Marketers discuss the most overlooked industry trends of 2021

The verdict? Brand partnerships, micro-influencers, and Instagram Reels didn’t get the buzz they deserved this year.
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Dianna "Mick" McDougall; Instagram; Getty Images/Bettmann, Cavan Images

· 5 min read

The metaverse. NFTs and cryptocurrency. TikTok. It’s pretty easy to spot the industry trends marketers spent a lot of time talking about this year—they’re draped across hustle-culture Twitter and sad agency pitch decks alike. What’s perhaps more difficult is identifying the trends that were overlooked in 2021—the ones that might have deserved a little more fanfare than they got.

That’s why we asked a few marketers to identify which 2021 trends the industry didn’t spend enough time on. Below, they make their cases.


With Apple’s new privacy regulations restricting reach on popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram, advertisers had to get creative in 2021. Apparently, partnerships are one of the less sexy (but still effective) ways to regain some of that reach, a few advertisers told Marketing Brew.

“The dramatic changes in iOS 14’s privacy permissions have upended the digital media landscape,” explained Carla Dunham, CMO of upscale food-delivery service Foxtrot. According to Dunham, people have spent a lot of time focusing on what Apple’s changes mean for digital-buying media strategies, but not as much on the resulting movement toward other, more traditional opportunities for reach—like partnerships between brands.

“Partnerships have sort of always been in the marketing nethersphere,” Dunham elaborated. But now, she said, you’re seeing them happen more and more frequently—and between businesses that might ostensibly have little to do with one another—as a way for both parties to tap into a wider audience.

Dunham cited Tracksmith and East Fork’s recent partnership as an example. “Who would have imagined that a running brand would partner up with a tableware brand? That’s certainly not an ecosystem that you would have expected two or three years ago. You would expect somebody who’s in athletic wear to work with an athlete, right?” she said, adding that, given the new targeting hurdles within direct media buys, these unexpected brand partnerships provide a way for them to reach audiences that they’re both trying to target.”

“Especially for emerging brands, doing really interesting...partnerships is going to be increasingly important,” CBD–infused sparkling water brand Recess founder and CEO Ben Witte told us, pointing to increasing CPM costs on Facebook as a reason not to sleep on partnerships. He added that partnerships are just one often overlooked way marketers can expose their brand to new audiences in the post–iOS 14.5 era.

Instagram Reels

Other marketers cautioned against treating Instagram Reels like TikTok’s ugly stepsister. “I really think people are underestimating...the power of Reels,” marketing strategist and course creator Taylor Loren told Marketing Brew. Because Reels are pushed to users regardless of if they follow an account, Loren described them as an “effective feature for growth,” especially since it’s become more difficult for marketers to have the same amount of organic growth on the platform as they used to.

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Plus, despite TikTok’s hype, marketers still see Instagram as a valuable platform; 68% of those surveyed by Influencer Marketing Hub in 2021 said they consider Instagram “important” for their influencer marketing campaigns, whereas only 45% of respondents said the same about TikTok.

Loren, Girlboss’s former head of marketing, said she was able to start and grow an Instagram account to 70,000 followers in about six weeks using Instagram Reels. “I don’t think people are giving Reels the credit it deserves,” she said, noting that results are particularly potent for small businesses struggling to grow organically on the platform in other ways.


Fun fact: In Marketing Brew’s 2020 overlooked/overhyped survey, when asked which trend would be most important in 2021, 34.1% of respondents answered “micro-influencers gaining prominence.” Yet some marketers think micro-influencers, which Hubspot defines as individuals who have between 1,000 and 10,000 followers on social media, were overlooked this year.

Despite all the buzz around the growth of the influencer-marketing industry, Dunham thinks micro-influencers are still being glossed over as a marketing tool. “With improvements on influencer management platforms, they've become really, really powerful tools,” Dunham said of micro-influencers.

Lola Bakare, CMO advisor and inclusive marketing strategist at her brand be/co, told us that micro-influencers are often overlooked in practice and not leveraged to their full potential. Specifically, Bakare said brands could have a lot of “two birds, one stone moments” if they started thinking about their customers as micro-influencers. “I think there are a lot of people who sit in that sweet spot of being both a customer and also having a large enough audience to be relevant,” she explained.

As we noted last year, 92% of consumers trust micro-influencers more than traditional advertising or a celebrity endorsement, per the ANA.

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