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Houston expert: 4 tech trends to look out for in 2021

From events to online shopping — here are four tech trends to look out for this year. Photo courtesy of Medley

The events of 2020 dramatically changed the way marketing agencies — like mine, Medley Inc. — do business. As we enter 2021, many executives are reflecting on how many of these changes will be sustained in the coming year.

From subscriptions to online shopping, the digital realm deserves our special attention in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medley, like many agencies, has pivoted to produce virtual events, run more targeted ads on all platforms, and become even more cloud-based and systemized.

As a business owner, it's clear to me that many of these shifts will persist long after the pandemic has ended. Here are four of the greatest changes I have observed and how they will continue to affect the way we do business in 2021.

1. Events will be hybrids on and offline

From the American Academy of Pediatrics to IBM, the 2020 pandemic forced businesses and organizations to fully digitize in-person conferences and events. With the coronavirus vaccine only just now being rolled out, it's likely that we won't be able to bring these events fully offline anytime soon.

While some organizations will probably host offline versions of their events, they may boast smaller attendance than usual or utilize a hybrid on- and offline strategy to account for the health and safety of their attendees. Thankfully, 2020 proved that there are fresh, innovative ways to engage participants in a virtual experience. Plan ahead to continue this innovation in 2021.

2. A platform to look out for

Clubhouse is the latest virtual platform, developed to eliminate the fatigue of online video events while still offering a new way to connect with others — including celebrities, thought leaders, and like-minded peers. What makes Clubhouse unique is that it's a hybrid between a never ending conference and a podcast, letting you tune into speakers and engage in lively discussions at your leisure.

Many experts are speculating that Clubhouse may be the next big social media platform, and for good reason: there's something there for everyone. Personally, I love some of the daily affirmation events happening on the platform. Niche apps like Quilt, which is geared exclusively toward women -- have also emerged, attesting to the growing power of socially distanced connections.

3. Subscription services and content fees will continue

Virtually eliminating offline revenue streams meant that many content platforms had to get creative about how they would continue to be profitable during the coronavirus pandemic. Already, we're seeing more news sites add paywalls and subscription services (or increase pricing on existing services) — a trend that likely won't change anytime soon.

Online video streaming is no exception to the rule. For example, Netflix recently announced a fee increase for 2021. Climbing content fees are likely a result of increased competition in the online streaming space, which has changed the way we consume traditional TV and movies.

As opposed to cable services, which pose a single monthly subscription fee for access to a variety of channels, the shows and films we love are contracted to single streaming platforms. Businesses like Netflix recognize that with this shift, we are increasingly willing to shell out a premium in order to continue consuming the content we love.

4. We will see more options with online shopping

As you may have noticed, Instagram now has a feature called Instagram Shopping. The department store giant Wal-Mart also partnered with influencers and Tik-Tok for Christmas to sell products in time for the holidays. Increased availability of online shopping is a natural evolution of a pandemic that makes it risky to leave our houses to go to the store. However, it's also a reflection of our society's growing need for convenience and instant gratification during the shopping experience.

In 2021, I anticipate that these options will only continue to grow. Expect products to appear at every turn on social media, whether you're scrolling your feed or watching an influencer live. As a result, we'll all need to be prepared to practice restraint each time we see items tailored to our interests.

At Medley, we're leaning into data-driven strategy and imagining the client experiences we've grown to love in a virtual world indefinitely. Regardless of what the future brings, we now know that there's a more convenient way to reach our consumers, connect and indulge a bit too.

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Ashley Small is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Medley Inc., a digital marketing and PR firm.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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