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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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Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, spearheaded by Barbara Burger, has announced their latest fund. Courtesy of CTV

Chevron Corp.'s investment arm has launched a $300 million fund that will focus on low-carbon technology.

Chevron Technology Ventures LLC's Future Energy Fund II builds on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Chevron Technology Ventures' portfolio for low-carbon technology comprises a dozen companies: Blue Planet, Carbon Clean, Carbon Engineering, ChargePoint, Eavor, Infinitum Electric, Natron Energy, Spear Power Systems, Svante, Voyage, Vutility, and Zap Energy.

Only one of the companies in the low-carbon portfolio is based in Texas — Infinitum Electric, located in Round Rock. However, Chevron Technology Ventures is active in the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem as a participant in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and The Ion. Chevron's investment arm was the first tenant at The Ion.

In an August 2020 interview with InnovationMap, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said the investment arm places a priority on helping advance entrepreneurship in Houston. "It is our home court," she said.

Burger said that for Houston to succeed in energy innovation, companies, government agencies, investment firms, and universities must rally around the city.

"We're doing a lot of things right — almost in spite of the world being crazy. … I think constancy of purpose is important," she said. "Despite the headwinds from COVID and despite the headwinds that industries are facing, we need to stay committed to that."

Burger noted that innovation "is not a straight path."

"We've got to plant a bunch of these seeds and see how they grow — we need to water them every day, and then I think we'll have a beautiful garden," she said.

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