We can all agree that life has been rather strange for the past year and a half. Thousands of businesses have been forced to shut down and many others have struggled – to no fault of their own. In all honesty, it has been tough to see. Google hasn’t helped by taking advantage of high amounts of adspend. Neither have social media giants. Silencing certain groups of people and throttling original content has really impacted lead generation. But the external things can’t be blamed for failure. Many businesses screwed up in 2021 because they didn’t have a plan and eventually wavered from their brand values.

Be Careful Where You Make Your Changes.

It can be hard to relinquish something you’ve grown accustomed to. But the hard reality is, what has worked in the past may no longer be viable. At some point, you’ve got to dig into purpose and passion. Sadly, many leaders failed to PreFocus this year. When times got tough, some ended up investing in sketchy (or shady) marketing methods just to get by.

My point is, justifiable compromise can tarnish a company’s image and reputation fast. Now, I’m not here to sit on a high horse and shame businesses for screwing up in 2021. I’m just trying to remind people there isn’t just a mainstream way to go about things. Truth be told, this year was a little rough for me. A number of my clients refused to acknowledge some pivots that needed to occur. With so much information out there, there are just tons of ideas to grab onto.

Today, it’s really difficult to garner trust in the galaxy that’s labelled “marketing” – and rightfully so. But decision makers also need to know what they don’t like to hear. If you’re wanting to step up your game in 2022, then it’s important to learn from some of the ways businesses screwed up in 2021. If you really do offer something special, then you can’t forget it.

How Businesses Screwed Up in 2021:

Nothing is worse than seeing a quality experience succumb to the culture. Generating leads will always present a challenge. Some instances are tougher than others. But I encourage you to remain creative and avoid shortcuts that can cost you layers of differentiation. Here are 6 business owner pitfalls you’ll want to steer clear of.

1. Desperation.

The ugliest thing to watch over the past few years has been the behavior of many businesses. Nearly everyone is identifying with something these days. But did hanging a Trump flag, posting a black square, shaming mask wearers or flying rainbow colors really boost brand clarity? How about general trust? Did you feel as though you had to join a movement to secure the group’s business? I hope not and wish more people would see the pander.

When you’re desperate to get attention in a time that everyone wants to be heard, it’s a recipe for disaster. Following trends for likes is icky anyways. If you really want to be seen as a unique experience that people can love you can’t be swayed by the noise. Politics and news stories will never give your business the exposure it needs.

Another thing businesses make the mistake of doing is punishing their loyal customer base for setbacks. Whether this involves solicitation attempts, higher fees or different requirements – your desperation can’t be boding well. If you’re panicking after years of success. you have to realize when you’re digging a deeper hole. Desperate times don’t have to call for desperate measures and acting out of character is dangerous. Consistency and the long game is a lot easier to sustain.

2. Unthoughtful Risk.

The second way businesses screwed up in 2021 is similar to desperation. Any type of strategy that bears fruit has been grabbing the attention of struggling CEOs and marketing managers everywhere. Like trends, the momentum can be extremely appealing and misleading at the same time. When emotion and fear of failure are involved, it’s easy for most business owners to blindly follow what’s worked. Instead of trusting in themselves, they look to feed off the coattail.

This is dangerous in so many ways. Every business is different. Even companies in the same industry cater to a unique market. Forgetting these foundational facts and going all-in on someone else’s win is not worth the risk in my book. Sure, there are top 10 hacks and business consultants slash realtors slash nutritional supplement influencers – but duplication is rarely the answer. Consumers want you to be more than an option. It can be easy to forget this during uncertain times.

3. Tough Sales Focus.

Nothing bothers me more than a company that sells aggressively in order to close deals. It tells me people have to be talked into making the purchase. At the same time, you can’t blame most businesses for shifting gears this way in 2021. Moving a complete operation online or getting hit hard by inflation doesn’t give you much of a choice but to sell harder. Since many leaders had their backs against the wall, a number of honest people have been let go. These types of cost cutting measures have only hindered quality.

In my opinion, far too many businesses screwed up in 2021 by leaning on crafty sales reps and spammy processes to get by. I’m not saying I don’t understand why – I just think there are better ways to ensure you don’t jeopardize brand perception. Now that most people are sitting at home, many companies have resorted back to cold calling and salesy emails. Even social media profiles are riddled with offers and promises.

The desperation that alters one’s train of thought can eventually transform everything. When your back is against the wall, it can be easy to remember everything about why you started.

4. Roots Were Forgotten.

Any consumer can tell you what makes a business special. When one isn’t, it’s simply just an option. Many people forget that they don’t see their company the same way consumers do. They’re not obligated to appreciate your work if they don’t want to. This makes nearly any business expendable when you think about it. So when a founder or creative team goes outside of who they really are and what the brand stands for, they’re disconnecting value.

Companies that forget about their brand roots usually make poor decisions. Steady profits tend to make it difficult to hold onto passion. When the fire isn’t there, it ca be easy to drift away from what got you there in the first place. Peter Drucker talks about this in his book, The Effective Executive. You can water down clam chowder in many ways. Sticking to your bread and butter and the reason behind it is a sure way to come out of a hole and retain loyalty.

To be frank, a lot of businesses screwed up in 2021 by playing the waiting game. Instead of working to get ahead with their identity and what they stand for, many decided to complain. Social media makes it tough but this is never good for morale. When you forget your roots and lose the passion, it can be hard to recover. But if you’re able to double down and remember where you came from, you can make waves for all the right reasons.

5. Bad Partnerships.

This one is pretty self explanatory. In any year, bad deals occur. Affiliations don’t work out. But a number of businesses screwed up in 2021 when they put their faith in someone else to pull them through. Believe it or not, not all partnerships work out. They may sound good, but the business owner is typically put in a position with everything to lose. Bigger companies know this and investors are usually willing to take risks on good companies that are low on cash.

Far too many of the “little guys” (with the biggest value) were crushed after signing bad contracts or giving away stake. But in many of these cases, a simple strategy would have gone a long way. Companies lose control of their identity when they let other people sell them – instead of selling their brand. At the end of the day, discernment is what helps you find a lasting partnership that benefits everyone involved. Unfortunately, they were few and far between in 2021.

6. BONUS: Wide Targeting.

Many of you aren’t aware, but pretty much all of the paid search platforms did away with EXACT MATCH bidding this past year. This means, advertisers can no longer bid on specific search phrases. Instead, their ads are shown to adgroups (keywords grouped by relevancy). The problem is, it’s not very accurate. Say I wanted my shop to show up for people searching for a “quality oil change”. My ad will more than likely also show up under “premium oil filters”.

This is a big deal because most businesses pay per impression (the number of times their ad is served). The cost per acquisition of some of my past clients have almost tripled. Some have even asked me to help – but I don’t even trust the system anymore. Search ads are basically creating irrelevant traffic and wasting the clicks that used to go towards pinpoint bids. It’s really a shame. More than ever before, companies need to be able to find those that need them the most. The highest bidder shouldn’t get the most chances.

If you ever find yourself casting a wide net in hopes you’ll catch something – stop and think. There are so many other things you can be doing to not only drive awareness but loyalty.

PreFocus on a Bright Future.

You might be one of the businesses that screwed up in 2021. But let’s be real here; There probably isn’t one soul that handled the past year with grace. Every day we wake up, we have the choice to do something we love or endure something we hate. No matter what business you run, it takes a lot of grit and hard work. These two aren’t one in the same. Sticking to what you set out to accomplish will ensure you don’t screw up in the future.

Let me know if I can ever be of any help – just be purposeful with everything you do.