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2021 Marketing Planning: Get Started Now

By Adam Gowen

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our 2020. 

For better or worse, this whirlwind of a year is finally coming to a close, bringing along all of the optimism and promise of the new year ahead. But while optimism may be enough to get us out of bed in the morning, the unfortunate truth is that 2021 is likely to hold as much volatility and uncertainty as its predecessor. 

Many marketers had the unfortunate task of tossing out their existing 2020 strategies in favor of reactionary and ad-hoc tactics to keep their businesses afloat. With such rapid and sudden changes reaching nearly every corner of the economy this year, who can blame a business for being hesitant about the idea of trying to plan long term for 2021. 

The bad news might be that uncertainty is here to stay, but the good news is that the last few months have given marketers tons of insights about consumer behavior and business trends that we can use to plan for next year. 

Let’s get started planning for what will certainly be another banner year in business. 

Spend or Save? 

The hardest question facing business leaders when planning for 2021 is trying to project their spending. There are no one-size-fits-all spending formulas, but generally, when consumers stop spending, businesses tend to do the same. 

As economic conditions destabilize, consumers will set stricter priorities that reduce their spending overall. When sales start to decline, businesses usually react by cutting their marketing expenses across the board—but such indiscriminate cost-cutting is usually a mistake according to this analysis by the Harvard Business Review (HBR). 

Market research firm Gartner released their annual survey on CMO spending in late June of 2020. The survey found that 44% of surveyed CMO’s faced midyear budget cuts in 2020 as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 11% expecting “significant” cuts.

The logic behind the decision to cut spending on marketing usually checks out. In the case of 2020’s budget cuts, businesses were optimistic that the economic impacts of COVID-19 would be short-lived, so they cut spending where they could in order to weather the storm. 

HBR suggests taking a “scalpel rather than a cleaver” to your marketing budget. It is clearly wise to contain costs for now, but failing to support your brand or adapt to customer’s changing needs can jeopardize your business in the long run. Maintaining your marketing spending, taking special care to prioritize high-ROI activities, is the most effective way to help your business succeed during and after economic uncertainty. 

Let’s Get Digital 

As we wrote in our blog from March 2020, the best way you can set your business up for success in today’s economy is by having a rock-solid digital foundation. This was especially true earlier this year when nearly all retail spaces were closed and shelter-in-place orders took hold of the global economy. 

Most businesses that adopted a digital-first strategy in 2020 did so reactively without much planning or consideration. 2021 is an opportunity for businesses to undergo a complete strategic digital transformation in order to meet the needs of modern customers. 

According to the market research firm Mckinsey and Company, 73% of consumers are still hesitant to resume regular activities outside the home, which is causing consumer shopping online to increase significantly. The study goes on to say that these habits seem like they’re going to stick around as US consumers report an intent to shop online even after the COVID-19 crisis. Building an e-commerce website is the best way to meet consumers where they are already shopping. 

As we say at Happy Medium, a digital presence isn’t just part of your business anymore—it is your business. 2021 is an excellent opportunity to invest in a robust digital strategy to help your business thrive now and into the future. 

Think Long Term

The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic also forced many businesses to reconsider their marketing goals. As spending declined across the board, many key performance indicators (KPIs) fell along with it. Things like new leads or sales dipped dramatically as all businesses thought to curb costs or delay unnecessary expenses. 

It’s uncertain whether this trend will continue into 2021, but when it comes to planning your marketing goals for the coming year, keep in mind that it may be futile trying to reach the same goals you set in the previous year.

Businesses and people both reduced their spending significantly during the peak of the pandemic. For businesses that focus their marketing on building sales pipelines or accruing new customers, this can mean that their old strategies and tactics are no longer producing results. 

2021 is a great opportunity for businesses to avert their attention away from short-term goals and instead invest in marketing activities that build their brand long term. Tactics like strategic social media and online marketing will help your brand stay visible to consumers through search engines and social media. These efforts can build your social audience and brand footprint, which is a good long-term investment to keep your business top of mind with your customers, putting you in an advantageous position as the economy recovers. 

But Not Too Long 

While 2021 may be a good opportunity to build some long-term brand value for your business, it’s best to avoid getting too comfortable with a marketing strategy. 

As we noted in our past blog about how to update your post-COVID social strategy, any plan created for 2021 needs room for adaptation and iteration. Businesses may be hesitant to engage in any long-term planning given the uncertain circumstances, but annual planning is still necessary to identify your long term objectives. 

One way to avoid getting stuck with an effective marketing strategy is to increase the speed of your planning cycle. Your annual marketing strategy should identify high-level targets for your marketing budget, but frequently revisiting this plan is a good way to make sure it is delivering the results that you need. 

Quarterly, or even monthly, reviews can identify underperforming tactics early before they overstay their welcome. This gives you an opportunity to adjust your tactical plan and successfully navigate unexpected change.

To the Drawing BoardAnnual planning is hard enough, but the uncertainty that lies ahead makes it even more difficult now. If you need a partner to help navigate you through the murky waters of 2021, give us a call.

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