Digital Trends in 2021: Innovation, Accelerated

January 5, 2021
The C2 Group

In 2020, an increased need to modernize and adapt emerged, including the strengthening of digital connectivity and flexibility from businesses and consumers alike. Between steady requests from clients and what we have seen take off across the digital landscape, C2 presents the innovative and accelerated digital trends we expect to dominate in 2021.

Digital Marketing
UX & Design
Managed Services

We kicked off 2021 with accelerated and rapid digital transformation that realized years of innovation in about nine months (and in a lot of cases – less). In 2020, more than ever, online channels became a lifeline and means of maintaining any sense of normalcy, which forced innovation and flexibility from companies to keep pace with customers shifted expectations for great experiences – physical and digital.

We saw business models shift and technologies get adopted almost overnight. As a result, there is a tremendous opportunity to embrace digital in new ways to differentiate brands online and reach customers in ways they will appreciate and enjoy.

Between steady requests from clients and what we have seen take off across the digital landscape, an increased need to modernize and adapt emerged, including the strengthening of digital connectivity and flexibility from businesses and consumers alike. As a result, here is what C2 expects organizations to embrace in the new year:

Acceleration towards digital consolidation

As digital tools take on greater responsibility for driving business, teams will continue to assess how technology is used and what opportunities exist to condense their tech stack. With more reliance on web-based tools to deliver personalized, integrated, and optimized user engagement and experiences across digital channels, teams will find greater success with tools that play nice together or offer multiple use cases in one platform, such as digital experience platforms (DXPs). Benefits of consolidating digital tools include reducing technical debt, promoting stronger adoption, producing more efficient, profitable outcomes, and clearer alignment to an organization’s business strategy, plus allowing for more time for teams to innovate and experiment with tools they do have.

Digital Experience Platform, Episerver, recently acquired Optimizely to enhance its all-in-one, enterprise DXP packaged platform.

Reduced team workloads and stronger decision-making as a result of AI

AI needs data. Businesses need data. Put those two together, and you open up a world of possibilities. We’ve already seen how companies can use small bits of data to target the right audience, automate processes, and more. Harnessing data across different systems will enable more vital and accurate decision-making to streamline business processes, reduce costs, and allow workforces to devote more time to serving clients or other higher-value work. Quick, low barrier to entry AI tactics include chat bots and personalization, which improve reach, engagement, and responsiveness of the customer experience, while also reducing traditional team accountabilities and workloads which presents additional time for teams to focus more on core areas of the business.

Huntington Bank offers chatbot assistance to mitigate the need for in-person appointments and waiting to speak to are presentative.

Flexibility of remote work and strategic talent

2020 proved that that remote work was possible for many people and often a strategic advantage to organizations. In fact, many leadership teams reported that productivity had improved since remote work began citing greater flexibility for employees to better manage their time, work, and family. This prompted many businesses to increase IT budgets and optimize existing or start new digital initiatives as the year went on. As a result, normalized remote work culture forced employers to be more strategic in staffing, focusing on hiring more “T-shaped” employees internally and outsourcing to partners, like freelancers and agencies, for hyper-specific needs such as web development, digital marketing, and HR.

Personalization takes priority

Personalization is moving from a user experience trend to a best practice. With much of the world relying on digital devices for day-to-day activities, competition is cut-throat and customers are picky. In fact, 91% of people say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them. If they don’t get an experience that feels tailored to their needs, they won’t bat an eye before going to check out competitors. How personalization is implemented and scaled, though, will make all the difference.

GBC Printers uses Episerver machine-learning algorithms to deliver personalized product recommendations.

Using UGC to be more trustworthy

Last year brought a dramatic increase to the amount of time people spend online which includes how they research products, brands, and organizations. Consumers want to feel confident in making decisions based on how others have experienced a product or service. According to a study by TurnTo Networks, 90% of consumers say it holds more influence over their buying decisions than promotional emails and even search engine results. Leveraging user-generated content (UGC) is one of the most effective ways for brands to forge relationships with customers and provide social proof that is relatable and uplifting. This shift creates new opportunities for brands to increase their reach and engage with long-time customers.

Aerie uses UGC on its product pages to give potential customers the extra confidence to purchase.

Social selling takes a front seat

As people bunkered down at home, ecommerce spending increased on average 10-30% while social platform consumption increased by 39% by late March 2020. And with 79% of the US population having some sort of social networking profile, the natural progression to social commerce only made sense. Unlike e-commerce, buyers learn from the experience and opinions of others on social platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, making product research and checkout one seamless, highly-engaging process. According to Instagram, 60% of people say they discover new products on Instagram, leaving limitless opportunities for businesses to get in front of new audiences.

Brands can now list and sell products directly on social media platforms, making it easier for consumers to discover and purchase in one seamless experience.

Minimize design to keep the user’s eyes on the prize

2020 brought us a lot of turbulence and taught us to be nimble. As a result, simple web design with a streamlined user experience will be preferred by users over busy, aesthetically pleasing designs. Less a visual style and more a design principle, minimalist design is based around using only the essential elements – such as basic shapes, clean text, limited color palettes and empty space – to create something simple, functional and memorable. Minimalism allows visitors to stay focused on achieving their goals of finding more information, booking an appointment, or purchasing a product. Having less items and features on a site also results in faster load times, which means users are likely to stay longer. As they say, less is always more.

PWAs are here to stay

While all the hype surrounded progressive web apps (PWAs) last year, they will be more broadly adopted in 2021. PWAs are websites built with standard web technologies that function much like a native mobile application from the user’s perspective. As more people rely on digital devices, PWAs have gained stronger attention from developers and investors for both the ease of development and immediate gains for user experience. Users can view website content in low-connectivity situations or without internet altogether, allowing the ability to send push notification, while also offering faster load times than traditional website, which ultimately improves engagement.

Popeye's website functions similarly to a native mobile application.

Meet Vue.js, the flexible JavaScript framework

Vue.js is the youngest and rapidly rising progressive JavaScript framework for building user interfaces and single-page applications. While it is lesser known than Angular and React, Vue.js can easily scale any web app and is dynamic, simple, and lightweight with total backward compatibility. In addition, it has a low entry threshold for front-end and back-end developers, with the ability to full embrace headless and hybrid headless architecture, affording quickly built and responsive single page applications (SPAs). Being lightweight, Vue.js saves page loading time which may affect better conversion rates, UX, and detailed search rankings.

According to GitHub, the leading resource for development repositories, the VueJS platform had 178,000 stars – well ahead of other popular frameworks, Angular (55,000) and React (155,000).

Containers, clusters, and Kubernetes

Kubernetes made big headlines last year for its surge as an orchestration and automation solution for deploying containers. Being that Kubernetes can work with virtually any type of underlying infrastructure – whether a public cloud, private cloud, or on-premise server – we will continue to see Kubernetes used to automate everything from installations and upgrades to management and self-healing of environments. Additionally, its very strong and thriving open-source ecosystem, having a strong base from its origins at Google along with good security, will be most valuable in helping teams increase the velocity of projects.

Visual representation of traditional deployment, virtualized deployment, and container deployment models (Source: