{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: 2020 Year in Review

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris look at the year that was: the highs, the lows, the lessons learned. What allowed companies to survive? What doomed others? How did some of our beloved practices like forecasting fare? And what should we think about changing for 2021?

Pull up a chair, grab your beverage of choice, and let’s give 2020 the send-off it merits.


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: 2020 Year in Review

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Christopher Penn 0:02
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Reach out to us today at Trust slash contact to learn more, again, that’s Trust slash contact in this week’s in In-Ear Insights it is the end of year it is the end of a was simultaneously a very fast and very, very, very long year filled with more changes that anyone could have forecasted last time this year, we were all had these, you know, grand marketing based silly things like 2020 vision and stuff and then the world prepared for it irrevocably changed.

So we’re looking back this year at the year that was and some of the things that stood out.

So Katie, what, beyond the most obvious thing, the pandemic? What are the things that stood out for you this year from a marketing and business perspective?

Katie Robbert 1:43
Um, you know, I think the thing that stood out was really the agility.

Um, you know, how quickly can marketing teams adapt? How quickly can they, you know, become a relevant part of a conversation versus just, you know, being five days behind, you know, how quickly can we all adapt to different trends? You know, I saw an article yesterday about the top Christmas gifts this year, and I saw a couple of things on there that I was a little bit surprised to see.

I think one of them was like a Mr.

Coffee, like coffeemaker was one of the top Christmas gifts this year.

And it’s, that doesn’t strike me as very Christmassy, like, as a gift.

But it might make sense.

People are home all the time and making coffee all the time.

So it’s like, How quickly can we adapt to what’s actually going on versus what we had planned? One of the things, Chris, that we had planned for this year, and we had started to roll it out what were quarterly Predictive Analytics reports available for marketers to be able to use in their content planning and their ad spend planning.

We rolled it out literally the day after the pandemic started.

And I remember very clearly, we got an email from someone saying, I don’t need this right now.

I’m getting 1000s of emails about, you know, the pandemic or the Coronavirus.

It was very it was early March.

And it just struck me is like, man, we really got that one wrong.

Christopher Penn 3:18
We did, but again, it I think this year really did a a painfully fantastic job of explaining the limits of some of what you can do with data and forecasting.

You know, we have said for years, go back and watch all our old keynotes from his early back as like 2014.

We’re starting to talk about this stuff first, that black swan events, you know, those unusual events are things that break predictive forecasts.

And this was like a 700 pound SWOT.

This will bite your arm off.

And it showed it showed because it changed everyone’s behaviors, business people.

You know, for me, one of the things that I always look at when you’re looking at any kind of crisis situation is I take the tack that crisis amplifies what’s already there.

So people who are good become better people who are bad become worse and situations that your companies get tested to see if they are strong enough to adapt.

And we saw plenty of companies this year look to your point about agility that weren’t fast enough and strong enough to to make it and we saw plenty of companies that did that innovated that found the way out.

We saw lots of people you know you and I’ve been working from home for three years now.

And I’ve been homeschooling my kids for 15 years.

So you know that to me was not new.

But a bunch of other things were new.

I finally get to you know, not be a complete freak wearing a mask.

Katie Robbert 4:54
You know, and it definitely says something to sort of, you know, you’ve always been a full retail anchor in technology in marketing, but also it sounds like just in your, you know, everyday life, you’re always trying to be one step ahead.

And what also strikes me is the amount of companies.

So we were just talking about how we got the timing wrong on one of the things we were rolling out.

But also, in some ways, the tone deafness of a lot of the messaging and, you know, trying to exploit what was going on in order to have some sort of like, you know, cutesy snappy, like marketing campaign.

And, you know, given the amount of devastation that we’ve experienced this year, it just feels wrong.

You know, that like sort of tongue in cheek, Chris, you pull the data on the most overused words.

And a lot of them were like, unprecedented, and so on and so forth.

But the fact that those are overused, because people are trying to use them to sell you something.

It’s just, it just feels wrong.

And I think that, you know, when we reflect on this year, one of the things that we know, from asking our audience from asking our network is that people are exhausted, because everybody was at home this year, marketing teams really only had digital media to work with digital channels, emails, social ads, you know, millions upon millions upon millions of pieces of content more than was planned, probably because they had nothing else that they had, you know, to serve up to their community.

And it just I think you’re right, we’ve absolutely seen this year, sort of our limits, the limits of certain teams, the limits of certain companies, our own personal limits, in terms of what we’re capable of giving, but also what we’re capable of taking in.

And I think that we need to remember that moving into next year of, you know, we’re starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not out of it yet.

And so at least for the time being, we have to have more empathy and be more mindful of everybody around us, not just you know, how many dollars can we bring in?

Christopher Penn 7:09
mindful and the thing, the other thing is intentional, when I look at my to do list and this year, like the Louis the first page is all stuff that I didn’t get to, you know, all the client work got done.

All the priority stuff got done, but as a bunch of things like coding projects, and things that are just kind of languishing on the list.

And that is, because, at least I don’t myself, personally have not been intentional enough about saying, nope, this hour of the week, I’m just going to work on a coding project, regardless of what’s going on in the no meetings during that block, etc.

And I feel like in talking with others, a lot of other people are in that situation to where they haven’t been as intentional enough in in their work as they want to be.

And they’re kind of like, it will be your got away from me, I’ve we’ve talked to a lot of people, a lot of clients, like, yeah, the year just got away from us.

And we have one client, right, that’s trying to scramble to make up ground.

because there wasn’t that I was presence of mind throughout the year to keep an eye on the analytics, keep an eye on the data and go and you know, as best as you can forecast and go, Okay, this is kind of where we’re going to be by the end of the year, instead of going on December one, Ah, no, we aren’t, you know, minus 40%.

To our goal, we should try to fix that in the next 31 days.

Katie Robbert 8:26
You know, it’s interesting.

Mindfulness is not something that comes easily.

And I think that one of the reasons why we’ve all struggled to do things with intention and to do things mindfully is that we’re literally just taking it day by day, and every day feels like there’s a brand new dumpster fire every day, there’s a new crisis.

Every day, there’s a new this, there’s a new that, and it doesn’t really give us that space, to be mindful.

And I think that, you know, yes, we can create it.

But at the same time, we kind of feel guilty about taking that time when there’s so many other things on fire.

And so I know that for us, we usually try to take, you know, a couple of days every quarter to just sort of say, what did we do? What do we want to do? And we’ve skipped over that this year, we’ve just kind of like, continue to go through, like, what are we doing today? Let’s get this done.

Let’s get this done.

And it’s partly survival.

And it’s partly just, we’re emotionally physically exhausted and don’t have the resources to create that mindfulness and to create that space in order to think through what do we intentionally want to be doing?

Christopher Penn 9:34
It’s true and a lot of that, you know, when you listen to wellness folks is about you know, enforcing that creating those boundaries, making those boundaries exist, but also is, you know, if you think about sort of your own internal resources, like a bank account, now this this year overdrew, everyone, right? So you know, what of finance experts say when when you’re essentially starting overs is start small, but be you know, be be vigilant about it.

So okay, yeah, we can’t, we know we don’t have the the wherewithal to do a two day retreat every quarter, right? Let’s start with an hour, let’s start with an hour where like, this is our hour and nothing other than like a trip to the ER, this is gonna change that.

And you start to build back your fortunes, you know, anybody who’s watching who’s who is legitimately, you know, done the rags to riches a couple of times, you know, without having to rely on on unsavory means they start small, they find something they latch on to, and they grow it and they grow it, and they get back to where they were, maybe they even exceed where they were.

I think, you know, when you look back at 2020, you’re right, we spent down a lot of our emotional and mental resources, and we didn’t invest a whole lot.

There was there were limited opportunities to invest and and there’s not something I think people had in mind.

So going into the next year, folks will have to give some thought as to whether that’s important to them.

And if it is what they’ll do to really enforce those boundaries.

Katie Robbert 11:11
Mm hmm.

The name of the game is consistency.

And that’s something that we’ve kind of lost a little bit of track of, again, because we’re just trying to navigate, you know, every single day between the business and personal lives, and you know, everything else? Well, so let’s focus a little bit on some of the good stuff that we learned this year, especially for ourselves and within Trust Insights.

And so, you know, as we started talking about earlier in the conversation, we definitely tried to do some things that just weren’t the right time.

And those, those efforts will come back at some point when the time is right.

But Chris, what are some of the things that you think that we’ve done? Well, this year,

Christopher Penn 11:52
um, you know, this year, we’ve written a ton of code, we I think I’ve listened better to what folks have going on, you know, one of the things that we were talking about before the show got rolling is, this year, we set up for the first time our own link shortening server for a search for what we share on social media and email.

And just having data insights like this.

For those who are listening to the podcast, you can check the video version of this out on our YouTube channel.

And you can see what I’m showing, it’s just a list of, of pages in Google Analytics.

And these are all these are not necessarily ours, this is all going to be shared.

And when you look over the year, you get a sense of what people are interested in having a finger on the pulse of what’s on people’s minds.

I think it’s something that we’ve done well, from a data perspective.

And of course, from a community perspective, this year, we really built up our slack community analytics for markers, which, if you go to Trust, slash analytics for markers, we’re now for almost 1500.

Members, there has been a pretty significant effort to grow a community again, with intention, I think, listening to folks and being able to ask people questions and stuff that that went very well.

I know, from a personal professional development perspective, the silver lining, to a lot of events, just kind of having to pivot is that there is now so much free stuff floating around out there.

Every single conference that I would have gone to, or I would like to have gone to this year, was online for free.

And I have a backlog of like 200 sessions from a bunch of these different events that I’ve been going through, you know, Sunday mornings is watching, as I do chores and things and has been amazing, just to see like, okay, that event worth going to this event like, okay, I should, we should seriously consider when it reopens, you know, going to this one, because it was just so eye opening, it’s what’s possible, and being able to bring in all that information, say, Okay, here’s, you know, a professional development plan for myself for the next year, like work on these things, build these things.

We tried a bunch of new techniques and code this year, that has really worked out well.

I’m very proud of the fact that we made substantial changes to a lot of our core code that makes it run better.

And, you know, with our, our collective feedback and client feedback, being able to say, yeah, you know, this report that wasn’t as useful is more useful now.

Because we gave some time and an intent to, but so what of the report.

So I think from a bunch of different perspectives, there was a lot that happened this year that was inadvertent, inadvertently positive as a result of all the major changes.

How about you?

Katie Robbert 14:38
I think that we have really had an opportunity to look at what kind of value we’re trying to bring to the market, what kind of value were we trying to bring to our clients.

And so we’ve seen a lot of our clients go through, you know, this crisis with the pandemic because they are consumer brands.

They’re directly involved.

You know, with the consumers and you know, people who are dealing with it.

And so I think what we’ve been able to do, I think you’re absolutely right.

I think the listening, you know, listening better, listening more, really trying to not upsell, like, just anything to make $1.

But really trying to figure out, you know, is this thing that we can do? valuable to anyone, will it help make anybody’s life easier, and we’ve always lived by that kind of mantra.

But now this year, it was really explored and experimented with, because we really wanted to make sure that, you know, not only were we providing value to our clients, but that moving into next year, they didn’t just see it as like a stopgap they started something that they really want to partner with us on, which I think is fantastic, because that’s the kind of work that we really enjoy doing is seeing other people succeed based on the work, you know, that we do, and we can provide to them.

You know, so I think we definitely did a lot more soul searching, if you want to call it that in terms of what we provide.

But I think you know, you’re right, we we definitely banded together, we took a look at some of the things that we were doing, saying, Is there an opportunity to do this better? Do we need to be doing this thing over here.

And I think that, you know, despite the fact that we feel like we didn’t really do a lot of things mindfully or intentionally, we did, we just didn’t do it in those dedicated pockets of time.

They were just spread out in drips and drabs over the year.

So when you add all of those things up, and we look at what we’ve done, we see that there’s a lot of positive and it’s something that I would encourage, you know, other marketers and other companies to do is it’s so easy to focus on all of the negative, what didn’t happen to take a moment and look at all the positive.

And that’s one of the things that we’re trying to do, you know, within this podcast, it’s not our typical, you know, here’s an analytics challenge.

Here’s how we approach it.

This one is a little bit more of those, like soft skills, which is different for us.

Christopher Penn 17:03
It’s different, but you know, I think, this year, everything got fractured.

But time itself got fractured in a lot of ways.

I remember a number of memes floating around saying, you know, 2020 was January, February, March, march, march, march, march, march, almost November 3, November 3, November 3 for the month, and then they’ll Happy New Year.

In that, in those moments, one of the things you do have to do is to be able to make the best use of the time that you had, I remember as one coworkers to drive me up a wall years ago, who you know, would say like 45 minutes or 30 minutes between meetings, I can’t get anything done, there’s not enough time to sit down and get a deep work done like well, then do something else.

But don’t just sit there playing video games for 30 minutes, you dummy.

And this year, having you’re looking at calendars looking at the year, the past, there’s there’s a lot of fractured time.

And so to your point, if you can make use of 15 minutes between meetings, you can make use of, you know, an odd block of time, and make a little bit of progress on any one thing.

Then Yeah, at the end, it does add up.

It’s kind of like, you know, fitness and weight loss, you just do your workout consistently a little bit every day and and you eventually get your goal, but it’s never almost never something that’s instantaneous.

Look at what,

Katie Robbert 18:31
God no, I was gonna say I would actually compare it more to sprint planning, where you have to break down your milestones into much smaller little chunks.

And so that could be one of those things, you know, moving into next year, if your to do list feels big, daunting and overwhelming.

I know something, you know, that has helped me and you know, I do struggle with anxiety is, you know, Chris, to your point, what can I get done in 15 minutes, you know, everything feels big and overwhelming right now everything feels like it’s gonna take hours, everything feels like it’s gonna be, you know, the only thing I can do today, and it’s really those small, incremental things, you know, that are going to help you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Christopher Penn 19:15

So looking at the data of what people shared, and we’re interested in this here, it’s interesting, not surprising, interesting social media.

A lot of some email marketing came back this year podcasts and stuff.

And so going into next year, I feel like we’re at a point where we’ve finally managed to reboot somewhat of our media landscape and have a better understanding of it now.

And one of the things that occurred to me over the weekend is people now are at a point where they have more meetings and they know what to do with.

I were just looking at the the Disney plus announcements recently on Disney plus is creating a 21 new shows and spin offs of spin offs and things.

And it’s like, Okay, well, that’s a lot.

You know, that’s a lot for people to consume.

And everybody who in the digital environment trying to figure this out, Disney has abandoned movie theaters, they said and focusing entirely on, on streaming shows now for which is where they’re making their investments.

And so for us, as marketers, we have to think, how can we make our content faster and fit into those smaller blocks of time, you know, if you have 15 minutes between meetings, that’s enough to read an email newsletter, at least skim it, that’s not enough to listen to a live stream, that’s not enough to even possibly listen to a podcast.

So providing transcripts and stuff like we do with our show, makes your content a little faster, people are gonna read like almost three times as fast as they can listen to a podcast.

So as we go into the new year, be sure that you’re looking at your data and seeing what things are getting traction, what things are not getting traction, email has been massive driver of business this whole year, and I don’t see that changing.

We’ve said many times past episodes, people are tired of looking at their screens all day long, you know, if they can, if they can get in, get out and then go on and do something else.

They should, I think there’s an opportunity for marketers, and it’s one of the things you have to be very selective about.

But I think there’s opportunity for something like print magazines, in very limited runs, or maybe you just print on demand.

To make a comeback just for people to have something to do that isn’t a screen, you know, a paper book.

possibly some kind of other interactive physical things.

Again, this is not something you got to do at scale, because it gets crazy expensive, but maybe for your 10 best customers, maybe you do a limited edition, you know, quarterly piece of dead DRI, just so they have something to look up at isn’t the normal stuff.

So Katie, what do you What’s your parting advice for people going into 2021.

Katie Robbert 21:53
It’s the same advice that I would give them this year, you know, be gentle with yourself, you know, take things like literally one task at a time, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, which, you know, this year has been very easy to feel.

People who didn’t previously struggle with anxiety are now experiencing anxiety for the first time.

And those of us with anxiety, it’s only been amplified.

And sometimes it feels like you can’t get anything done.

And so, you know, tackling your to do list tackling the goals of your company, if you’re a smaller company, even if you’re at a larger company, you know, breaking it down into smaller increments, so that you can see, I did this one thing, and it pushed me more towards my goal, I did these two things, and it pushed me closer to my goal, you may not be able to see all of the progress all at once.

And Chris, to your point, it’s a lot like working out, I can ride my bike for 16 minutes, one day, I’m not instantly going to have a six pack, I have to continue to do these things consistently, you know, incrementally in order to get those results.

And I think that that’s sort of where a lot of us are headspace is is I need I need results.


I need something instantaneous.

I need something to cling to, I need something good.

But really breaking it down and doing those smaller bits and pieces are what are going to get you there and make it sustainable.

Christopher Penn 23:11

So from us to you.

We hope you had a good enough year, right? We hope that you have a safe and happy holiday season.

And here’s hoping for everybody in 2021 that we have and equally safe, healthy and prosperous here.

I’ve avoided making substantial predictions, because we just don’t know what’s going to happen.

But we could say with moderate moderate certainty that by the this time next year, things will look closer to the world we used to know than they do right now.

We don’t know the exact timing what’s going to happen, but it’s a pretty good bet that a lot of stuff will be starting to get back to normal.

So be ready, be ready for change.

Change is not slowing down.

It’s going to be even faster next year.

So be ready for it.

No, that’s going to happen.

And ride that wave as best as you can to to bring yourself to business success.

Thank you for listening and watching to everything that Trust Insights did this year.

And we hope you have a great one.

We’ll talk to you soon.

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