Design / Guest posts / Marketing

These two trends will transform product development in 2021

Say hello to CMOs in product development and the rise of “super boutique” consultancies.

Virtual reality. (Photo by Flickr user Nan Palmero, used under a Creative Commons license)

This guest post is a part of Technology of the Future Month of's editorial calendar.

Just when you thought the term “digital transformation” had reached cliché status, 2020 happened.

This past year, digital transformation went from being a long-term plan to an “uh-oh, we better get on that!” kind of thing. But it wasn’t just technology that transformed overnight; businesses were forced to transform, too. Companies that used to rely on traditional sales channels found themselves building digital storefronts, relying on data-driven marketing strategies, reaching out to customers across all platforms and devices, and trying to find their footing in a world that had suddenly shifted to new, socially distant buying patterns.

We don’t know what 2021 will hold. But we know that changes started in 2020 will likely grow in 2021, irrevocably transforming business as we know it.

Transformational chief marketing officers will own product innovation.

In recent years, innovation has led to revenue gains and customer adoption and loyalty — think Tesla cars or Peloton bikes. These products are excellent examples of how technologies like software-run cars and digital workout platforms can form lasting customer bonds.

Yet while these products are technically impressive, great marketing made them beloved by the masses. Their marketing teams knew how to build a connection that would resonate with customers, and they ended up transforming their respective industries.

In 2021, CMOs will model the success of these and other companies by becoming closely aligned with product development. They’ll take ownership of product innovation as a way to directly engage with, capture and retain customers. Marketing leaders will build omnichannel customer experiences that can transform their businesses and marketplaces.

This will become particularly important as companies seek to drive revenue and customer retention in the wake of COVID-19. Marketing can help organizations achieve these objectives, provided CMOs are given free rein to deliver customized and highly targeted digital experiences built specifically around each product and service. Those experiences must cross multiple channels so they reach audiences wherever they are.

There will also continue to be revenue plateaus in business models. These plateaus will be created by constantly shifting customer behavioral patterns. CMOs will need to embrace agility to incorporate new capabilities to meet changing customer needs.

In 2021, the truly visionary organizations will give their CMOs the freedom to do all of these things. In return, CMOs will fuse marketing and product innovation together, attract and retain new customers, and deliver value to their companies.

Large-scale consultancies will give way to nimble “super boutiques.”

For years, big management consultancies have dominated the enterprise landscape, but that dominance was fading even before last year. Over the last five years the management consultancy industry has only grown about 3%.

There are many reasons why, but it all comes down to digital disruption. The internet has effectively democratized the type of knowledge that big consultancies tend to charge millions of dollars to attain. Today, anyone with access to Google can gain insights into any subject, so long as they have the time and inclination to do so.

But companies still need execution, which they’re more likely to get from smaller boutique firms with the ability to act quickly and with shorter contractual commitments. Thus, in 2021 we will see an increase in “super boutiques” — smaller consultancy firms with highly knowledgeable and skilled experts in design thinking and emerging technology specializations. Though smaller than traditional consultancies, true super boutiques have global scale and experience in rolling out digital solutions from conception to deployment in markets around the world. Engagements can be as short or as long as required, resulting in a more tailored, efficient, and very 2021-like approach to consultancy services.

For example, a company developing a new travel app may hire a super boutique that has a small team of professionals well versed in that particular technology and marketplace. The super boutique would offer best-in-class user research, so the client understands how to deliver optimal value to their customers; skilled designers to create a beautiful and user-friendly experience; and technology experts to build the best application stack for the job. The super boutique team can be expanded as necessary based on the client’s needs.

Call to action: Shift the thinking on marketing and consultants.

These are just two of the major business and marketing trends we expect to see flourish in 2021. To take advantage of these trends, organizations will need to continue to shift the way they think about marketing and reassess the value of spending money on long-term engagements.

Marketing’s scope is no longer limited to building awareness or lead generation; it’s about delivering digital customer experiences that generate revenue. Marketers must deliver brand-building digital experiences and more closely align with their companies’ technology teams.

Meanwhile, businesses seeking partners to help them manage go-to-market strategies should make their decisions based on the quality of consultants’ research and their abilities to execute. They must prioritize outcomes over outputs and engage with partners who are able to implement — not just propose — recommendations.

No doubt there will be many more trends that arise in 2021, some of which will surprise us. 2020 has taught all of us to expect the unexpected and continue to innovate and push boundaries so they can stay ahead of the curve.

Series: Technology of the Future Month 2020

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