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2020 was a huge struggle for individuals and businesses, but it did also bring progress, as it transformed work-life balance into work-life blended. It also gave companies a reality check on their digital aspirations. Digitally-ready companies shifted, optimized, expanded, or pivoted, but many companies that were not digitally-ready struggled to survive.

2021 may be different, or it may be more of the same. How you and your business respond to adversity in 2021 will again determine whether you thrive, survive, or shutter. Here are three trends to be aware of as you tackle that challenge:

Trend 1: The fuzzy concept of ‘digital transformation’ will become crystal clear

Many companies, including my own, have been talking about digital transformation for years, but many individuals and businesses have struggled to identify what that actually means for their business and what the steps are to digitally transform.

In 2021, if you don’t know what it means, then you are at risk of going out of business. 2020 saw many companies in the retail and hospitality space forced to move their business online much quicker than they intended. Online ordering at restaurants went from a “nice-to-have” to a requirement. Free shipping and free delivery went from a “promotion” to an expectation. If you didn’t transform, you were going out of business.

Some industries may not have been hit as hard by changes in buyer behavior in 2020, but trust me, it’s coming. You may have done layoffs, or cut spending and felt okay about slowed growth in 2020, but in 2021, that won’t be acceptable. Your competitors will be making it easier to research online, provide access to information online, communicate online, and ultimately to buy online. If you don’t keep up, you may go out of business.

Trade shows and conferences are a thing of the past. Schmoozing at sporting events and fancy dinners are a thing of the past. Face-to-face meetings are a thing of the past. If you aren’t ready with suitable replacements to these long-standing ways of doing business, you will not survive.

2021 will be the year that digital transformation finally means something to every business.

Trend 2: Content creation will spread across the enterprise

Marketing teams have always been responsible for creating content. Whether it’s blogs, thought leadership articles, or webinars, content has always been king.

For departments outside of marketing, content has not always been as important. Externally facing teams like sales often relied more on meetings and conversations, even if they had access to content. Internal teams like finance were more likely to send emails or do live training sessions than provide real consumable and educational content.

In 2021, all teams will be going digital, which means all teams will create content. Sales will be creating videos and doing podcasts. Finance will be creating intranet sites and portals. These will not be managed by marketing or by IT; they will be managed by finance and sales teams themselves.

In the movie Ratatouille, there is a quote: “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” In 2021, “Not everyone can be great at creating content, but great content can come from anywhere.”

Trend 3: Data privacy will be everyone’s concern, but still your concern

2019 was the year of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It was painful for businesses, but most consumers didn’t really understand it in 2019. In 2020, consumers started to become more educated about data privacy, and for that reason, 2021 could result in a data revolution.

For any individual, there are probably thousands of companies that have information about them. It’s not just Facebook that knows your name, location, relatives, friends, and the places you visit. Many other companies are tracking everything you do, even if it’s just anonymous activity.

Local and federal government agencies are exploring how to limit data sharing and increase data privacy. Companies are giving consumers more control over their data than ever before. But the business of data is also growing wildly. ZoomInfo’s billion-dollar IPO is a great example of this.

Just because consumers have more control over their data doesn’t mean it’s more secure or private. It just means that the responsibility is more distributed.

With consumers becoming more educated about who has their data, companies will be forced to be more open and honest about how they are using that data. Companies will no longer be sheepish and secretive about their strategy for using customer data, and instead will begin actively showing consumers how the data they have acquired is actually improving the consumer’s experience with their brand.

Individuals will become more comfortable sharing data with brands when they realize the value it adds to their experience. Transparency will be an important theme in the data privacy and security conversation.

The above trends are only a glimpse of how 2021 will be different. Due to the pandemic and the increase in digitalization, companies will find new ways to solve complex problems. No matter how companies approach these trends, one thing is sure: we are now living truly digital lives.

Joe Henriques has been a strategist in the field of marketing technology for 15 years. Currently President of Jahia for North America, he engages with leading global organizations on digital transformation and its effect on their business. He previously spent more than 11 years at Sitecore in various strategic sales and partner positions.

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