How Can You Plan for 2021 (When 2020 Isn’t Really a Blueprint You Can Follow)?

Written by: Betsy Lillian on 12/22/20 9:45 AM
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If you’re a marketing leader who never wants to hear the word “pivot” again, we apologize in advance.

Unfortunately, although marketing leaders’ ability to successfully pivot their plans has been especially crucial during the past nine months, not much is expected to be different going forward.

We know that 2021 won't be exactly like 2020, but there’s no going back to 2019 either. Much of the change we experienced in 2020 in response to the pandemic was just that: a response—however, there was also a fair amount within that response that will carry forward permanently, simply because it makes good business sense.

It’s time to get ready for another year of mostly unpredictable changes—and, with that, the flexibility to adapt.

A recent Forbes article, pointing to the old adage that “change is the only constant,” underscores this crucial concept of adaptability:

In the article, Jaymie A. Scotto Cutaia, CEO of Jaymie Scotto & Associates, writes, “Simply copying and pasting your 2019 or 2020 marketing calendar, and changing dates and campaign names, will be far from sufficient for the year ahead. Establishing a steady but flexible strategy, despite the chaos around us, is critical.”

Take a look in particular at five growth pillars of your organization: markets, buyers, offers, productivity and acquisitions. Are you ready to pivot any of these five at any given time and, crucially, accommodate for the resulting shifts in budgets?

Icon_Planning_07-31. Markets
Considering the economic effects of the pandemic on certain horizontal functions, vertical industries and geographic locations across the globe, your target markets may have shifted significantly this year.

If your manufacturing vertical was the linchpin of your company in 2019, for example, your healthcare vertical may have taken its spot in 2020 and for the foreseeable future.

By the same token, the results of location-specific marketing campaigns might have yo-yoed this year depending on COVID-19 outbreak and recovery levels, and considering the unknown levels to come in 2021, be prepared for a possible repeat. Don’t get caught off-guard if your marketing team decides to focus on an entirely new market or geography in 2021.

Icon_Planning_02-22. Buyers
As your target markets might have changed, so, too, might have the buyers themselves. In turn, you must ensure that you’re not over or under-saturating certain audiences or reaching out to the wrong people at the wrong time.

As we discussed in a blog earlier this year, with travel disrupted, many senior executives, for instance, are likely at their desk more often, making them easier to reach. However, it remains to be seen when/if more traveling will resume in 2021, so be prepared to shift your communication tactics for either scenario. On a similar note, if your contacts end up transitioning away from an entirely remote environment, consider the timings of your communication as their availability shifts, as well.

Lastly, taking into account the continued prevalence of layoffs, furloughs or company reorganizations, you might be dealing with different people in 2021 than in early 2020 or even a few months ago. If, for example, 25% of your contact data typically became stale in a 12-month time frame under normal circumstances but bumped up to 40% in 2020, you’ll probably be facing an even different rate in 2021 if furloughed contacts return, companies continue to reorganize or more layoffs occur.

Icon_Planning_03-13. Offers
To put this one simply, if your geographies, industries and personas are subject to change at the drop of a hat depending on market conditions, so, too, might your products or solutions.

Like your markets, the offerings that were your stars in 2019 might not be going forward; if that ends up being the case, be ready to reevaluate your marketing campaigns to accommodate your changing offerings.

Icon_Planning_06-24. Productivity
Like many of your prospects, your own marketing organization may have faced inevitable cuts to budget and personnel in 2020. With all of these changes, marketing leaders need increased visibility into who’s doing what, when they’re doing it and what budgets they’re using. Nobody can be left in the dark when important changes are happening.

Despite overall cuts, however, the Forbes article notes certain portions of organizations’ marketing budgets that are, indeed, growing. Citing the American Marketing Association, Scotto Cutaia says spending for customer experience has grown 10% over the last few months—“a good sign that teams are continuing to prioritize the right strategies”—and that marketers expect an 8.4% increase in digital marketing throughout 2021.

Icon_Planning_01-15. Acquisitions
From overhead cuts to merged costs to changing head counts to hypergrowth, an acquisition of or by your organization can certainly wreak havoc on the marketing plans and budgets you’ve already set.

“If this year has taught us anything,” says the Forbes article, “it’s that agility under pressure is golden for a resilient, and even thriving, business.”

If you suddenly lose or gain a significant portion of your marketing team due to an acquisition, the pressure is on as a marketing leader to accommodate the losses by reassigning duties or taking on more work, or on the other end, accommodating the gains to your team by assimilating them into your marketing culture.

To ensure your marketing organization is, indeed, thriving amidst sudden changes, focus on increased communication and transparency to ensure nobody gets lost in the shuffle.

Are you ready hand writing with a black mark on a transparent board

To successfully pivot under any of these five scenarios, here are a few strategies you can keep in mind.

Segmentation
Segmentation, which breaks up your marketing plans, enabling alignment to goals and strategy, lets you to peel back the layers and understand performance at the segment level, or even at the intersection of several segments: e.g., Western European marketing operations leaders (geography and persona).

If you enable segmentation for actions that you’ve taken—or plan to take—related specifically to COVID-19, for instance, you can track and more easily visualize the scope, investment and impact of these tactics during specific times and for specific segments.

Because 2021 won’t mirror 2020 in terms of the right and wrong tactics to focus on for your marketing organization, you’ll be able to see what’s working (and what isn’t) for which segments so that you can swiftly make a change.

Don’t go crazy, though: As Scotto Cutaia puts it, you don’t have to undergo “a complete, expensive overhaul of your CRM and days upon days of mapping out detailed buyer personas.” However, data and personalization are key, no matter how many layers you need to peel back.

Multiple budget views
As mentioned earlier, when any of these five growth pillars has to pivot, along come sudden changes to budgets.

The Forbes article advises marketing leaders to not be “afraid to continue shifting budgets,” especially if you’re planning on a quarterly basis, which poses less risk than planning on a yearly basis.

While your marketing and finance teams need the freedom to create and manage their budgets according to their own points of view, their end goal is the same—the clear visualization of ROI.

On the marketing side, you need to be able to project-manage your budget the way you go to market—top-down and bottom-up, usually according to some established campaign hierarchy. And on the finance side, you need to be able to build out your budget based on a general ledger hierarchy—the way your finance team reports to management. 

If both teams work entirely independently of one another, however, there’s a chance someone could come in at the end of a quarter under or over budget, which would only spell trouble for marketers who are trying to make plan changes with the funds they think they’re allotted.

To avoid this and to get both teams rowing in the same direction, the two budget hierarchies—although made separately according to each team’s needs—must be kept in sync. (For a detailed look at this concept, read more: Why Two Budgets Are Better Than One.)

Get everyone on the same page
Don’t let your data get lost in the shuffle.

With ever-changing industries, personas, products, team members and more, it’s more important than ever to maintain one single source of truth to which everyone can turn, no matter where they are in the world. Additionally, even if your team is entirely remote, make sure you’re still holding regularly scheduled meetings and department check-ins to make sure everyone is aligned to goals.

No matter what changes you ultimately decide to make for a prosperous 2021, make sure you’re leaving silos in the dust. The spread of advanced technology at marketing leaders’ fingertips is constantly growing and evolving to help make collaboration a cinch.

Disparate, out-of-sync data across your marketing organization? That’s so 2020.


Hive9 is designed for complex marketing needs, especially when organizations face unexpected changes. Get a live, personalized demo to see how our collaborative planning software can help manage pivots across any five growth pillars.

Topics: Marketing Planning, Financial Planning, Budgeting, Marketing Budgeting, Effective Planning

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