woman talking into a mans ear

2021: Time to Talk

2021: Time to Talk

We are nearing the end of what has assuredly been a tumultuous year. Businesses have had to adapt to a new socio-economic paradigm. In numerous cases, they have had to pivot (perhaps not the full 180 degrees), but in many cases not far short – to survive. As we look ahead to 2021, what lessons can we take from the year just gone? And what does it mean in terms of changes to marketing strategies?

Seismic Shifts in Behaviour

Two big shifts that we’ve noticed this year are:

  • A sea-change in buyer behaviour. This is most manifest in the retail sector, where customers, either through fear or because of the new rules, have been staying away in droves, preferring to shop online. The results are there for all to see – residential areas chock-a-block with delivery vans, and high street retailers struggling. Buyers of any product or any service are making purchasing decisions according to different criteria than was the case 10 months ago.
  • And as a result of this, a second, fundamental change: to get ahead on what those new criteria are, businesses have started talking – really talking – to their customers. Rather than developing a product or service, and then foisting it on an unsuspecting public, companies have been forced to work with their clients. To ask: “Is this what you want?” To ask: “How can we improve what we’re offering? What do you need? What do you want us to do for you?”

This has profound implications for marketing and marketing strategies. No longer is it the case that developers develop, makers make and marketers market: the whole shooting match has become much more collaborative. Intra-company communication has taken centre-stage; and market intelligence, always important, is now absolutely vital.

Embracing change

Next year will hopefully see the pandemic consigned to history. But our lives are unlikely to resume the same shape as they were before Covid-19.

For example, the way we talk to each other in a professional context has changed. Once we’re all vaccinated and restrictions are lifted, there will be a welcome return to getting together face-to-face. Still, for long-distance meetings, we’re likely to carry on Zooming (other platforms are available!) due to it being quicker, cheaper, more time-efficient, and environmentally friendlier. This has massive implications for train operators, fuel companies, motor manufacturers and others. They will have to change what they offer, as their customers’ requirements change.

And this is just a “for instance”. There are myriad others – and the only way for companies to keep abreast (or preferably ahead) of those changes is to talk, and keep talking, to their customers. To reach out, grab the market’s wrist, and take its pulse. Regularly, and frequently.

But, just to prove there’s nothing new under the sun: some (smart) companies have been doing it for years…

The Lego Challenge

Since its foundation in 1949, Lego has been hugely successful worldwide. But as the years wore on, the Danish plastic toy brick manufacturer faced a growing problem. Environmental concerns aside, Lego is a highly durable product (which indeed has been one of its selling points) and, as is the nature of toys, often gets passed on from child to child. How, then, to stimulate new sales?

Lego adopted a multi-stranded approach: opening Legoland theme parks around the world increased brand awareness; partnerships with movie studios behind the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter and Ghostbusters have proved very popular; and the company’s “own” films have done good business (deservedly so: The Lego Movie is hilarious.) But Lego did one thing that we can all emulate, albeit on a smaller scale: it reached out to its customers.

In 2008 the company launched Lego Ideas, an online forum where users, the children, could talk to each other, share ideas and submit their own designs for future products. The company judges the ideas that receive the most votes (10,000 is the bare minimum needed to qualify), and the winning designs go into production for a market which is, by then, pretty much nailed on.

Appropriately enough in such turbulent times, the Lego story is an example of disruptive marketing: some characteristics of which may prove relevant to your business, in the future. There’s an excellent article on that subject on the US Marketing Schools website.

Talk, Listen and Learn

Lego invited its customers on a journey: making them feel they have a part to play in the Lego story. And you can do the same.

Think first about your brand. Is it largely the same as it’s always been, doing largely the same as it’s always done – or has 2020 seen it evolve into something else? How do your customers feel about that? Do they like the “new you”? Your recent sales figures should prove a yardstick, but you could always ask!

Then think about your product. What are its core strengths, historically? Are they still relevant? What pain points does it address? Have your clients’ pain points changed? What changes might you need to make to your product to keep it on-point? Do you need to change how you deliver the product? Again: ask questions.

Adapt to Survive (and thrive!)

2021 should be a better year for all of us, but it is unlikely to be a year of consolidation. There will be far-reaching adjustments to people’s wants and needs as we adapt to a post-Covid world and Brexit becomes a reality, and those adjustments will be ongoing. But the companies that succeed will be those that build trust: that collaborate with their clients, that adapt.

That old mantra ‘sell on value, not on price’, has never been more apposite.

10 Tips to Adapting your Marketing for 2021

  • Take a fitness test. How healthy is your company and your industry? How can you get fitter?
  • Look at, and learn from, your competitors. What can you emulate, and what should you avoid?
  • Be alert to new markets as you alter what you offer
  • Reach out. Use new media and new channels to reach new (and existing) markets
  • Wherever possible: add value
  • Engage with your customers. Talk, keep talking…and listen
  • Be relentlessly relevant. Morph your strategy to maintain relevance as your clients’ needs change
  • Change your message as need be, but always be clear
  • Give your customers an easy “route to purchase”
  • If it’s working – stick with it!