By Wesley Bleed

How can we take what we learned in 2020 and fold that into our marketing strategy for 2021? Is it even possible, knowing that the pandemic turned the tables on everyone in virtually all industries and locations? Put it another way: if you knew then what you know now, what might you have changed? What difference would it have made? In many cases, we all did our best under the circumstances, but we could all have benefited from a bit more foresight and forethought. We tend to learn most when we examine not just what happened in the past, but why it might have happened.

In other words, facts are one thing, but mining those facts for clues as to what was driving the outcome is something else. When it came to 2020, we could see the disruption, the chaos and the empty store shelves, but deciding what it all meant was the difference between the companies that not only survived but thrived and those that did not. What seems most evident from 2020 is that few companies planned on the possibility their business would be completely shut down through no fault of their own. It was unthinkable. Who would have ever expected the type of catastrophic event that idled planes, forced restaurants to close and shut down schools? What’s the lesson? Anything can happen. And, by anything, that means ANY thing.

But few of us really believed that. Strategic thinking was not nearly expansive enough. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis? Who had ‘entire economy is shut down for months’ as a real threat? The lesson, then, for 2021 and beyond, is that all worst-case scenarios must include complete annihilation. When you start from that perspective, you can move up the scale to less devastating outcomes. But, don’t smooth over the various steps in between worst- and best-case scenarios.

Our theme for the 2021 WQA Convention & Exposition (Las Vegas, July 28-30) is IMAGINE. It’s clear now that we need to have greater imagination when it comes to all the ways our businesses might be affected by the next disaster. Was your supply chain solid at the beginning of 2020? How about in March? Was your workforce a tight-knit crew in January? How about in April, when work-from-home became the new normal?

Trends are nice. We all like to follow what the gurus are telling us about the economy and about our industry. But trends are long-term. They develop over time. The change in 2020, which may never happen quite the same way again, was instantaneous. Responses had to be just as quick. This is not to say that routine planning is no longer needed. We need to imagine a future as clearly as possible, making some guesses along the way. In addition, we must try to spot changes and trends as soon as possible to better prepare for the next shift that will one day occur. That’s why the collective mindset of WQA members is a powerful resource in such chaotic times. All of us are smarter than each of us on our own. It’s why we have heard from members how WQA proved its value many times over, especially during those dark days in March and April.

As we move forward into yet more uncertainty of 2021, we know two things for sure: change will continue to accelerate and those who are quickest to adapt will usually emerge more resilient and more prepared for the next unthinkable event. Oh, and one more thing: those who have survived 2020 will likely survive ANY thing they will encounter in 2021.

About the author
Wes Bleed is Membership, Marketing & Communications Director at the Water Quality Association. He can be reached via email at [email protected].


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