It’s that time of year…time to put on your visionary hat and cast your marketing predictions for 2021. Of course, this year is a little more challenging to predict, especially coming off a year like 2020. I don’t think anyone predicted a worldwide pandemic, murder hornets, violent riots, or that drive-in movie theaters would make a comeback. So with my crystal ball in hand, here are my predictions for marketing operations in 2021.

1. MarTech usage and accessibility will accelerate.

The pandemic presented us with ever-changing moments, hiring freezes, budget cuts, and an abundance of campaign requests. Long-term, the accelerated pace isn’t sustainable (or desirable); change is inevitable.

Chief MarTec leader Scott Brinker has been talking about this very topic for years, but especially in 2021, we’ll see more “no-code” tools and “citizen developers,” or software that empowers general users to create things previously only a specialist could produce. For marketing operations, this means making Marketo campaign creation and execution accessible to all marketers. Think about it: mundane (and non-productive) tasks would be automated, workflows streamlined, and new efficiencies achieved. Marketo admins who previously feared giving access to untrained users will welcome and celebrate the shift to a self-serve model. By expanding the accessibility of marketing automation technology, marketing operations will overcome the shortage of Marketo experts, successfully keep the organization moving forward despite fewer resources— and maintain their sanity in the process.

2. Workflow management will be a key focus.

The pandemic forced marketing teams to quickly pivot and evolve, perhaps more quickly than other departments. Increased campaign volume and (continued) distributed teams will highlight the need to centralize all aspects of campaign production in 2021. From strategy to scheduling, creative assets to feedback and approvals, visibility into the production cycle will become an essential component as organizations shift more marketing dollars to digital initiatives. Adobe is already one step ahead, recently announcing the acquisition of Workfront.

According to the 2020 Global Marketing Report, only 19% of a marketer’s time is spent on high-value work; the remainder is spent on administrative, organizational, ad-hoc, or manual/repetitive tasks. Additionally, 56% are on disintegrated systems— instant messaging, email, spreadsheets— it’s no wonder campaign execution is so time-consuming and a pain point for marketing operations. In order to preserve marketing creativity, cross-functional communication, and organizational agility, expect to see the adoption of workflow management tools spike.

3. Humans and machines will harmonize.

In May 2020, RRD updated their commissioned research project measuring the perceptions and priorities of mid- to senior- level marketers. The results are astounding, with 59% of marketers expressing concern over AI and machine learning, out of fear it will limit personal growth. In 2021, marketers will find a balance of human vs. machine work— out of necessity.

Economic uncertainty is driving the need to harmonize. While CMOs may take an optimistic view of recovery from the pandemic, their CFO counterparts do not. According to the 2020 CMO Spend Survey Report by Gartner, 60% of CFOs are preparing a “second wave” scenario plan and marketers would be wise to do the same. Extended hiring freezes, fewer financial and human resources, increasing workloads— marketers need to be prepared for virtually (pun intended) everything in 2021.

But the outlook is not all glum. Finding the balance between the work humans do and what machines handle will not only enable marketers to get more done but elevate the work they themselves are able to do. More time to talk to customers, more time to think, test new ideas, and innovate. This graphic illustrates it perfectly— rather than be fearful that AI or machine learning is replacing marketers, AI will actually empower marketers to do more, and more advanced work at that.

4. The need for perpetual confidence will grow.

Referring again to Gartner’s 2020 CMO Spend Survey Report, the top three most vital marketing capabilities identified by CMOs are (in order): brand strategy, market analytics, and marketing operations. Of course, in times of adversity, brand awareness— what your potential customer knows and thinks about your brand— is essential. But it’s also difficult to build trust and credibility if there are errors in your emails. The most widely adopted solution in our industry is to establish a center of excellence. I agree that guardrails are needed, to preserve brand standards and safeguard the integrity of your Marketo instance. However, the traditional center of excellence often results in MOPS bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Again, driven by necessity, 2021 will be the year marketing operations actively pursues a hybrid solution to provide lasting confidence in processes, technology, and execution. Mistakes are just too costly, especially now.

As 2020 comes to a close, may we learn from the disruptions and apply those insights to continuously improve. Without a doubt, the steps we take to make our marketing operations more resilient will serve us well, no matter what 2021 may hold.