Running a business in 2020 has been anything but smooth sailing, and while hopes are high for a better 2021, there is no sure timeline for when things will be back to business as usual.

Throughout the ups and downs brought on by the pandemic, the businesses that have had the best success are the ones that have been able to successfully adapt their marketing and brand messaging to the times, including adjusting to virtual event and trade show formats and altering fundraising efforts.

One group that has stayed on top of positive trends in the world of marketing is CMA, the Clarksville Road-based communications, marketing, and association management firm. In a recent post on the company’s blog at www.cmasolutions.com/blog, experts gave their top five tips for successful marketing in the new year.

Christian Amato, CMA president, advises:

Plan in shorter increments. Focus on a few key areas of growth to ensure the highest return on investment (ROI). Begin by creating your marketing plan or updating your existing one with new goals and tactics for the year. Remember, adaptation will be key in 2021. That means you need to commit to and stick with an engaged review structure — weekly and monthly checkpoints in addition to your usual quarterly reviews to evaluate metrics. Keeping a close eye on your marketing priorities and knowing which tactics are essential and which can be cut back will save time and money in the long run, as well as prevent impulsive decisions if cuts need to be made.

When it comes to planning your 2021 marketing budget, consider preparing it in quarterly increments. That will allow you to maximize your planned spends, ensuring you are staying nimble and using your resources wisely.

In addition, marketing and sales will need to be tightly aligned in the coming year, which may require adjusting your sales funnel with a focus on digital marketing. Lean on your sales team to find out what types of content resources they need to gain leads. They should be sharing your interactive content, infographics, case studies and blogs with prospects.

Lynn Powell, chief marketing officer, says:

Branding: Review your messaging. As much as we want life and work to go back to normal, the first half of 2021 is likely going to be more of the same. If you have not yet developed a strong online presence, it is critical that you build your online brand. Your online presence will take the place of trade shows and in-person events for at least the first half of 2021. That means you will need to focus on opening a dialog and conversation with your customers and prospects across all of your touchpoints.

Begin by reviewing your website. Your website plays a significant role in impacting your customers’ experience with your brand. You can’t create a top-notch user experience unless you know who your customers are, what they want and where they are coming from. Consider the following questions: How can you send the right messaging to the right target audience? Does your branding resonate with your audience? Does it reflect the new ways of doing business?

In today’s interconnected world, your website is supported by your social media presence, and your social content is the conversation your potential customers and prospects will have with your brand. This is your chance to talk about all of the things that are important to your brand, developing your brand voice and ensuring that your brand promise is being upheld.

What you deliver through social media, digital advertising and email marketing campaigns are all part of your customer’s brand experience, and these are the ways you will gain new customers and break into new markets. In 2021, stay strong in your branding consistency.

Create a fully immersive omnichannel experience for your targeted customers and ensure that your brand promise is being delivered in every single touchpoint of your marketing efforts, as well as in your customer’s brand experience — in store, in print or digitally.

Omair Siddiqui, digital strategy specialist says:

Digital Marketing: Segment your audiences. In 2021, several tried and true pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies will hold strong — however; there’s bound to be some shifts in best practices as updates are revealed and algorithms change.

As digital marketing continues to evolve; consumers will continue to be offered ads and content that fit exactly what they are searching for. In 2021, that will mean using artificial intelligence (AI) and personalization in everything you do to help understand user intent. For PPC, use automation, voice search optimization, video ads and explore alternative platforms, such as Amazon, Quora and LinkedIn to create micro-targeted campaigns.

Use search intent optimization to set your business up for success. With it, you’ll achieve better organic search results, get qualified leads to your website, position your company as an authority and improve brand awareness. After all, Google wants users to receive relevant, verified data. Search intent optimization is the way you give the right answer to your audience when they are searching for it. Focus on four types of search intents — informational, commercial, transactional and local.

Be sure to claim or regularly update your free Google My Business (GMB) listing. Make sure your address, phone number, website and hours of operation are accurate. Then look at other directories where your business is listed and update the information accordingly to ensure that it is consistent across Google’s local search landscape. Consider embedding a Google Maps marker in your home page to help turn local leads into customers.

Video marketing has been on the rise in 2020 and will continue to grow in 2021. Use it in your content marketing and leverage video to improve SEO. Video ads will be the new PPC trend. Not only does video allow you to build a personality for your brand and company, but it also generates traffic to your website, keeps visitors engaged longer and encourages prospects to move down the sales funnel.

Search engines like Google are crawling for content that engages viewers — nothing entices them more than video. Consider embedding videos on your FAQ page or incorporating a paid ad into your marketing strategy through a 15-30 second pre-roll YouTube video that targets your audience by location or by keywords.

Ken Hitchner, director of content strategy, says:

Public Relations: Provide valuable content. In 2021, thoughtful, quality content will remain as the number one way to get your target audience to your website. Create customer-focused content that is honest and impartial, offering solutions to your customers’ problems. That will ultimately drive profitable customer action, especially during these trying times.

Business has always been about problem-solving, but COVID-19 has added uncertainty. In 2021, you need to double-down on being helpful to your target audiences. Now is the time to position your brand as part of the solution. Remember, people do business with people they like. And people like people who help them.

When the Paycheck Protection Program was launched earlier this year as a lifeblood for small businesses, CMA positioned its client, First Bank, as a thought leader who served as the mouthpiece for all community banks in the nation. More than 35 media outlets agreed, ranging from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNBC and CBS News.

As a result, our client’s ability to help others generated a reach of 520.5 million in just two weeks for its brand. If your audience trusts you, they will buy from you. Afterall, people will always buy your story before they buy your stuff. Once a large enough number of prospects trust your brand, sales will follow.

That’s why branding is so important today — a brand is really just a story that makes a promise, meaning it sets expectations. Telling your story will reinforce what makes your brand unique by speaking to the audience in a way data and numbers can’t compare.

Kelly Potts, social media specialist, says:

Social Media: Leverage stories for your business. Now more than ever, people want genuine connections with the brands and businesses they follow. With the rise of short-form video content and viewers’ wish to relate to the brands and businesses they follow on social media, incorporating stories for your business is an important practice to incorporate into your 2021 marketing plan. Stories, available on major social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, allow businesses to show their personality and portray their value in a quick, easy-to-digest and engaging way.

Start your stories strategy from a growth mindset to encourage engagement, learn about your followers and grow your business. It’s important to diversify your content to keep the attention of your target audience, which may be as simple as taking advantage of a new feature, such as stories on an existing platform.

Remember, stories that look too planned will miss the mark. They are meant to be “raw” and authentic, humanizing your business. Since they disappear in 24 hours, use the vanishing posts to spread the word about new products or to create a sense of urgency by offering a promotion.

Some topics to weave into your stories for your business can include:

• Behind-the-scenes content of employees at work or projects underway

• Customer reviews and testimonials

• Sneak previews of exciting new launches or sales

• Quick tips and mini trainings from your employees

• Information about your company and values

• Employee highlights

• Additional resources like blog posts, webinars, downloadables

• Q&A with the faces behind your brand

• Content such as blogs or case studies packaged into bite-sized snippets

There is still a lot of uncertainty for 2021 and planning your marketing strategy will likely be more challenging than it has been in past years. But if you are prepared to pivot and adjust your strategy as needed, that is the first step to creating a winning formula.

In the end, it all comes back to content. Content marketing tells your story, showcases your authority and delivers high quality leads. Whether you are posting an in-depth blog, a video tutorial or an off-the-cuff story, strategy is key.

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