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Are you starting to think about 2021 planning? Is your annual planning calendar giving you a big case of agita this year?
Planning for 2021 Without a Plan


As we recently articulated in our Business Recovery Playbook for Marketing Leaders, important questions abound.  Will you simply be tweaking your marketing and digital experience plans? Or completely rethinking them for a changed world?  Do you have the data you need to make informed decisions? The insights from your customers and sales force? Do you have a sounding board to challenge and question your assumptions? Do you have scenarios planned out? Most of all, do you feel confident in your approach and trajectory?  

So what to do about this unprecedented moment in our lifetimes?

One approach, as recently mentioned by WARC, is exemplified by State Farm who “is adapting to a ‘perpetual planning cycle’ that has resulted from the disruption which has transformed the marketing environment in 2020.” State Farm’s marketing concentration in sports and events, and the ever-changing dynamic of those platforms, has created the need for almost constant adjustment and re-allocation of their budgets in almost perpetual fashion.

And while each of us needs to be more agile, responsive and ‘perpetual’ in our planning approach, and there is merit to State Farm’s approach for what is right in front of us, there is still a need to look further ahead beyond the now to the next.  You can be assured that your top competitors are most certainly doing so.

With this very real competitive threat in mind, it can be useful to look around to understand why some companies may be thriving while others are writhing.  While the easy thing to do is to write off those successes, like Amazon, as an irrelevant and at times annoying business ‘unicorn’, there are a few principles that can be derived from this success that are even more relevant and useful now than ever before.

Jeff Bezos has developed a brilliantly simple and time-tested framework for planning in times of uncertainty. It’s decidedly not based on trends, world events, what’s changing, etc.  Rather, in defiance, it’s based and rooted in what’s not changing. As Mr. Bezos eloquently quoted many years ago:  

“I very frequently get the question: 'What's going to change in the next 10 years?' And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: 'What's not going to change in the next 10 years?' And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. ...[In] our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that's going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It's impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, 'Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,' [or] 'I love Amazon; I just wish you'd deliver a little more slowly.' Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

If you have never heard this quote before, you might want to take a moment to marinate on it.  It is how Amazon has made seemingly brilliant ‘bets’ with its ever-increasing array of products, services, experiences and technologies. It’s how their business has thrived during a pandemic.  It’s how they’ve become one of the most valuable and revered companies in the world as they make big investments in fundamental aspects of human wants and needs.

Identify Your Unchanging Truths

In the face of 2021, a once-in-a-century pandemic, changing policies/regulations and fast evolving consumer behavior create a perfect storm of disruption, planning angst and inertia.  But in your business, your customer experience and your marketing, there are some stable ‘unchanging truths’ that you can anchor to.  In the Bezos retail example, these truths included things like ‘fast delivery’, ‘lower prices’ and ‘vast selection’.  Identifying these unchanging truths and rallying your efforts around them can create both clarity and advantage for you in the short and long term.

Here is an example of some unchanging truths in the financial services industry:                      

future proof

These are the rocks that you can anchor business, CX and marketing strategy around. And filters to remember when planning and roadmapping for 2021: does it improve, increase or impact one of these unchanging truths?

So, as you are contemplating 2021 planning, consider not just the disruption happening around you, but the unchanging truths that you can anchor your energy, business strategy and investments against for both the near and long term.

What are the unchanging truths in your industry? How will your experience provide more ease, value, etc. to your prospects and customers?

With this context, you will see more clearly and confidently into the future.  You can de-risk your planning efforts and focus on things you KNOW will be true tomorrow, next year and 5 years down the road.  Being mindful of the unchanging truths in your business is the right way to bring order to the chaos of this disruptive moment in time.

We hope with this advice you will help you plan better, execute better and sleep better with confidence that your investments are laddered up against the right walls.