemic not shut down so many of our physical spaces. 

For our purposes as business owners, the metaverse is useful as a way to understand the new office. Think of virtual offices using both augmented and virtual reality, in which users are represented by avatars. 

The event industry is also heavily represented in the metaverse, with virtual concerts in worlds like Roblox and Fortnite bringing in not just millions of views but also hundreds of thousands of dollars for musical artists like Travis Scott and Lil Nas X. 

And whether it's massive A-list concerts or small regional trade shows, we aren't going back to full-on physical events any time soon--most likely not until 2022. Even then, I predict we'll see a hybrid model become more prevalent than totally physical. 

3. Prepare for the push toward exclusive content. 

Up until very recently, the appeal of social media had largely to do with its inclusivity. Any user could follow a celebrity, a brand, communicate with an influencer, and so on. 

However, in 2021 we're going to see a push for more gated content and communities. Patreon, a site that allows people to create subscription-based communities, content, and more, had four million active subscribers in February 2020, with 100,000 active creators. The site has paid out more than $1 billion to creators over its lifetime.

With the growing popularity among typical social media users of content formats like Instagram's Reels and Stories, influencers and creators are drifting toward gated content more and more--providing exclusive offerings only for those in the know. 

The year 2021 will be one of recovery and adaptation. Let's get ready for it now.