The new year has arrived. But what will it hold? As we make 2021 marketing plans, how can we place bets on the best way to organize those plans when there are still so many questions to be answered?
This time of year, many marketers make predictions on what businesses should focus on as we face the new year. But in this instance, can we even begin to predict what lies ahead?
Instead, let’s take a look at what we do – and don’t – know that can help us construct our best marketing plan.
What We DO Know As We Make 2021 Marketing Plans
Let’s look first at what we DO know, based on 2020. We know that:
1) Digital matters: If your company’s digital presence is lacking, now is the time to address that. Is your website up to date? Are you active on social media (at least the top one or two platforms where your audience spends time)? Do you blog regularly? Do you have a PR strategy? The importance of these marketing elements is only going to grow.
A study found that B2B buyers spend 83% of their time not engaging with vendors during their buying journey. This underscores the need for a robust digital presence, featuring content that helps answer questions they may have about your product or service.
2) Your customers want to hear from you: Are you keeping in touch with your customers and prospective customers? That means being responsive to email, engaging on social media, and proactively communicating through vehicles like newsletters.
Why does this matter? A full third (33%) of those surveyed worry that businesses who have gone quiet sharing no news or content during the pandemic are in financial trouble – and therefore aren’t spending with them.
3) Adaptability is a must: When running a business in an uncertain atmosphere, we can plan all we want – but those plans must be adaptable. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that change is a constant. You can make plans and work on content calendars, but revisit them often and have back-up plans for if or when things change.
We have little control over some fairly significant things (like a pandemic) that can throw off our entire strategy. So plan – but do it with the idea that the plan may have to change if things are upended.
4) Customer service should be a priority: Your customers expect responsiveness if they face an issue with your product or service. Good customer service can help a brand stand out (think Zappos), while ignoring customers is the fastest way to cause them to leave.
“If social customer service wasn’t already a top priority, it needs to be on your radar headed into 2021,” says SproutSocial. “With 49% of consumers saying they’ll unfollow brands because of poor customer service, marketers can’t afford to ignore any questions they receive from followers online.”
5) Keep it simple: Messaging needs to be simple. People are overwhelmed – and this only got worse as the year progressed. Some of us are suffering from “disaster fatigue” after being faced with what seems to be an endless stream of bad news in 2020. Others feel “compassion fatigue,” which stems from “bearing witness to even more suffering.”
In light of this, brands would do well with keeping their messages clear and to the point. Confusion is never an effective way for a small business to run a marketing program. People don’t have the time to figure out what it is you’re trying to say, let alone take the desired action.
What We DON’T Know As We Head Into 2021
Even with these givens, we still can’t say for certain what 2021 will hold:
1) We don’t know what the economy will do: Will it spring back in 2021? “Economists are divided over when the economy will return to pre-pandemic GDP levels, with roughly a third saying the second half of 2021, a third saying the first half of 2022, and a third believing it will be towards the end of that year,” according to MarketWatch.
2) We don’t know when events will come back: With COVID-19 still prevalent, we can safely guess that events like trade shows and conferences will be virtual for the foreseeable future. According to PwC, the US B2B trade show market is expected to shrink this year by 64.3% — and they don’t see this market recovering to its previous size until sometime after 2024. And, even when it does come back, hybrid events will be here to stay. 62% of event planners say that the future of events is hybrid.
With that news comes the sobering realization that businesses will need to embrace virtual events. While those are less costly, they fail to pack the punch of in-person events. Getting creative to capture and hold the audience’s attention is key (see below for advice on how to do that).
3) We don’t know what sales will look like: Sales and interest in products and services will vary based on the industry. Predicting buyers’ interest based on 2020 could be tricky. And one thing we must not do is to allow our brands to slip from our audiences’ minds.
While it may be an easy target, cutting your marketing budget should be avoided. Research shows that the companies that have bounced back most strongly from previous recessions usually did not cut their marketing spend, and in many cases, actually increased it.
4) We don’t know if working remotely will continue to be a thing: if people continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, we can guess they’ll continue to be under additional stress. Caring for their family members while also working from home can be overwhelming.
Being aware that our customers may be dealing with a lot and being sensitive to their needs – sometimes just reaching out to ask if they’re doing OK – can go a long way toward building trust and relationships.
Plan for 2021 Marketing – Knowing That Change Is the Only Constant
Given these knowns and unknowns, we’ll have to make our best guess as to what 2021 marketing plans should look like, maintaining a mindset that we may have to make changes as we go.
One thing IS certain – we’re all in this together. Empathy should rule the day. Everyone is doing their best to roll with – and adapt to – the changes.
Need help planning for – or executing in – 2021? Please get in touch.
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About the author: You’ll find Michelle Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations and communications consultant, content creator, blogger, speaker and freelance writer, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Meltwater, ThomasNet, Attorney at Work, FairyGodBoss, Freelancers Union and more. Michelle was also named a Top Digital PR Leader in 2020 and her blog was named to the list of Top 25 Must-Read Public Relations Blogs.