Whew! Just when we thought we might not make it, 2021 has appeared out of nowhere to save the day like Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, or any other surprise character appearances in a superhero movie battle scene. The good part is that 2020 is over, the bad part is that everyone now has baggage that we will have to deal with while we put the world back together. As marketers and brand builders, we have the unique responsibility of helping get the engine of our economy going again by providing meaningful growth strategies for the companies that give jobs to the communities around us. Here are five ways that we can help our companies rise up from the ashes of a pandemic, disappearing 3rd party cookies, and an ever changing Google algorithm.

Your brand has to be self-aware

How do you fit into the current world? Gone are the days of planning out several months worth of content and sticking to it regardless of what is going on in the world around you. Your customer in 2021 will expect you to show both tact and understanding. Instead of focusing on you and your company, you MUST focus on them and what problems you can solve for them.

Your content will be king – but only if it’s good

Exceptional, charitable, shocking, hilarious. In 2021 it will not be enough to have average content if you want to get people’s attention. Appealing to a population that has been binge consuming content while at home, whatever you produce in the new year needs to inspire an emotional reaction. Clearly define what you all stand for, then draw out your “why” and think of new ways you can serve up your content and new angles to the stories you can tell. The most authentic and creative will win.

Leverage influencers specific to your industry and clientele

Whether b2b or b2c, you should think about how to best partner with the influential figures that your clients look up to and trust. With screen times for social media and email still likely to be at all time highs for all age brackets in 2021, you have a real chance to leverage the trust that niche influencers (or respected voices) have built up with the people you want to reach. This may come in the form of co-authored papers, guest blogs, video co-features, social media dual campaigns, dual-live events, or other creative content types.

This can be one of the most impactful marketing strategies you can do in 2021 because trust is the only thing you can’t buy, but in a shaky world trust is the biggest factor your customers will rely on when making decisions.

Lean into doing good

Even before Gen Z’s 5-24 year-olds started demanding that the companies they spend their money with be good corporate citizens, the world had already started changing. Michael Jordan, the idol of many Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers, was arguably one of the most selfish greats to play the game of basketball. While his “win at all costs” mentality was accepted and revered by the previous generations, he would find himself taken to task for it by millennials and Gen Z. After finding out that MJ had been stingy with his wealth, the later generations swiftly began chastising him, burning his signature shoes in the streets, and replacing the icon with another one who’s philanthropy and team-first mindset chartered a new path for social responsibility in sports. Who was that? Basketball player, Boys and Girls Club super donor, and founder of the I PROMISE school, Lebron James.

Now more than ever, the words of Zig Zigler ring true: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That’s why story brands and social good brands have skyrocketed in recent years. Faced with a world of adversity, the decision maker wants to know that the company they give their scarce funds to, is using that money for the betterment of mankind.

Don’t believe us? Ask Peloton who experienced huge spikes in brand advocates and referral sales after implementing their partnership with Beyoncé benefitting HBCUs. Was that traction just because of Beyoncé? Not at all! Children’s clothing brand Carter’s saw immense success after announcing they were giving $1million worth of products to families affected by the pandemic.

Still doubt that it matters? The name Jimmy Donaldson may not ring a bell to you, but the Youtuber many know as “MrBeast” opened 300…yes, three-zero-zero restaurants across the country at the same time. How? He just announced it to his 48 million subscribers who have flocked to him over the years because of the awesome charitable work he videotapes himself doing. So incredibly loyal is his fanbase, that when he simply put up a logo on a restaurant in North Carolina one week, he caused police to have to shut down traffic after a 20-mile line formed to try the burgers. Okay, let’s go to the numbers.

According to research by Mintel, 84percent of consumers say it is important to them that a company supports charitable causes, with 73 percent of American’s saying that such charitable support factors into their purchasing decisions. 50 percent of Americans are willing to switch to a company that supports causes they believe in (hint: you have to communicate who you support and why), and 53 percent *expect* a company to work towards improving local communities. Have we made our point yet?

2021 is not a magic wand (or that memory eraser thing from the Men in Black movies)

For the love of everything holy, DO NOT pretend like everything is awesome just because we made it to 2021. Period.

As a nation, we currently face close to 10 percent of Americans who have experienced job loss or reduction at some point this year. According to the Department of Labor, current unemployment claims, which include those who have tried to file the past several weeks, are currently at 5.3 million, and 1.3 million Americans filed initial jobless claims just last week. COVID-19 is still ravishing states, hospitals are still at-or-near capacity, and we are on track to have lost almost 1 million citizens before everything is said and done.

PLEASE (yes, all caps) do not start 2021 with brand messaging that sounds like a Lego Movie. Everything is not “awesome,” but we are strong, we are resilient, and we will live stronger, love harder, and come out the other side with our character and community. Your brand has to have the emotional intelligence to walk the line between letting people know you understand and helping them understand how your product or service fits into their life. For example, don’t tell people “everything will be okay” since those who are still dealing with the trauma of the pandemic might resent your brand for the suggestion. Instead, try conveying hopefulness and pragmatic optimism.

Everything will be okay, and as we have with other tragedies, we will survive and come out stronger. In the meantime, we should view our brands more like the people we sell to. Be authentic, be realistic, show your customer that you care about more than just your bottomline, find new ways of telling your story and evoking emotions when they hear what you’re doing, and just be sensitive to what your businesses or consumers might be going through. If you take this into account as you develop your marketing strategy for the new year, 2021 might just be your best year yet.