Last year about this time, we were preparing to present marketing and communications strategies we’d spent October and November building.

We had some great ideas!

Then, as you might know, things changed.

With an abundance of optimism, we’re looking to 2021 and thinking through strategies that we believe will help our clients. The difference is that we have nine months of experience and knowledge about what will connect and help drive business amid a global cacophony.

The Basics

It’s imperative, we believe, to head into every new year with these basics in mind:

• Align your goals — have an honest conversation with your marketing, advertising, PR, and social teams about what you need to happen this year and what will be considered a success.

• Define your ideal audience — understand who they are, what they would want from you, and where they would hear your message.

• Develop a strategy — understanding that flexibility is critical; it’s essential to map out what marketing tools you’re going to use each quarter to build connection, loyalty, and momentum.

• Set the budget — any agency needs to understand both the media and creative budget before the calendar flips to January.

• Build your assets — crucial to have a library of photographs and videos to pull from for any marketing, advertising, or social pieces.

• Trust ‘em — let your agency work as soon as you set expectations and strategies. If you don’t trust them, then the time to change is now. It will be better for your business and the agency.

A Look Ahead (non-economist view)

Our perspective is that 2021 will match many of the challenges that 2020 offered, with a very big caveat — hope is on the rise.

Here’s why we think that:

  • A vaccine to combat COVID-19 will sweep the world
  • An incoming administration in the United States needs to get people financial relief and back to work
  • Overwhelming demand (and we think it is OVERWHELMING) desire for people to travel and spend money on positive memories
  • A greater focus on facing and fixing the issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Because at our core, we’re stupid optimists

While it doesn’t feel like it now (rising rates of infections, higher unemployment numbers, division in the United States), good things are bubbling.

Marketing Word of the Year: Nimble

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” said the legend Mike Tyson.

Give 2020 this — it opened our eyes to how fast things can change and, in a more important way, what’s most important about being part of humanity. (ED NOTE: This is the end of the philosophical portion of our blog post.)

To adjust, marketers and companies can’t launch a strategy in January and hold to it religiously for an entire year. If you’re a travel company and think that 2021 is a wash, what happens when the vaccine boom hits and people are clamoring to get out of town? Your business goes to your competitors, that’s what.

Assuming that your brand look and voice is on point — and if it’s not, you better call immediately because having a brand is important! — be ready to adjust your creative and spend between advertising, organic social media (more about this in 32 words), content, and SEO/SEM.

One month is not going to look like another month. Get ready to pivot AND make sure your agency is prepared because things will move that fast.

Oh, about social media: start focusing on user-generated content NOW. It’s Marketing 101 that your customers are your best salespeople. Inspire, encourage, and utilize your customers using your product out in the world across every social media account. No matter how much we rail against social media in our private lives (insert old man shaking fist GIF here), it’s still the easiest, cheapest, and productive way to get your message out.

Being nimble brings up an important point for CMOs and business owners — trust your agency. Many of us believe that our success is your success, and we’re not in it to drive up our revenues at your expense. If your agency makes a recommendation to throw budget at advertising because there’s an opportunity, do it.

Trusting an agency also brings up another point — you’re going to have to spend some money in 2021. We understand the natural order of things is to belt-tighten. We’ve done it in spots, too, of course. But, when you react out of financial fear, you’re allowing a competitor to take over your market share. We’re watching a client do that right now. It’s painful.

Last thing about nimble-itutde — and again, we’re assuming that you have integrated all of your marketing, communications, and brand work — make sure that everyone knows what’s happening. If your comms team is pumping out newsletters, blog content, press releases that say one thing and your social team is saying something else, you’re doing irreparable damage to your company.

Rebranding in 2021

We watched a handful of companies rebrand in 2020 — including us — debut new brands. While there wasn’t the fanfare, we applaud the level of optimism shown by these folks.

As much as the rest of the world thinks that rebranding is a new logo, we know (right?) there’s much more to the puzzle. Redefining or refining what the company stands for is just as important as coming out with a new brand color.

So, there’s work to do, and it’s possible that 2020 changed the way you view your business. That’s one of the reasons you might consider rebranding in 2021. For instance, perhaps you had a secondary product that became your most popular (and profitable) offering last year? Maybe you saw your industry falter, but there’s a way for you to pivot and grow? Or you realized that the world has changed so much that your look and voice are dated.

We already see some interesting predictions about branding in 2021:

  • Build a dynamic logo — let the mark adjust to where you’re using it, including colors, shapes (within reason), and orientation
  • Go minimalist — stop with the swooshes and dots … be interesting, but don’t be flashy
  • Hint at nostalgia — remind customers of “better times” … we’re not so sure of this one, TBH, especially since nostalgia has become a cultural hot button

Our perspective: a company’s look is vital and should be as clean as possible, but it’s more important than ever to build in a message that blends your brand promise and how it impacts the world. We believe that Social Branding will be a trend that lasts will beyond 2021 and one that companies need to start focusing on now.

Budgets, Stupid Budgets

We believe companies need to look at marketing and communications spends as investments rather than revenue-generating departments. So, companies need to spend money to connect with customers and convince them to buy your widget.

We saw your eye roll. We get it.

At the same time, we bet there’s an amazing coffee roaster in the middle of Sedgwick, Colorado, that doesn’t have any sales because they can’t get noticed. A small marketing spend would help! Just saying.

We also bet there’s a mid-sized contract manufacturer in Silicon Valley that’s ready to ramp up, but nobody knows. Or an accountant, or a car dealer, or a … You get it. We can do this forever.

The point is not to spend money just to spend money. No agency should be given carte blanche to burn money on a social media campaign that sends an influencer around the world just to look cool. But, an agency should be given a budget to create campaigns that drive traffic, make the phone ring, or increase foot traffic (when that’s safe again).

What’s a reasonable budget? Impossible to answer from here. Our clients spend anywhere from $25,000 a year to $25,000 a month. What’s a customer worth to you? That’s the question.

Ah, one crucial follow up to our remark about marketing and communications departments not being revenue-generating … Our perspective is that marketing needs to build the best tools possible for sales teams to use as they hunt to bring in the big bucks.

Every marketer needs to be attached to a salesperson and vice versa. Please, please, please stop letting your salespeople build ugly PowerPoint presentations or edit videos, or write social media posts!

What to Create in 2021

We’re going to spend more time on this topic in a blog post or two, but we know that video, high-quality photography, and emotive copy will be the essential things to create in 2021.

We see that brand building video is crucial right now on several fronts:

Video enables salespeople to walk clients through a business, show off expertise, and highlight people

It is a tool to help build connections because people believe what they see and hear versus what they read

It’s a way for companies to stay in front of their staff and share best practices, corporate directives, and plans. We just worked on a video project that replaced a corporation’s annual gathering. It got rave reviews because it was fun and informative. Almost better than real life! Not really.

Beyond video, it is so imperative to combine photography and content emotionally. We saw in 2020 what that did socially and politically. Honest (sometimes) and evocative social media posts, advertising, and blog content drove changes that had been stalled for generations.

Okay, this went way longer than planned. The good news? There’s hope. The realistic news? It’s time to buckle down and get to work. We’re here to help. Call with questions.

BTW: If you read this far drop me an email. I’ll send you a gift card for a coffee.

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