2021 - the Year of the Yoga Budget

Happy Pongal to you! Or sankranti, or lohri or your favourite version. I celebrated with an oats, nut milk and stevia edition of the traditional sweet pongal, made in an instant pot. 2020 taught me that I don’t really tolerate rice or sugar and there’s no rolling back that knowledge.

On the marketing front 2020 was a power packed school of hard knocks too. Businesses scrambled to remove their dependence on in-person meetings, customer-care, conferences and demos. Mostly by offering a digital equivalent to transact or research. When COVID-19 remains a bad memory, will we have to roll back all these changes and return to 2020? I doubt it.

The troubles of 2020 burst on us pretty much out of the blue. Coping with it was not a part of anyone’s plan or budgeting process. But 2021 is different. The vaccine is here. Yay! But it remains uncertain as to how soon – or how late – we will see a return to handshakes, hugs and, even, conferences. Predictions range from April to December – a pretty wide band, and it would vary based on which country and also what the weather looks like. Plus, there’s still uncertainty as to how long the vaccine will work, how soon it will start bringing down transmission rates, and whether it will work against future mutations. So, businesses – and individuals – have to model their forecasts factoring a whole bunch of these variables.

If last year you scrambled to allocate your events spend to say, content marketing, this year you might have to do the reverse. If you saved money by not travelling, you might be caught off guard because your newly vaccinated clients want to meet you. This is going to be the year of the yoga budget – super flexible and agile!

One of the things we should not unlearn is the need for a solid digital presence. We need to continue to invest in “content magnets” – elements that attract a potential audience to your brand, in addition to the transaction channels.

Content magnets are not focused on demand generation or call to action. They are intended to spike the interest of your potential customers by sharing a useful or intriguing story or information. Most of us would have forgotten pH after our high school chemistry lab. But Sebamed has made it the topic of breakfast table conversations. Sure, if you’re not facing any skin problems this topic would not resonate, but if you are, if you believe you have sensitive skin, then it would definitely make you want to know more. For a niche pharmacy brand, that’s a pretty big achievement. Should they have taken on Unilever? It was probably the best way to get attention. At double the price they are not a serious competitor to a mainstream brand – but they can become a top-of-mind choice for the users of specialist products. Even that would double their marketshare.

At some point during the lockdown you probably either downloaded Duolingo or thought about learning a new language. The app is what it is – I’m an on-and-off learner. But they do have a fascinating series of free podcasts in Spanish dealing with topics like robbery, hostages as well as hope. The idea is to make you fall in love with the language before you acquire proficiency. The podcasts don’t sell, but of course you know who makes them.

I find the Think with Google newsletters fascinating and useful. They’re short, well designed and well-written.  Without ever selling they do build up my respect for Google. I wonder if Facebook has an equivalent? Would it help them in (re)building their reputation and stemming the flight to alternatives? BTW, Viber from Rakuten is a feature-rich alternative to Whatsapp. Again, it could benefit from a better content strategy to be in the consideration set.

Content magnets don’t sell. They just draw attention to useful information.

I digress. We were discussing the need for a yoga budget. Once it is safe to do so businesses and individuals will want to meet people and see the world outside their homes. They’ll want to do the things that they have missed. So plan your budget in a way that you might be able to bring back some of the popular in-person programs at least in the OND quarter. And maybe start talking about them right now – give people something to look forward to. For example, you could have an awards dinner planned for November 2021 but start the selection process online right now. You may want to segment your marketing plan as “online-only”, “hybrid”, “in-person” and categorize activities and probability accordingly.

One of my bosses continually drummed “control your variables’ into my head.  For example, when you host a physical event, you can’t control how many of your confirmations actually show up on the day. But you can control the number of chairs you place in the room. So if you put in 75% of the expected turnout, you’ll look like a ‘full house’ even if 80% show up. Contrast that with planning for a 100% acceptance and dealing with the empty chairs!

And if you’re wondering yes, I have started practising yoga. Online. But at this early stage of my journey, my planning is way more agile and nimble than me 🙂

Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy year ahead.

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