To channel the inner Grateful Dead fan in me, what a long strange trip it’s been. Or, to borrow a description of 2020 recently shared with me, the past 12 months has been, in technical terms a “shit show”.
Many of your peers have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, brands in exposed sectors have been shuttered or compromised, and we are all facing up to a horrid recession. Not to mention the exhaustion that comes from a daily requirement to pivot.
We finish the year as we lived most of it – in a state of uncertainty. The optimism brought by the rollout of the vaccine is temporarily tempered by a new strain of the virus and rising infection rates that may keep some of the country in near lockdown into January. Not to mention the chances of Britain getting a post-transition Brexit deal remaining at best 50/50 as I write this.
Putting your out of office on might feel like you are drawing a line under 2020 but it will be temporary respite. Continued restrictions on trade means the first quarter of 2021 will be as challenging as the bulk of this year for many of you.
However, it’s Christmas, and it is therefore incumbent on me to spread seasonal cheer. Adopting a sanguine position isn’t forced, however. Through the clouds there are shards of light. Not only is there reason for optimism, there is reason to be proud. As exhausted as you no doubt feel right now, there is cause to sit back and reflect, not only on your achievements, but also on the opportunities that lay ahead.
You stepped up and got through it
Imagine you’re sat in a meeting in the first week of January 2020, with someone explaining how the year would pan out. You would have heard what sounded like the plot of a dystopian black comedy. Empty streets, social anxiety, shuttered stores and disrupted supply chains. Mass remote working and empty skies. All would have seemed scarcely believable.
The challenges caused by such ructions would have seemed insurmountable. The hurdles too big to jump. And yet… Yes, it’s been exhausting. Chaotic at times. Uncertainty breeds pontification. Disruption can lead to despair. But it’s also been transformative, exhilarating even.
At the very start of lockdown, one marketer described the pandemic to me as an “unwelcome intervention”. An intrusion that dented plans and profit, for sure, but one that forced marketers to think, act and behave differently. To shed habitual, inefficient behaviour and processes, and focus on what matters.
Nine months on, that has proven to be the case. So much has been achieved and has changed for the better.
On the latter, the emergence of internal marketing and the importance of employer brand has been a progression to celebrate. From accelerated digital transformation, to product and service left turns, brands and marketers have proven to be innovative and resourceful.
Agile working in service of the customer is moving from good intent to actual practice. There were loads of predictions of wholesale change in the wake of the pandemic.
As is the case with most proclamations of transformation in marketing, most were guilty of overreach. The job of marketing will stay the same. What’s apparent is under pressure you all proved you can do things differently when faced with huge challenges. And that is worthy of celebration.
More is possible
Stripped back, a marketer’s core role remains identifying and satisfying customer needs, and doing so in a way that is better than competitors and meaningful to customers, which ultimately helps the company turn a profit.
In 2021, as recession bites and business continues to suffer the consequences of coronavirus, the challenges will be different but the purpose the same.
It’s unlikely next year will be a year of consolidation and standing still. For the sake of us all, I hope there is less drama, but it will remain eventful.
Whether your employer is planning to increasingly play in a digital or virtual space, rub up against new competitors, undertake product and proposition changes, diversify or consolidate, you as a marketer – the voice of the customer and its representative at the top of the company – will have a starring role.
You can provide the insight your company needs to rebuild and grow next year and beyond. It’s an opportunity to lead and an opportunity to add value to your customer and company.
As you assess the year just gone, and the damage done, feel good about the opportunity the year ahead presents everyone in marketing. You have been presented with an opportunity to lead. Let that be a legacy of this rotten year.
The year ahead
I will stop well short of unveiling our plans week by week for 2021. Except to say, in one regard you can expect the same as ever from Marketing Week. Our purpose is to help you have greater influence and impact. That means championing good practice and highlighting bad. The difference is context.
We will continue to look at marketing effectiveness, your role in your organisation, the trends that will impact your job, what good looks like for you and the work you oversee, but it will be done in the context of a necessity you will all share – having to do more with less money and fewer resources.
Fear not, we will bring the insight, news and voices that will help you deliver what you are capable of.
Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.