Our coverage of the ‘trends’ for the year ahead is slightly different this year.
Yes, we are flagging what we think you should be spending your time and money on, and why, but equally it is a commitment from us to focus on these topics in 2021 to help you better navigate the year ahead.
There’s little point flagging these challenges as important without going the extra mile and offering analysis and insight into how to tackle them.
It’s part prediction, part rallying call, part contents for 2021.
Adopting a two-speed strategy
If this year has taught us anything, it is that even the best laid plans still run the risk of being thrown out as the outside environment changes.
Yes Covid-19 is an extreme example of that, but uncertainty looks set to become an economic reality. From geopolitical events such as Brexit or the US election, to the environment crisis and the impact of digital, it seems best to assume uncertainty is the new normal.
With that in mind, it is key to take a two-speed approach to business strategy. Businesses still need to take a long-term view, to have a goal to aim for or a purpose to strive for.
That should influence innovation pipelines, how they think about customer experience and communicate with customers.
But within that long-term plan there must be room to allow for short-term disruptions and to adapt on the fly. We have seen this year that even the biggest businesses can be agile and quickly adjust course. That spirit of short-termism while keeping an eye on the bigger picture will remain key next year.
So too will an understanding of customers, and what drives and motivates them both over the next few months and the next few years. Much has been written about how Covid-19 will change everything. It won’t. But there will be shifts in behaviour. As much as there is no new normal, there is no old normal either.
The challenge is to weed out what is driven by circumstance from what is deep-seated behaviour change. Long-term are we all going to work from home all the time? Unlikely. But is work going to become more flexible and remote? Probably.
What impact does that have and what does your business need to be investing in to be ready for those changes? SV
For too long failure has been considered the worst thing that can happen in business. This mentality is symptomatic of a working culture where new innovations, campaigns and services are the product of months, if not years, of planning. The stakes are so high that anything less than perfection is considered a serious problem.
In 2020 this mindset ground to a halt. All the best laid plans were shelved as businesses worked on their response to surviving the next few days, never mind the next few months. As brands started to move at greater speed and tear down some of the red tape, they realised their response to the crisis did not have to be perfect, they simply needed to be present.
Deciding not to become fixated on perfection will be important for marketers in 2021. If brands want to move at speed they have to embrace the fact failure comes with the territory and any mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Mars Petcare has focused on being ‘good enough’, for example, rather than having a preoccupation with perfection. Learning from previous mistakes helped the business launch a direct-to-consumer website for its natural dog and cat food brand James Wellbeloved during the spring lockdown. While the technology was simple the website has worked well and is now reviewed by on a monthly basis to make improvements.
The fact more brands are embracing agile forms of working, means marketers will have to get used to regular retrospectives to assess progress. The success of these ‘post-mortems’ comes from looking at failure in a positive way, because, as Mars Petcare marketing portfolio director Arthur Renault explains, if you frame the retrospective from a “punishment angle” people will shy away from taking a risk.
A similar approach has already been adopted at ride-hailing giant Uber. Speaking at the Festival of Marketing in October, global director of brand and product marketing, Meg Donovan, insisted that a marketer’s job is never really done, as there is always an opportunity to “make a better product or build a better brand”.
Donovan is an exponent of “relevance versus perfection” and being comfortable with not putting out the “perfect” campaign or product. Continuous improvement and marginal gains are the way to go.
The way marketers will de-risk their endeavours and embrace failure is by starting small. This approach is paying off at pharmaceutical company GSK, which kicked off its agile approach with small projects and proved their success before scaling up. Essentially, when the risks are small, failures take less of a toll on the business.
If 2020 has taught marketers anything it’s that perceived failures are a chance to get better. In many cases brands have taken the shackles off, liberated by the strangeness of the pandemic to get closer to consumers and try new things to serve their immediate needs.
Not every plan will have worked, but by starting small and moving quickly many companies have been able to achieve things they didn’t think possible in 2019. The key to sustaining this momentum in 2021 will be to understand that embracing failure can be a strength. CR