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Marketing in 2021: A Guide to Navigating Uncertainty and Change

Operating in an unpredictable climate has become the new normal for marketers. How do you plan for the unknowable when marketing in 2021? We discuss the basics of marketing during a pandemic.

Marketing 2021 Navigating Uncertainty

By Colleen Ringer

Marketing in 2021 and beyond will forever be changed by the events of 2020. Instead of automatically executing the same tactics you’ve always relied on, now more than ever, you need to stop and ask, “Why are we doing this and what are we getting from it?”

Here, we peer through the haziness that is the future and identify concrete steps you can take today as you develop your 2021 marketing strategy.

Step 1: Rethink your priorities.

Before executing specific tactics, it’s critical that you reexamine your priorities for the coming year and rethink your broader strategy. Has the current climate made retention or acquisition a higher priority for your organization? Is that a departure from the usual? What assets will you need to build to address that priority?

Take action: Reassess your goals (and the accompanying tactics) over shorter periods of time. If it was a quarterly or biannual exercise before, consider making it a part of your monthly process so that you’re better able to respond to situations as they arise.

Step 2: Evolve your brand messaging to match your priorities.

Once your priorities are clear, evaluate how your brand messaging either supports those goals or misses the mark. It’s likely that, either way, your messaging will need to be massaged to some extent to respond to the current political and social climate. The travel and arts organizations we work with, for example, needed to speak to their audiences very differently when the pandemic first hit, amid shuttered theaters and paused travel plans. That messaging has since needed to evolve further just as the pandemic has evolved.

Take action: Map out a messaging strategy. This document should cover how to talk about your organization’s brand value given both your current priorities and consumers’ state of mind. This might also require a change to your audience priorities — think about who you want to reach and how they might be feeling. Review your strategy frequently.

Step 3: Shift your focus to your largest digital asset: your website.

Marketing during the pandemic proved more than ever how crucial your website is as your organization’s primary communication vehicle and sales destination. In 2021, it will remain just as critical. Review it through the lens of your revamped priorities and evolved brand messaging. Does the user experience reflect your priorities? What elements do you need to add or adjust? Do you have the right landing pages built out?

If your website is long overdue for an overhaul, there’s no sugarcoating it: A website redesign needs to be your top priority for 2021. Marketing in these uncertain times requires a strong digital workhorse that you can adapt as your plans change, and if your website doesn’t fit the bill, it’s time for an upgrade. While finding the budget can be challenging, if your organization is seeing a downturn in sales and your website isn’t able to generate conversions, you have a compelling case to present to the decisionmakers in your company.

Take action: Evaluate the strength and quality of your website. A third party can provide an analysis free of internal bias.

Step 4: Do a digital cleanup.

As you refresh your website user experience to respond to your goals, take the time to conduct an SEO audit of your current site. This can help you identify gaps between your current content and your prioritized content goals. Use this as a foundation for your 2021 content calendar, and, it bears repeating, revisit this plan early and often. Content (and ad campaigns, for that matter) that made sense in December 2020 may come across as tone deaf in February 2021. If 2020 was the year of the pause and pivot, expect 2021 to be more of the same.

Take action: Examine your evergreen content. Many consumers’ lives have fundamentally shifted due to the pandemic. Content that was once evergreen might not be relevant anymore. Take a closer look at your digital assets to see what you need to update, repackage or unpublish.

Step 5: Keep your eye on recovery.

With every vaccine news alert and COVID-19 case count, consumer sentiment will shift. A new administration in the White House will add another layer to the 2021 news cycle. Pay close attention to the vibe. Are people feeling secure or hesitant? What can your organization offer them in this moment?

Take action: Rethink, re-plan, repeat. Return to step 1 and reexamine your priorities in the present context.

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Colleen Ringer Overlay Blue
Colleen Ringer Editorial Director

Colleen has worked with clients large and small for more than a decade as a writer, editor and content strategist. She has managed content marketing programs for national and global brands, including hospital systems, universities and nonprofits. Before entering the world of content marketing, Colleen lived in the land of magazine publishing and wrote about architecture, design and travel.

As a mother of a video game-obsessed son, Colleen spends part of her free time learning about Fortnite and the other part trying to recruit her son to root for the Arizona Cardinals. She loves a good book, a strong iced tea and when her Fantasy Football team is winning.

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