5 Things You Need in Your 2021 Marketing Plan

Credit: Toa Heftiba — found via Unsplash

I know. Another 2021 trends blog post. Eyeroll.

Except this one is worth your time. Promise. Because this time, I’ve distilled it down to the essentials. The things you can’t afford not to know.

I’ve spent the past 11 years building brands and honestly? I’m excited about 2021. There’s major change in the air and opportunity aplenty if you have the right strategy.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Give your purpose a personality

For the last few years, startup marketing has been focused on purpose and starting with why.

And then came Covid. And then an explosion of Covid ads, where banks suddenly ‘cared’ and travel companies apparently put people ahead of profit. The problem? Purpose is becoming commonplace.

So many companies are jumping on the purpose or ‘we care’ wagon, saying the things they think people want to hear. The problem is they fail to follow through with real, quantifiable, action. (Deepak Chopra calls this ‘love in action’ and I am here for that concept.)

Every brand needs purpose — we love to see it in action. But, increasingly, brands also need personality and relatability. Like, the kind of conversational LinkedIn post that makes them stop and maybe even laugh a little. Or an Instagram video that’s super respectful of their time — and actually useful.

Search for the people behind your customer personas and imagine what your customer really looks, sounds and shows up like. At work, at the pub, in everyday life. None of this lofty shit. Get real. Drill down to the basics and start speaking their language.

In 2020, things were heavy. In 2021, we want to feel more alive. Brands need to show up and bring joy through their marketing.

More closed community content

If you’re for everyone, you’re for no one.

In 2021, expect to see more content created for closed communities in the form of forums, Slack channels and even private offshoot Insta accounts for brands.

In a world where every brand is scrambling to create virtual events that are entertaining, focus your efforts on community spaces centred around sharing. The aim here is advocacy. The brands that are able to understand what topics their audience cares enough about to show up and share their experiences on will be the winners.

Intimate sharing circles. Roundtable discussions that work harder to include audience participation. Experiences where marginalized groups know they are welcomed and accepted. This is how brands can become a real part of real life.

People crave more safe spaces. How can you and your brand create yours?

Come as you are. Bring a friend. Oh, and close the door behind you.

Customers as the new influencers

RIP quarterly focus groups.

Building a cult brand in 2021 is about getting up close and personal with your customers on the regular.

How exactly? Through involving your customers in every decision, telling your brand’s story through their stories, and celebrating them daily.

I’m personally excited about a new and growing kind of customer marketing: friends and family-only influencers. If you’re a brand with limited budget, don’t underestimate how influential non-conventional influencers can be.

The truth is, we’re all influencers. 2021 is the year brands need to start utilizing that more.

Ideas are our greatest currency, but understanding our customers is the fuel that moves us forward.

Intention over attention

Content fatigue is real.

As marketers in 2021, it’s our job to create content that respects people’s time and plays an active role in their everyday lives. That’s relationship-building, right there.

If you feel like you and your team are creating content for content’s sake, go back to the basics and remind yourself why you’re here. Connect more with what your customers care about now (it won’t be the same things they cared about a year ago, trust me). And ask yourselves honestly: how can we be something our customers want in their lives and their story?

Too often, brands create content because they think they have to. The result is content that’s flat, careless and lifeless because the goal is to be seen and heard by as many people as possible rather than the right group of select people.

The immediate thing most people do next is make more noise. They bang that drum louder and louder, when instead they need to show people they hear them, see them and want to invite them to come and play the tambourine. Ok, fun analogy, but you get the sentiment.

Too many brands make noise for their own egos. Make sure your marching band is playing for the right reasons. Intention over attention.

Trust as a practice

This one’s simple. Trust isn’t bought, it’s earned.

In 2020, brands spoke out in solidarity.

In 2021, they need to back it up with action.

You don’t need to have Ben & Jerry’s or Lego-sized budgets, either. You just need to care enough to put your care into action.

If you’re a growing startup, donate 1% of your profits to a cause that your customers care about (and maybe even ask your customers to share what cause matters most to them).

If you posted a black square in 2020, implement a proper strategy for supporting black communities — through opportunities or hiring — and write a thoughtful blog post on what that looks like for you in 2021.

In your 2021 marketing, be mindful of the stories you share and the messages you put out there.

Your customers are watching. Make sure your brand is on the right side of their story.

Thank you for being here. I hope you enjoyed reading this piece.

Here’s a little bit about me…

I’m the co-founder of Make Us Care — a strategic creative partner for businesses doing good in the world. I work closely with founders, leaders and marketing teams to build brands people care about. My magic sauce is a communications framework I created called the 5 Stories.

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Founder and creator of 5 Stories, a methodology I use to help companies tell better brand stories. I write about storytelling, branding and entrepreneurship 🙃