Preparing for Next Year's Normal: How to Set 2021 Marketing Plans

The big question on everyone’s minds right now is: What will 2021 bring?

At this time last year, predictions for 2020 centered around technologies (AI, automation, martech, etc.) that would drive the next wave of personalized, video, and conversational marketing as well as brand-appropriate user-generated content.

Instead, Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey Research report indicates that in the uncertain wake of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, 44% of CMOs are facing budget cuts and 79% are looking to existing markets to fuel growth. So, brands are doubling down on what they already know and can deliver on.

This year has shown that even with proper planning, there’s the possibility of a “what if” scenario that catches everyone completely off-guard. That’s not to say we throw up our hands and wait to see how the coming months unfold. To prepare for 2021, marketing leaders need to do what they would normally do — gather and analyze data — but with a slightly different perspective:



Appreciate your 2020 accomplishments. Think of this year’s activities--planned and unplanned--as field tests. This doesn’t give you a pass to dismiss all thi s year’s errors as byproducts of a chaotic couple of quarters, but without lessons learned, you won’t know if you’re making old mistakes in a new year. Be purposefully retrospective about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and be forgiving about those things that were simply beyond your control.

Find your place among your peers. In other words, do a market and competitive assessment. Odds are, if you’re feeling upended, you’re not alone. But some organizations managed to thrive during this crisis. Benchmarking is always instructive, but this year saw people at their worst. Taking the time to truly understand why consumers gravitated toward certain brands while under crisis will be invaluable.

Gain inspiration from other industries. Maybe you’re a big-box retailer exploring how well a small D2C brand performed. Or a goods producer wondering how a local or regional mom-and-pop store prevailed. Or a tech provider trying to apply some of the principles of the essential services industry to your own.

It’s always good to look outside your bubble and, particularly this year, explore how others effectively address things like empathy, adaptability and community in their marketing efforts.

Odds are the first part of 2021 will mirror the last part of 2020. Instead of creating a 12-month roadmap, break next year up into more manageable chunks and focus on one anchor project to  regain your balance and confidence before adopting a more aggressive approach during the second half of the year.

These have been, and continue to be, trying times. Take a breath. Take some time to absorb what you’ve learned this year so you enter next year with eyes wide open to both your vulnerabilities and your unrealized potential. Seize this chance to explore what this year revealed about who you are as a company. Then embrace those insights and adapt them into a plan that plots meaningful steps forward for your organization.

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