What You'll Get Right in 2021

Jim Karrh On Marketing

What You'll Get Right in 2021

Like many businesses and entrepreneurs, I took occasion several years ago to write out a longer-term strategic plan. And like many others, I chose the year 2020 as the future “mark.”

I was off just a tad.

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This year will be different. When we come to the close of 2021, and you review your business successes, I suspect you will attribute that success to having done a few important things well:

► Your team maintained a practical optimism.

I find most business leaders to be natural optimists. The past 12 months strained that inclination. Still, the big picture of 2020 was far from bleak; the S&P Index was up 16% for the year, while the MSCI World Index of global stocks rose 14%. When you looked ahead at 2021, you recognized the evidence for a robust (if uneven) wave of growth opportunities. The U.S. Purchasing Managers’ Index was up strongly for both manufacturing and service sectors, for example.

With confidence — even if not with certitude — you helped make sure that good news traveled just as well within your business as did the bad news.

► You consistently thought customer-first.

Nearly every business has a public commitment to its customers. Yet as businesses and customers alike were squeezed in 2020, it was easy to fall into a bunker mentality.

Some responded in new and innovative ways. They changed (literally and figuratively) the ways they delivered their offerings. They made things feel easier and safer for customers. Even when customers were unable to buy, they kept relationships strong by providing information, support and guidance.

Your business prospered in 2021 with an appropriate external focus. It wasn’t just “how to repackage what we’re doing,” but instead “how to meet customers where they are and where they are going.”

► Your business invested wisely on the inside.

Many businesses discovered new levels of resilience in 2020. They made big changes in record time — even while employees were separated like never before.

You recognized that constant pressure takes its toll. Your company supported everyone with as much gratitude, encouragement, tools and training as you could muster. In 2021 you committed to continue training and support, even as that moved from virtual to hybrid to some in-person models. Whatever the mode, you saw the results in strong customer, member, sponsor and partner relationships.

► You didn’t rely on the unreliable.

Too much of 2020 was out of control. When businesses lost the means to promote and distribute their products, they went where they could to survive — and while many found new opportunities, others discovered a new control problem.

Ruth Harrigan runs Honey Gramz, a small business that sold through souvenir shops. As tourism sank, the business increasingly relied on Facebook. Social media offered new and badly needed sales opportunities but at the risk of mysterious algorithms and limited customer support. According to a Bloomberg story, when Facebook blocked her ad account Harrigan desperately Googled the names of any Facebook employees who might help. She found one, sent him a message on Twitter, and eventually her account was restored. “It was really, really scary,” she said. The email remains pinned to her office whiteboard as a reminder.

This is not an indictment of any growth strategy that includes social media. But you’ll have succeeded in 2021 with an emphasis on your current relationships and customer data you control.

► You got your story straight.

Has there ever been a time with more distraction, confusion and environmental noise? You recognized the dearth of trust among buyers and prospects and their need for trustworthy sellers. That led you and your business to focus on clarity and consistency in your message during 2021.

With a shared understanding internally of your ideal customers, the needs of those customers and where you’re most helpful, everyone in the business — regardless of whether “sales” or “marketing” was in their job description — was equipped to play a role in your growth.

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a consultant and speaker, host of “The Manage Your Message Podcast” and author of “The Science of Customer Connections.” Connect with him on LinkedIn.