Everything we learned about marketing in 2020

Well, that sucked.

While 2020 might go down in history as the most-hated year of the millennium, it did teach marketers a thing or two between our anxiety naps. Here are a few lessons to reflect on before 2021 arrives.


Lesson #1: Skip the bulls**t.

The trendy cupcakes on the table during a pitch meeting. The brand name champagne popped when the deal is closed. So much of advertising is still flash and bang – or it was, until we all had to hop on Zoom calls with kids screaming and dogs barking and someone knocking at the door.

As Advertising Club of Edmonton Fellowship Award winner Jeff McLean put it at the virtual Christmas party,

 “when we saw people in their own homes, putting on their toddler’s socks on the bed, everybody’s guard came down and no one gave a s***t…[it became] more about the work than the trappings.”

This year we all showed our human side, whether we liked it or not. And it turns out that we all liked each other despite that, or maybe even because of it. Personally, I have closer and more trusting relationships with my coworkers and clients. Let’s not forget to bring that humanity to the boardroom when we eventually return to it.


Lesson #2: The best time to get online was yesterday. The second-best time is now.

If your product or service isn’t available online somehow, it’s time for a new business model. This may be a tough one to swallow for some businesses, but if you don’t have a functional, easy to use website that’s focused on sales, you could find yourself closing your doors for good in the near term.

While it’s obviously critical to be available online during times of lockdown, your customers have less patience than usual. This period of intense stress is playing havoc with our collective mood, and if there’s any friction in your online order process, your customer is more likely to hop off than check out.

Functional. Easy to use. If it takes you more than seven words to describe the order process, scrap it and try again. (By the way if you don't have this, we can help you build it.)


Lesson #3: Get off the bandwagon and start leading the band.

First, there was the pandemic. Then, the Black Lives Matter movement showed us Black people fighting for their rights in the streets. The campaign you thought of in January? Forget it.

But it's dangerous to hop on the bandwagon insincerely. Consider the humble Bandaid

After BLM started gaining steam and media coverage, Bandaid released a new line of bandages with darker skin tone colours that finally matched Black and brown skin. Great, right? Not really. Racialized people had already been asking for this very thing for years, and the company Tru-Colour had been filling the gap Bandaid left since 2014.

Bandaid’s too-late-to-the-party gesture came off as an insincere PR stunt. If you want to be a leader, lead. Don’t wait for inspiration – do the work now. Listen to your customers and fill the gaps that other companies can’t or won’t.

Lesson #4: Let nothing be set in stone.

Between lockdowns and the cultural conversations of the past year, nothing is the same as it was when we rang in the New Year. And every indication is that change will be the only predictable thing about 2021.

But being nimble is easier than you think. Some hot tips from people who are sick of the word “pivot”:

  • Be clear on your contracts. What happens to the restaurant posters in your ad buy if restaurants close?
  • Once you know what would happen, plan for that eventuality. Where will you move your budget? Are you comfortable investing dollars in media that could pause for a significant amount of time?
  • Don’t assume all “traditional” media is out. People are still leaving the house for groceries, work, and errands. The data for radio and out of home is promising.
  • Assume that you’ll have to pivot (damn, I said it) at some point. When you know that, it’s a lot easier to let go of what you’ve already done and move toward what you’re going to do next.


Happy Holidays!

And that's a wrap. In a few days, this year will be a memory, but the lessons we learned along the way... God, just pass me the wine. Be safe and have a happy holiday season, everyone!


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