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18 Feb 2021

Impression’s 2021 Marketing Census

Impression’s 2021 Marketing Census

Impression’s 2021 Marketing Census

At the end of last year, we ran a survey to give marketers the opportunity to reflect on the key challenges they’d faced in 2020 and to look ahead to 2021. Our findings include insights into which online channels marketers expect to be the most effective, whether or not they plan to increase their marketing spend, how they plan to measure success and more.

In total, we surveyed 344 marketing professionals across the UK and across sectors. Our respondents included marketing directors, managers and executives.

The below shares a preview of our 2021 marketing census. To read the full report and its findings, including comments from external industry experts, visit:

Reflecting on 2020:

While it would be easy to assume the effects of the pandemic have all been negative - there are certain companies that have thrived during this time, perhaps due to changes in their customer base or the provision of their goods/services providing benefit during the pandemic. Findings from our survey show that a large proportion of businesses did indeed feel a negative impact, but just over half reported no impact or a positive impact. This correlates with the 40% of businesses that had experienced growth in 2020, suggesting that whilst the landscape was a tough one, it wasn’t all bleak. The impact that Covid-19 had on businesses varied greatly last year, in some cases, the reduction in demand has been crippling, while in others - especially those in fitness, home improvement, technology and cookery - the increase in demand has really bolstered business.

Marketing channels in 2020:

It seems that online marketing channels were responsible for driving success for businesses in 2020, with under 12% of marketing success coming from offline channels such as television, direct mail and out of home advertising. Online channels reported to be the most effective were social media and SEO. With one in three respondents stating their marketing spend decreased between 2019 and 2020, the success of potentially low spend channels like social media and search engine optimisation is not surprising as businesses likely put more effort, if not budget, into reaching users this way.

CRM and email were also highly rated in terms of their success as marketing channels - a likely response to the pandemic in that businesses have been keen to reach customers in their homes where appropriate and to take a more direct approach to outbound marketing.

Paid media also ranked highly, though the success of advertising is undoubtedly linked to the availability of product - where there is product or service available, the reach of paid media channels, from PPC to paid social to remarketing, video and more is vast, and the potential to deliver high ROIs is huge, when managed well.

Measuring success in 2020:

It’s always interesting to reflect on how we measure the success of our marketing channels. Particularly in digital marketing, our ability to track the outcome of our investment is greater than ever before and in order to make savvy business choices, we need to make decisions based on data - and for that, we need clarity of goals. What we see in the results of our Census is that for the majority of marketers, success is measured in terms of either number of leads generated, or the number of sales made.

Return on investment (ROI) and target cost per acquisitions (CPAs) were also key metrics for those businesses monitoring the financial return on their marketing investments. A further 10% of marketers are monitoring audience size and engagement metrics as a key indicator of performance - showing how our focus is not only on the financial impact of our work but on the experience of our customers, too.


Looking ahead to 2021

When asking businesses if they expect their business to grow in terms of revenue in 2021, we saw a hugely positive response with nearly 90% of respondents answering yes! This positivity was true across all locations and when broken down by industry, manufacturing, marketing and advertising and B2B professional services were the most optimistic.

More than half of the respondents said that their marketing budget will increase - a positive reflection on aspirations for the year ahead. Meanwhile, just under half of the respondents expect their marketing team to grow in 2021, which is reassuring for those working in the marketing profession who might be seeking a new role at this time.

Challenges in 2021:

When asked what impact COVID-19 will have on businesses in 2021, just under two-thirds of marketers expect a positive one - be that due to increased demand or a reflection on marketing practices to make the most of the situation. Just over one in five expect a negative impact, while the majority - at just under half - remain unsure.

Interestingly, the bigger impact is expected to come from Brexit, with more than one in five businesses expecting a negative impact and nearly 70% still unsure as to how leaving the European Union will affect them. While Covid has 42% of marketers unsure about its impact, Brexit has more than two-thirds of businesses feeling lost and confused.

Reduced demand or economic factors is another anticipated concern on marketers minds in 2021. Access to finance, marketing and recruitment are additional challenges that marketers expect to be up against in the year ahead.

Marketing channels in 2021

Our research shows that the majority of businesses expect paid media to be their most successful channel, with a high percentage expecting to increase their budget in paid social media advertising and paid tactics through Google’s networks. Expectations around paid media differ significantly from reports of its success in 2020 - with the percentage of businesses that saw paid media as a successful investment in 2020 being 7.5% vs 33% that expect it to be successful this year. Respondents were asked whether they planned to outsource any of their marketing functions in 2021 and again, the most popular answer was paid media, including PPC, paid social, display and video.

We asked respondents where they expect to allocate their marketing budget in 2021 and more than two thirds will dedicate most of their spend to online marketing channels. As the country is still under strict lockdown conditions and the year ahead remains uncertain, it’s little surprise to see the prevalence of online tactics as a means of reaching consumers within their homes and connecting with them over the longer term.

Meanwhile, expectations around SEO and social media marketing are far lower than reports from the previous year would suggest them to warrant - with fewer businesses expecting them to be successful in 2021 than reporting them as successful in 2020.

Measuring success in 2021

We asked businesses how they will measure marketing success in the year to come and once again, the number of leads and the number of sales is the top measure of success for businesses. The percentage of businesses measuring success in terms of the number of website visitors has dropped 10% year on year, while reliance on organic search rankings has declined by 40% between 2020 and 2021.

Online behaviour in 2021

We also asked our respondents whether they expect online behaviour to change in 2021, the answers being:

Yes - more people will go online to shop / find service providers
No - online audience behaviour will not change in 2021
Yes - fewer people will go online to shop / find service providers

Nearly nine out of ten marketers believe more people will go online to shop / find service providers in 2021 compared to 2020 - perhaps coming as no surprise, given the investment marketers expect to make in online channels.

If you’d like to be involved in next year’s marketing census, visit the Impression site and sign up to the newsletter to be the first to know when the 2022 survey is launched.




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