As we near the end of a turbulent 2020, countries are still in varying degrees of lockdown with governments and businesses coping with new and ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this backdrop, it is crucial that businesses not only pivot and adapt their communication strategies in order to survive and continue growing, but also find a way to stay relevant during times of change.
We are currently living with a VUCA world - a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. In order to deal with this, we need:
- A clear vision for orientation that is shared by the team.
- Information in order to make informed decisions, and early risk assessments.
- Clear direction and straightforward process designs
- Cooperation and communication across the team, in order to remain agile and flexible.
However, our brains are wired against change and we tend to reject it, but it is crucial to adapt as a business in order to keep up with evolving consumer demands and external forces. There is no doubt that this year has been difficult, but remain optimistic because there are many opportunities that you can still take advantage of and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
2021 presents an unique opportunity for brands to focus on emotional benefits, social benefits, personality and values of the brand. Besides representing the brand or product’s functional benefits, there is huge untapped potential in connecting to existing customers and reaching new customers by being a meaningful brand. In order to stand out from the crowd and cut through the noise, customers need to feel engaged on a deeper level especially during this time, when purchasing power may be affected and standard advertising avenues may not be as effective in a low-touch economy.
Businesses and marketing teams should take advantage of 2021 to pursue long-term goals, and not only short term ones. With an element of uncertainty, results and growth are not guaranteed in the short-run. The more worthwhile investment, if we want to transcend the current challenges that the pandemic presents, is to add value for our customers to remain relevant. Adopt an agile and flexible approach, and consider re-evaluating your business goals, to achieve concrete results in the long-run.
Thought leadership is a key part of making this long-term impact, to lead discussions and be included in wider narratives that are relevant to your industry. This is what it means to be adding value to the discussion and one of the ways to establish yourselves as a meaningful brand. This generates important word of mouth that can help to achieve brand awareness.
The formula to becoming a thought leader is:
- Focus on the pain points
- Develop content pillars and key messages to tackle those
- Crate relevant, meaningful content that speaks to your target audience and adds value
- Identify your channels and own them
- Iterate and scale
Predictions for 2021
As the pandemic continues to shape all of our actions and choices, we have had to reflect back on our decisions this year to measure them according to these new, unavoidable standards. This process of reflection is what will guide us forward into the coming year, and provide us with educated predictions for what marketing and PR will come to look like as the pandemic will likely rage on for some time.
As briefly touched upon, emotional benefits will be a critical focus for brands as they seek opportunities in 2021. While focusing on the emotional benefits of the brand, they will also have to turn their attention to the emotional experiences of their customers, who are also living through the uncertainties of the pandemic.
That is why 2021 will be a year in which the PR and marketing teams of businesses really start to examine and empathise with their customer base. Empathising and understanding their customers better will go a long way to developing a stronger brand and more loyal customers. And the way businesses are going to emotionally connect with their customers is by nurturing or developing their networks and communities.
It is not for nothing that Forrester predicts businesses will spend 30% more in 2021 on loyalty and retention marketing.
2021 will also be the year in which the use of technology accelerates at unprecedented levels. We will see CIOs and CMOs working and collaborating more closely in order to adapt and innovate at faster levels to circumvent the uncertainties still to come.
In the end, predictions are just that - a prediction. No one is in possession of a magic eight ball with sage insights, nor an almanac from the future to make wise bets with, a la Biff from Back to the Future. We are still living though a global pandemic and uncertainty will remain the name of the game, but what we all can take away is that 2021 presents each brand with unique opportunities to tap into aspects and customer experiences that have yet to be discovered.
Matias Rodsevich is the founder of PRLab, a PR Agency re-inventing PR for Startups and Scaleups. He’s also the author of The PR Paradox, a book for startups on mastering the art of PR.