Should you consider 2020 when planning your 2021 go-to-market strategy?

2020 has been a year like no other and, for better or worse, we’re nearing its end. But one thing’s the same as usual: the end of the year is a good time to reflect on the trends of the past, and create a strategy for the year to come.

This year, those trends are likely to include some big changes in your business and industry. That makes the practice of taking stock of what you’ve learned even more important as you build your strategy for 2021. Here are a few tips for compiling the information you need to craft a solid strategy.

Planning Your 2021 Strategy: How to Learn from 2020

1. Pay attention to year-end roundup posts and articles.

November and December inevitably bring lots of content that looks back on the preceding year. From best-of lists, to prediction posts, to roundups of top trends, this type of content is common on business blogs and in industry publications. And these pieces are a good way to get some glimpses into what the other great minds in your industry see as the main takeaways of this year.

Make a point to look for these articles in the main publications you follow, and click anytime you see one come across your feed. Make note of the trends and topics that get mentioned the most often. You’ll end up with a decent picture of what people in your space are thinking about and expecting in the year to come.

2. Check the feeds of top influencers in your space.

Influencers achieve that status for a reason. Usually if someone in your space has a lot of followers or frequently gives talks at industry events, it’s because they’ve developed a deep expertise in the industry and have compelling ideas to share. That makes them a good source for measuring the pulse of the industry.

If you don’t already know who your top industry influencers are, do some research to identify them. You can use an influencer marketing tool like BuzzSumo to see who the top influencers on social media are in your industry, or look at the speaker roster for the big conferences in your space to see which names show up the most.

Now spend some time checking their websites and social feeds to see what they’re talking about. Do certain topics come up repeatedly? Do they bring up some main technological innovations that are starting to play a bigger role in your industry? What trends are they worried about, and which are they excited about?

3. Pay attention to the topics covered at industry events. 

Another good way to learn what people in your industry are thinking about is by looking at event topics. What are speakers talking about at the main conferences in your space? What webinar topics do you see showing up in your inbox, or coming across your social feeds? Look up meetups or events put on by relevant organizations in your space to see what themes they most often focus on.

The organizers of all these events are doing their best to address the common concerns and questions your audience has. That makes them a useful source for learning what people are dealing with now, and what kind of challenges they expect in the months to come.

4. Keep an eye on trending stories in industry publications.

A lot of blogs and industry publications share which articles are the most popular. That tells you something valuable about what your colleagues and audience are paying the most attention to. Beyond just paying attention to what topics they’re covering, for any website that shares the information, look at which ones are getting the most clicks and shares.

5. Search for research reports on consumer sentiment and behavior in your industry.

A lot of companies have been working to develop surveys and original research about how people are thinking and feeling in the midst of the pandemic. That data is valuable for helping you understand how your audience is thinking, feeling, and behaving—and how it’s changed since the pandemic started earlier this year. Seek out relevant research reports and review their findings.

6. Perform a competitive analysis.

You have a lot to learn from your competitors. For one thing, they’re likely experiencing a lot of the same developments you are—whether that’s meant an uptick in interest and sales since the start of the pandemic, a severe drop, or more of the same. And they’re also paying attention to the same audience—trying to stay on top of what their worries, concerns, and likely behaviors in the coming months will be.

By tracking their marketing efforts, you can learn what their research suggests your audience is thinking. And paying attention to any changes you can find in their business model, such as new pricing models or product offerings, can give you some insight into how they’re adapting and evolving with the industry.

7. Review internal data on marketing and sales trends.

On top of all the external sources you turn to for data, use your own internal data. Most of the tools you use for marketing and sales provide metrics that will help you understand how audience behavior has changed in the past year. Is your marketing content performing as well as it did before? Are certain topics earning more clicks and downloads? How do trial signups, purchases, and renewals compare to prior years?

Looking at the trends in what’s come before for your own company will give you some idea of what to expect in the coming year. You can better craft a strategy based on what’s working, and focus your efforts on the kind of tactics your audience is responding to.

8. Listen to your customers.

Everything in these other steps will help you understand what direction your industry is heading in, some of the likely changes to expect, and what your audience cares about. But nothing’s quite as valuable as going directly to the source.

Pay attention to what your audience is saying on public platforms like social media and in customer reviews. But also reach out to customers directly to set up interviews. Prepare a list of questions informed by all the other research you’ve done, and talk to them about their current habits, interests, needs, and concerns. Learn what you can about their plans and expectations for the coming year.

Put What You Learn to Use

Information gathering is just step one. Now you have to put what you’ve learned to work in the strategy you create. One thing this year taught us is that you can’t predict everything. 2021 may throw some unpredictable curveballs your way. But while you can’t know everything, you can still create a more effective strategy by using what you can know. Use what you’ve learned as a starting point to analyze your market, and brainstorm opportunities and ideas for the year to come.

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