woman holding umbrella leaping in front of a yellow wall
PHOTO: Edu Lauton

After the many changes we all experienced last year, it’s a daunting prospect to predict what might come next in 2021. It may be easier to sum it up as “expect the unexpected,” but this is neither helpful nor encouraging — and, if there’s one thing I think we all might need more of, it’s encouragement. I strongly believe we’re on the cusp of a brighter, better future. We have to work toward this goal with just as much empathy as dedication.

For me, this means I’m not only focused solely on the traditional marketing achievements that determined pre-pandemic success. Like many of my peers in leadership positions around the world, I know that I need to do more. So, what does this “more” mean, and how do we grow a company and care for our customers and our staff to begin a new year strong? Here’s what I am doing to redefine marketing success in 2021.

Understand Your (New) Ideal Customer Profile

Marketers aren’t the only folks who lived through tumultuous times in 2020 — our customers did, too. As we move into 2021, as much as we’d hoped the world would change overnight, it just didn’t. That likely means it’s time to pull new data and analyze the cohort of customers for whom you achieved success in 2020. This will help you better understand who your target customer is, especially when buying patterns are impacted by a global pandemic and weak economy. Look for patterns to identify new customer segments and possibly even entirely new markets.

We did this a few months ago at Moz and discovered that a well defined yet historically small customer segment we’d served for years had grown and become much more active during the pandemic. The reality of having billions of people around the world spending more time at home accelerated the move to digital marketing for companies who had previously been slow to move online. Companies offering SEO platforms, like Moz, benefited. Even if your products aren’t digital, you might be surprised — and hopefully delighted — by how the change in consumer and B2B buying behavior in 2020 impacted your ideal customer profile.

Related Article: What's Ahead for Customer Experience in 2021?

Own, Rather Than Work Toward, Revenue Goals

Many brands have faced severe pipeline disruption. Some teams have needed to recalibrate goals or alter lead-gen processes to address new market forces and make up for a growing pool of prospects with frozen budgets. The frustration and anxiety stemming from this long period of uncertainty has been felt across departments.

In this time of rampant change an opportunity exists for leaders to step up and own new revenue goals. For executives who have long clung to typical marketing KPIs, I urge you to take initiatives and campaigns further by clearly defining revenue targets and the milestones you and your team will own to achieve them.

Marketers may have hesitated in the past, but owning a revenue goal can help redefine the role and empower you as a leader, and also empower the teams you support to take a confident step forward. Don’t feel like you have to — or should — go it alone. Now more than ever teams are craving collaboration. Partner with your sales peers in ways that don’t just drive leads but actually show that you are willing to help own and achieve revenue goals. Inter-department communication isn’t just for teams to hear about executive decisions: CMOs should be coordinating directly alongside their sales leaders or CRO to make, guide and inform decisions.

Related Article: 2021: Reduce, Reorganize, Restart, Reinvent and Ramp Up

Disregard Tradition and Embrace Experience

It can be easy to defend what’s been done in the past as sacred, but in understanding how to move forward, each “best practice” should be reviewed with a fine-toothed comb. For example, MozCon, our flagship event, has been in-person for 14 years. But the pandemic required us to pivot to virtual. And do you know what? It was so successful that we decided to do it again this year regardless of whether or not an in-person event is possible by summer.

The pivot wasn’t without its hurdles, but we learned an important lesson: evolve. In our efforts to prioritize experience, we pursued pre-recorded sessions. So this meant rather than our experts leading a session live from a stage, they participated in a chat to answer questions or engage as the recording played “live.” We also evolved our small group process by creating “Birds of a Feather” chat rooms with curated topics and fewer participants, spurring more in-depth discussions with more unique takeaways. Our community grew even larger and more diverse, bonded across time zones and learned together in ways we couldn’t have foreseen.

Whether in marketing material or sales practices, we shouldn’t leave our “best practices” to guide every decision in the new year. We need to reexamine what’s better suited for a smart, ethical and customer-centric world.

Related Article: Virtual Events: 2009 vs. Now

Pause Before We Take the Leap

When people speak about confronting new challenges or obstacles, advice often comes in the form of “diving in.” But after experiencing the craziness of 2020 — and looking forward to what is likely to be at least another six months of it — I believe we all have one more critical step to take. We need to figure out a plan to take care of ourselves better than we likely did in the turmoil of 2020. Yes, those new KPIs on your shoulders are needing immediate attention, but we can’t go at 100% all the time. Still rolling out of bed and popping open the laptop before you’ve even brushed your teeth? Having trouble seeing that invisible wall between your home and your (home) office? Consider setting stricter guidelines on working hours to keep yourself (and your team) from burning out. Employees look to leadership to guide their decisions: be sure you are planning for physical and emotional wellness with the same passion you are planning for 2021 marketing success.