If this past year taught us anything, it’s that life is… unpredictable.
Although, just because we’re beyond ready to move on from 2020 doesn’t mean there aren’t some valuable lessons we should carry forward into the New Year. Here are some of our year’s end takeaways that will help you enter 2021 on a positive note:
1) Leave your preconceptions behind and embrace the clean slate.
“Dropping preconceptions, prejudices and expectations keeps life exciting, fuels my creativity and opens up a whole new world of unconstrained possibilities.” – Natalie Warner
In our personal lives, we often view the New Year as a chance to reset, regroup, and move forward with an open mind. Our professional lives can benefit from the same approach.
The month-to-month, week-to-week, and day-to-day changes experienced in 2020 should serve as a reminder that uncertainty will be a given in 2021. So rather than swim against the current, it’s in our best interest to cut ties with any lingering preconceptions or expectations and allow ourselves to go with the flow.
Obviously we can’t predict the future, but we can embrace this clean slate we’re being given. We can acknowledge the fact that throughout 2021 our consumers will continually evolve, the market will continually shift, and to stay relevant – our brand strategy must remain agile enough to adapt accordingly.
This isn’t to say, “Dump everything and never look back!” It’s definitely a good idea to keep performance records, analyze historical data to identify trends, and learn from past experiences. Rather, it’s a matter of avoiding the tight-gripped clinging to biases and presumptions that will only serve to stunt growth, slow progress, and disrupt innovative thinking.
2) Define where you currently stand to ensure next steps will lead you in the right direction.
“When you fight reality, you will lose every time.” – Jennifer Young
Before making any plans, establish your reality.
It’s important to understand that our strategy is our intent, and our customer’s perception is our reality. This distinction between intent and reality is often blurred by a hyper-focus on implementing strategic initiatives. We might have a powerful message and a brilliant activation campaign, but ultimately all that matters is how we’re perceived by the target audience.
Take, for example, the recent Tropicana ad campaign with its tagline: “Parents, #TakeAMimoment.” The message being delivered is that Tropicana orange juice when combined with champagne (a.k.a. mimosa) offers an escape from holiday stressors. The activation of this campaign is a series of commercials showing celebrities sneaking away from family activities to their hidden stash of mimosa supplies, which includes Tropicana orange juice.
On paper and in theory, it’s a clever way to highlight the fact that orange juice isn’t exclusively a breakfast beverage. However in reality, the general public has reacted negatively due to the campaign’s message encouraging people to hide alcohol, sneak away to drink it, and generally reinforcing the idea that booze is a good way to cope with life’s difficulties.
Needless to say, the audience and media pushback resulted in Tropicana canceling the campaign, pulling existing ads, and having to rethink their holiday messaging strategy.
Had Tropicana put more thought into the priorities, behaviors, concerns, and opinions of their target audience (or society in general), this debacle could have been avoided. This is a perfect example of why it’s important to know your audience before getting creative with brand messaging.
In other words, Tropicana should have established their reality before making any plans.
A few important questions to consider before launching:
What is the existing perception of Tropicana and would it even make sense to deliver messaging within this context?
Who is the primary target audience and what to we currently know about their lifestyle preferences?
How is the audience engaging with our brand and which past messaging campaigns have been most successful?
Do we have a detailed customer journey map that outlines our engagement touchpoints?
Why do consumers choose our brands over competitors and would it make sense to shift messaging away from those attributes?
Answering these questions would establish the brand’s present reality and ensure next steps are headed in the right direction.
3) Keep track of how the environment is changing.
“We are what we see. We are products of our surroundings.” – Amber Valletta
Continuing with the Tropicana example, we see the importance of keeping an up-to-date understanding of our environment and surroundings. Part of why that “Mimoment” campaign was received so poorly is because it failed to consider the impact of COVID on a shifting societal perception around alcohol consumption.
Health studies have revealed a recent increase in alcohol-related deaths and emergencies, as well as a spike in reported alcohol abuse among teens and adults. Awareness of these issues has led to a societal shift and increased sensitivity during what is already a difficult time; the holiday season.
Within this context, the Tropicana ad making light of individuals who hide alcohol around the house, drink in private, and use a substance to cope with stress, the campaign message is perceived as tone-deaf and irresponsible.
As previously mentioned, modern life is unpredictable and change is a constant. Therefore, we can’t rely on past presumptions to make present and forward-thinking decisions. Perhaps a year ago, or if COVID wasn’t an issue, that Tropicana campaign would have been received in the light-hearted manner in which it was intended. But lacking awareness of the change in circumstances led the recent Tropicana campaign to fail miserably. Not only that, it has done severe damage to its overall brand image which will have a lasting impact beyond the holiday season.
Regardless of how well we think we know our surroundings, it’s vital that we regularly conduct a market analysis to ensure we’re considering all possible environmental, societal, competitive, and disruptive variables that are impacting our business.
4) Grow your active listening skills to strengthen relationships with customers AND employees.
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill
So many brands promote the fact that they value customers and that employees are like family. But how many brands actually live up to those words and follow through with action?
Conducting market research does more than benefit the brand in terms of gathering consumer insights; it conveys the level of value and respect a brand has for its customers. Simply asking customers to provide their input shows concern and care for their opinions. Providing the opportunity and freedom to share what matters most to them is a gesture of respect and appreciation. Furthermore, actually applying their feedback when making decisions is the signature of a brand that genuinely values its customers.
This approach is equally important and impactful when it comes to employees. Building a strong brand culture is dependent on maintaining a happy, healthy, and productive internal team. By regularly engaging employees and asking for their feedback, leadership is able to identify areas of success and opportunities for improvement. Just as customers want to feel valued and appreciated, so do the team members working hard every day to serve those customers.
All that said, simply asking questions isn’t enough. There needs to be a strategy so that questions are relevant, timely, and meaningful. There also needs to be a plan of action for when feedback is gathered, and a follow up process to close the communication loop. We’ve all provided feedback and never heard from the brand again. It feels as though our opinions didn’t really matter and we just wasted our time.
Asking the right questions, having a plan of action, and closing the loop with those who provided feedback are the key elements of active listening. If this isn’t already a strategic priority for your brand, it needs to be heading into 2021.
5) Break down silos and explore how all the pieces together.
“When we can’t see a pattern, we fit pieces together until one takes shape.” – Tana French
All the practices mentioned throughout this article have targeted, focused purposes that can apply to specific objectives. But a common mistake is when brands discard or move on from adhoc projects without considering their big-picture possibilities.
For example, consider a brand that conducted a thorough analysis of its data inventory to establish what it currently knows about its customers. This information helps develop customer profiles and guides updated sales strategies. Later, a detailed market assessment is conducted to better understand competitors and identify emerging consumer trends. Further down the road, a market research project is launched to support new product development and measure customer satisfaction. Each of these initiatives serves a purpose and lead to brand growth.
The common missed opportunity is brands moving forward without considering how all these pieces might fit together. What can be learned when comparing previously existing data to new customer feedback? Does the added context of emerging consumer trends impact how we view purchase patterns or our new product offerings? What happens when we overlay past insights, present findings, and future possibilities?
Don’t let valuable data and powerful insights remain isolated in fragmented silos. Break down the walls and start fitting the pieces together. The big-picture becomes more clear and focused as the puzzle comes together. This is where the future begins to take shape.
For the past 35 years, we’ve been empowering brands to leverage data-driven insights in support of achieving their goals. By establishing strong client relationships based on collaboration, communication, and commitment to excellence, we’re looking forward to a new year full of endless possibilities.
Want to join forces in 2021? Give us a shout and let’s get started!