Last June (1 human year ago/7 dog years ago) I wrote a post that led with this:
These are turbulent times—maybe the most turbulent times in our lives—yet there is also a calm about it if we take time being mindful about everything around us—and not jump to action (or inaction).
I believe it’s still pretty good advice today—despite this past year feeling like 7 (human) years–which is telling because this past year was the craziest in most of our lifetimes and might inspired a “jump” of a different kind (i.e. out of a building or off a bridge).
And if you’re reading this you didn’t go there…thank goodness. ☺
I didn’t write it as an excuse to be impulsive or complacent during turbulent times; rather it was simply a call to arms to be thoughtful at all times.
With COVID 19 (mostly) in our rearview mirror, I thought it was a good time to review where we were a year ago and tweak the advice I gave you a year ago (always with an eye towards the future).
Actually this post is less tweaking and more additive.
My approach over the past year—and it was shared by many of you based on what you have communicated with me—was to stop, look and listen…make no hasty decisions…which could only create controversial options (euphemism for “a bad idea at the time”).
I was not (and I am still not) recommending procrastination…just looking for the best way to map out a plan for tough times and good times alike.
Whether you wanted to launch (or did launch) anything into the middle of COVID, or whether you marched or protested to make changes to what you think may be unfair, or whether you decided to invest (or pull out) of the economy altogether, I maintain that a decision based on listening carefully first and then assess carefully with the most and best information is way better than any knee jerk reaction to anything.
That’s not to say we should all sit on our hands and not be involved with our businesses, a righteous cause, or our money…it just has to be done with lots of listening which leads to knowledge…which then leads to wisdom.
A good friend of mine, Richard Thau, who is a political researcher and does focus groups around the country, said to me sometime before the election (less than 7 dog years ago) that people on polar opposites—for example those who watch MSNBC or FOX News only—are a small percentage of the overall population.
The vast majority get their news from their local stations where they live.
That hit me like a ton of bricks…since living in the New York area creates an overload and a bias on everything.
Which is not better and certainly doesn’t make me smarter or better informed.
In fact, I am probably less informed with all the noise.
It is like this cartoon that shows a New Yorker’s view of the world…that everything west of the Hudson River is irrelevant—even New Jersey.
You get the idea.
So rather than curl up in a corner over the last year, I’ve been branching out over the last year–the equivalent of China, Japan, Russia (i.e. whatever is beyond the Hudson River) by creating many more opportunities for folks around the world with the expansion of my Titans Xcelerator mastermind (throughout the pandemic) and the recent launch of the “Breakthrough Advertising Quickstart Bootcamp” just recently.
Virtual groups have their advantages…as does stopping, looking and listening.
And while I’ve heard from many of you regarding struggles you have gone through over the past year, it seemed like a “struggle with hope” (rather than total despair) because you stayed in action and didn’t simply throw your hands up in surrender.
And without making it sound callous, many of you told me you had your best year ever.
Some in terms of profit…some in terms of impact…and many in terms of both.
That’s not just due to a “pivot” (definitely the word of the year).
It happened because of the perpetual pivot we embrace as thoughtful direct response marketers, copywriters, world class business owners and entrepreneurs—we are always pivoting, and we can pivot with increased intensity during rough patches.
In fact I am lobbying for a new definition of “pivot,” for marketers, changing it to “perpetual pivot.”
That won’t happen in Wikipedia or in the Merriam-Webster dictionary but it is now part of the lexicon for marketers…and it will be a permanent entry in the encyclopedia for marketers which we are always revising…especially post-pandemic.
Here are some things I heard from you (and elsewhere) a year ago whether on webinars, group calls, reading a lot and writing a lot—updated for today–and on into the future.
Dan Kennedy in 2009
I’ll start with the 3 things Dan Kennedy shared after the 2008 recession which are relevant during any chaotic time.
The theme for all of these is that a year ago we got locked into a “forced recession” but nothing is permanent…and everything is cyclical…and the basic rules of business growth are forever.
1. Don’t allow what’s going on to paralyze you
Right now is the best time to be a marketer.
I could have said that when I began my career in 1981, last year at this time…and today.
Since there will be no shortage of new technology and innovation in all areas of media, copy, offer creation etc., the present will always be the best time to be a marketer.
That’s not a pollyannaish view of marketing. It’s reality.
And whatever the market conditions, you have every tool of that ever increasing technology and innovation in your tool box.
Not to mention your experience, resources and relationships.
And if your competition is panicking, frozen and hiding in a closet, you have a chance to solidify your position in the marketplace with all of those tools at your disposal.
2. Work harder
I didn’t entirely agree with this one when I read it relative to the pandemic because many of us were under stay-at-home orders for at least 3 months…and simply pounding away at the same thing (i.e. working harder) when the same thing wasn’t working didn’t seem to make sense.
Oh wait…we did work harder within those constraints and created different ways to run our businesses.
Because we are on a perpetual pivot.
That isn’t necessarily working harder–but it is working smarter.
And read on to see how some companies did that most convincingly.
3. Fix any fundamental flaws
Dan’s take on a recession is that it exposes flaws in your business that were already there…it’s just that you were still able to make money despite those flaws.
The same can be said for a pandemic.
And one company’s unexpected “slow period” while they figure out a new normal is another company’s “maintenance period” with some free thinking time and possibly hiring a handyman or two to do some fixin’…and growin’.
Experts on the outside might be less busy…but they haven’t lost their smarts due to inactivity.
4. Clean your room
Oops, there are 4 now…and this one is mine.
Use some of that flaw finding time to create less clutter in your surroundings (your office, your home, wherever) which will free you up for more looking and listening which I guarantee will add to your productivity.
And make time for some research (i.e. “marketing by walking around”).
Walking around on Zoom works too.
People were testier as the year wore on
But how much more testy were they a year ago compared to right now?
Or even before the pandemic?
There are always troublemaker customers and prospects…was it more pronounced over the past year?
Looking back I guess they were…or so it seemed because everyone was shut in and had more time to think and stew and complain…but testy did not translate to buying less or a desire to learn less.
In fact, those of us who tapped into their emotional state over the past year found one of the most responsive audiences in the history of marketing (and that is not hyperbole).
It was strange to think about the country’s pent up anxiety, depression and anger in the context of “marketing opportunities”…but those emotions make strange bedfellows in the context of sales and marketing.
Not in an exploitative way either.
For every marketer I heard complaining about this “testiness” in the marketplace, there were five others coming up with solutions for that testiness…creating products and services to quell the angry crowd with calmness…and a new “tone” for the times.
And that has transitioned over the last year to less testiness in the marketplace with the same level of care, concern and empathy for our customers.
Change for the better and for the long term.
Just how we like it.
Maybe the anger was a function of more people with more time on their hands to rant.
The key is to respond with care and empathy which is universal and never goes out of style.
Moving live events to virtual events
This was not just a trend or pivot over the last year.
It was—and continues to be–a fundamental shift made by the most innovative entrepreneurs who knew they had to go big or go home.
And they went big by going into the homes of their clients (or potential clients) from their own homes (or a “COVID friendly studio”), with a superior version of a long standing successful model, perfect for a time where virtual was their only choice.
In many cases these online (from previously offline) events surpassed the live events originally conceived in most of the key metrics:
- More attendees (from more parts of the world)
- More interaction (with hosts and sponsors/vendors)
- More money (in sales at the events)
- Lower costs without being a cheapskate on giveaways, bonuses and the like (although you might have had to pay up for a deluxe Zoom account ☺)
I wrote about the advantages of virtual events over live events in “Information…inspiration…or just lunch?” –not as a replacement but as an evolutionary change in how events had to be done during COVID…and why they are now here to stay.
While I don’t think these virtual events will replace live events completely, the industry created a new capability that can never be taken away…done through innovation and courage…and confidence to keep improving on a “must do” (i.e. the only way to do a live event) to a “want to do” (when it is no longer a requirement to do them that way).
Put more simply, it’s another “AND” in the marketing mix, not an “OR.”
Kind of like what email did for direct mail…although that was a bit more extreme. ☺
Some quick numbers (although I encourage you to read “Information…inspiration” if you haven’t previously):
Many of the events I’m referring to (pre-pandemic) ranged from 500 to 2,000 attendees live……and when they had to go 100% virtual, attendance increased as much as 50% to 200%. Along with increased stick rates (i.e. how long the audience stayed online).
How’s that for a meaningful win-win pivot?
Also—smaller mastermind groups are doing the same thing…with groups of 10 to 50 (or more)—with similar results in terms of participation, interaction (I love Zoom breakout rooms!) and usefulness despite not having a selling or enrollment component to them.
What changed during COVID here?
Just more of them…and better…keying on current events…going “live” more often than pre-recorded…and over-delivering on content and value.
That’s always a prescription for success, whether virtual or live.
Being quarantined doesn’t mean you need to be alone
Simply put, despite being in your cabin, with or without cabin fever for most of the last year, that was (and still is) never a reason not to contribute and connect with the world outside.
In terms of marketing, this past year was like any other, a year of experimentation with both resounding successes and tremendous learning (and note that I didn’t say failures).
In fact, I will say that this past year was learning on steroids…with a possible vaccination mixed in.
Keep listening to your fellow innovative marketers and your customers (and your online and offline families) to continue to develop new thinking about what is trending now to figure out what might be trending in the near future.
That is always an eternal truth.
And a perpetual pivot.
With all of that said, you still cannot be tone deaf to the problems and issues we have all faced over the past year—whether you heard it from your customers or from your marketing brothers and sisters.
But stopping, looking and listening—then adding care and empathy—is the best way to create order from chaos.
I refuse to be paralyzed by what is going on around me and I encourage you to do the same.
Seize the day.
Then seize next month.
Then seize next year (pandemic or no pandemic).
And then seize every year (and decade) thereafter.