One year ago, could you have predicted that our economy would come roaring back and that more than half of the U.S. adult population would be vaccinated against COVID-19? I sure didn’t. As we approach the midyear point in 2021, I am grateful for family, friends, co-workers, and our clients at a time when many people have suffered loss. This is also a humbling time. In 2020, many business owners were facing uncertain futures. It was not easy to understand what was around the corner, and sometimes we were flat-out wrong when we attempted to look ahead. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say we’ve learned some things. I have shared below some of my own lessons learned based on my experiences at True Interactive:
1 Conventional Wisdom Is Flawed
Conventional wisdom says that during uncertain times, people save more and live cautiously. And during the pandemic, people did save. But they also spent. (And invested — the stock market soared.) Consumers spent in ways that make sense in hindsight, but not necessarily so at time. For example, consider the surge in spending on home maintenance and groceries as people in lockdown focused on home repair projects and learning how to cook. Or think of the surge in short-term travel. Americans could not board airplanes and go to far-flung places (especially big cities), but they did take shorter trips to smaller towns and parks. That’s a reason why Airbnb saw a big turnaround in its business later in 2020 after suffering a downturn initially. Businesses that allowed conventional wisdom to dictate their decisions were in for a surprise.
2 Predicting Future Behavior Can Be Dangerous
There was no blueprint for predicting how people would behave and how businesses would make decisions during a global pandemic. When a national emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, in the United States, agencies such as True Interactive could have been forgiven for predicting hard times ahead. After all, during uncertain and difficult times, businesses often scale back their advertising and marketing budgets. But that didn’t happen to us, thank goodness. I could not have predicted that our digital media clients would experience a spike in demand – not once, but many times in 2020. I could not have predicted that one of our clients, a photo-sharing app, would benefit from people living in lockdown and spending more time at home working on craft projects. And certainly the predictions of economists were not useful. The pandemic required businesses to think differently. To be flexible and agile – relying less on long-term predicting and more on agile planning, meaning that we constantly examined our performance, keeping an open mind to revising our plans from one month to the next.
3 Real-Time Analytics Rule
I mentioned that we needed to be more agile in our thinking. We could do that because we relied on real-time analytics — data such as clients’ conversions and website traffic that told us just how well they were performing. As I mentioned, our digital media clients saw spikes in demand. Fortunately, they were watching their numbers in real time just as we were watching their digital ad performance in real time. The analytics did not lie: those clients were doing just fine during the pandemic. Not everyone was, though, as anyone in the travel and tourism industry can attest. The reality of 2020 is that each industry was affected differently, and even inside industries, businesses were affected in different ways. Many retailers suffered greatly, but others prospered because they benefitted from services such as curbside pickup. The truth was in the real-time numbers. Anyone who relied on historic data was at a disadvantage.
Real-time analytics are serving us well now. We know that travel and tourism is back – not because of what we read in the news, but what our client data says.
Onward in 2021
At True Interactive, we continue to grow thanks to great clients and an incredibly talented and committed team. And we will continue to learn – together. In real time. What are your lessons learned?