Are we sick of people saying it’s been a challenging year yet? I feel like I write it several times a day, but however overused the phrase might be, it’s true. Organisations have struggled in all manner of ways, and their marketing is just one area that’s been problematic.

Truly powerful and effective marketing is hard to come by at the best of times, so if in a normal year you would have just been getting by, this year you’re likely to have seen your marketing results take a nosedive as “about good enough” was suddenly very far from good enough.

So where did it all go wrong?

Let’s look at some of the reasons your marketing might have struggled in 2020.

Not understanding who your audiences are

This is a common issue even in non-apocalyptic times. Having spent many years in marketing agencies, I can tell you that a lot of organisations have a very strong view of who they think their customers/clients/target audiences should be, or who they want them to be, which is often drastically different to who the data reveals are actually interested in what they do.

For example, I worked with one luxury fashion brand who were adamant they only wanted to target trendy hipsters in their 20s, because those are the people they felt were “cool”, but their website data showed that it was actually predominantly people in their 50s who were engaging with their brand and buying their products.

Understanding who you’re talking to is critical at any time, but in a year when people have faced a wide variety of different challenges, knowing who your audiences are and what their lives are like will make a huge difference to how you speak to them.

If you have failed to grasp who your audiences really are, and the varied complexities of their lives, as well as the different struggles they’re facing, the range of concerns they have and the things that matter to them, the messaging you put out to them will fall flat.

Not understanding your place in their lives

A related issue is failing to grasp where you fit in amongst their needs and concerns. If you’re not offering your audience(s) genuine value, and you’re just constantly trying to take from them – in the form of pushing them to buy your products, or take particular actions, for example – then they will quickly lose interest. And if you’re positioning your brand and your offering in a way that doesn’t resonate with them and their lives, you won’t seem relevant to them.

Often this issue comes from not having a variety of different people, with different perspectives and life experiences, in the room when marketing and communications decisions are being made. If you don’t have people who can relate to the needs of your audiences involved in creating the messaging, how can you expect those audiences to relate to that messaging?

Not adapting to changing needs

This has been a year of upheaval. A lot has changed, rapidly and repeatedly. We’ve all had to be extremely adaptable. The problem is, a lot of marketing departments and agencies are not at all adaptable.

They have a set way of doing things, that has worked (or at least got by) for a long time, and they’re not set up to be flexible in their approach. Marketing departments in large organisations often have to put together their plans in order to get sign-off from the top a long way in advance, and getting approval for changes is an excruciatingly long process. For many agencies that have a number of clients on a set plan, they’re so busy repeating the same actions over and over that they rarely step back to evaluate whether certain clients need a whole new approach.

If you’ve been doing things the way they’ve always been done throughout 2020, chances are you’ve seen your marketing impact fall significantly. Because your audiences’ lives and needs have changed. Their expectations from organisations have changed. The world around you has changed, and you need to adapt your identity and your positioning accordingly, or fall far behind.

Not engaging certain groups

For a long time, certain groups of people and certain demographics have felt alienated by a lot of marketing messages. They’ve felt that certain brands and organisations were not for them, because they didn’t see themselves represented in their messaging, didn’t see any understanding of their lives or needs, and sometimes found their communications downright insensitive or offensive.

With a global demand for greater equality putting inclusion more firmly into mainstream view, an even wider audience is now looking for organisations that feel representative of the world around them. Most people now want to see organisations promoting inclusion and having strong values that they stand by.

If you’re alienating certain groups, that’s a huge potential market that you’re missing out on. But it’s now more than that – if you’re not demonstrating a commitment to inclusion and to caring about the whole spectrum of your community, you face losing even those audiences that did previously feel represented by you.

Not standing for something

Ultimately, people are looking for meaning. They want the brands they buy from and the organisations they engage with to stand for something. They want them to have values – ones that mean something to them, ones that they live by, not ones they simply pay lip-service to. 63% of people prefer to buy from brands with a strong sense of purpose, and 47% will change to one of your competitors if they feel you lack a sense of purpose.

This isn’t a time for empty platitudes and generic statements about bland core values similar to every other organisation on the planet. This is the time to nail your colours to the mast, to choose a stance on what’s really important to your organisation, what impact you want to have on the world, and then take meaningful actions towards that impact. This is the time to be publicly standing up for what you believe in, or no one will believe in you.

If you want to discuss how your marketing and communications can be more effective in 2021, get in touch.