Most people I know have already kicked 2020 to the curb and are eager to watch it disappear into the rearview mirror.
I can’t blame them.
At the same time, I wonder if learning opportunities are being missed.
One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, who said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”
I reference this quote as a business owner, a dad, and a youth sports coach. It applies to every area of life.
We learn far more from adversity than we do when things go smoothly every day. Every difficult experience can be a learning experience and, in many cases, a story that should be told.
Why Should You Tell Your 2020 Stories?
Regardless of year, storytelling creates and strengthens connections between brands and audiences.
Stories reveal who you are and the values you represent.
Stories are inherently human and bring your people and clients to life.
Stories give people reasons to choose you and remain loyal to you.
Stories simplify the complex and make things easier to understand.
Stories help elevate the value of your product and your organization as a whole.
As for 2020, it has no peer when it comes to adversity, at least in my lifetime.
With Covid, racial injustice, bitter politics, and other lowlights serving as the backdrop, 2020 is filled with stories of triumph, tragedy, resilience, and recovery. And there’s no shortage of heroes and villains.
Stories set in a crisis help people make sense of the world around them, providing clarity during times of confusion and stress.
Stories build trust when people are filled with skepticism and doubt.
Stories are sources of motivation, inspiration, and empowerment.
Stories reinforce your brand’s purpose and meaning and show people what you stand for when it really matters.
After all, you can say you stand for X, Y, and Z when the world is nothing but sunshine and rainbows. But you show what you stand for during times of crisis.
This is when the real-world impact of who you are and why you do what you do comes into focus.
Keep in mind that storytelling isn’t just about targeting employees and prospects.
Last year, I started writing thought leadership articles for the CEO of a commercial property service provider (I’m being intentionally vague). He said his articles are just as important for reinforcing his company culture to his employees as they are to raising his profile with other CEOs.
After a year like 2020, reminding your team who you are, what you represent, and why you do what you do is a valuable exercise.
Growth isn’t just about generating leads and landing more clients. Sometimes the most important growth happens from within.
Uncovering Meaningful Stories from 2020
A lot happened in 2020. That doesn’t mean you have to tell every story you remember. Like any other form of marketing, storytelling should be approached to strategically.
This is about making an emotional connection, not selling features and benefits. When choosing which stories to tell, focus on three basic questions.
- What do I want people to know?
- What do I want people to feel?
- Why should people care?
With these questions serving as the foundation of your storytelling strategy, reflect on the events of the past 12 months or so with the following questions in mind.
What adversity did you face as an organization and as an individual? How did you overcome that adversity?
What adversity did your clients face? How did you help them overcome adversity? Client success stories have never been more important.
Did you implement any changes to your business processes? Did you change how you serve your clients? Will any of these changes remain permanent because they’re effective and/or better represent your values?
What did you learn about your relationships – not just with clients, but with your co-workers, strategic partners, vendors, and friends? What events and experiences affected these relationships? How and why?
Did you develop an innovative solution to overcome a particular challenge? What was the challenge? How did you come up with the solution? How did the solution benefit your organization and/or your clients?
Looking beyond your own organization, what did you observe in the business community? How did other companies deal with adversity and overcome challenges? What did you observe that inspired you? How did these observations make you feel?
Within weeks of the first stay-at-home orders, I wrote about how Vinny G’s, my local bagel shop, responded to the pandemic. As a local food establishment, they made changes to reduce costs but also stepped up to serve the community in a big way.
As you reflect on your experiences from the past year, think about the stories that will be most meaningful to your audience.
My 2020 Story: The Short Version
As for my journey through 2020, things got real pretty quickly.
A few days after everything shut down here in New Jersey, I received three calls in two days from clients who were cancelling my services. Others soon followed.
Some were responding to the uncertainty caused by Covid. They just didn’t know what would happen next.
A couple clients that relied on live events and entertainment for income had no choice. Because their clients were forced to shut down, they had to shut down, too.
April and May ended up being the two lowest-revenue months since I took my business full-time. It was the first time I was seriously nervous about the future of my business.
But I made the difficult decision to stay the course.
I believed then, and continue to believe now, that sound marketing principles don’t change, even in a crisis. Tactics might change, but marketing fundamentals don’t. And I knew marketing would be essential to helping struggling businesses recover.
It was heartbreaking to see businesses close, especially those close to home. But I also saw that companies in several industries, from IT service providers to commercial cleaning, were busier than ever. There was still a need for what I do.
I sought out more virtual networking opportunities. I hosted my first webinar. A group of marketing service providers who I work with on a regular basis started a monthly networking group to discuss projects, ideas, and opportunities for collaboration.
I did take on a new client at a ridiculously low rate because the volume, and my need to generate revenue in the short-term, justified it.
I spent more time on business development, but it was a difficult balancing act. I would cringe when I saw companies exploiting the pandemic, often unintentionally, with phrases like “crisis-friendly pricing.”
Through it all, I didn’t change my services. I never considered a “pivot.”
Fortunately, my business started to recover in June.
Companies that were forced to take a closer look at their online presence weren’t happy with what they saw. Some were extremely busy and wanted to capitalize by optimizing their marketing. Others were using temporary downtime to update parts of their marketing arsenal that had been neglected for years.
One of my agency partners contacted me when their client, a small law firm that couldn’t get into a courtroom due to Covid restrictions, realized its website didn’t reflect the firm’s niche practice areas. We developed 12 pages of new content in about six weeks.
Websites, blog articles, video scripts, email marketing campaigns, and other projects started rolling in. One client that had suspended my services restarted. A couple new clients replaced those I had lost.
Fast forward to today and I’m in a much better place than I was almost a year ago.
2019 had been my best year by far. I have a long way to go to get back to that level and business is still unpredictable, but my company is well into the recovery stage.
Crazy thing is, as rough as it was to see the gains made in 2019 wiped away by circumstances that were out of my control, 2020 put things in perspective.
I know how bad things can get, and I know I can bounce back. I’ll control what I can control. I won’t be happy about things I can’t control, but I won’t obsess over them.
For example, 2020 reinforced the importance of strategic partnerships. I always tell people that my relationships with marketing agencies, website developers, graphic designers, video production companies, printers, and other marketing service providers keep me in business.
This is especially true during a crisis. The two-way value of those relationships has never been greater, especially as we continue to recover. Relationships will continue to be a top priority.
Speaking of relationships, my kids really put things in perspective.
My wife and I felt comfortable letting our kids play outside together with other kids around the same time as a few other parents in our neighborhood. These kids had always been friends, but they were so happy to see each other after being isolated for so long that they became closer than ever.
You never forget the kids you grew up with, right? I feel like my kids have reached that level.
It didn’t matter if it was steamy and humid during summer or bitter cold during winter. They wanted to go outside. When they’re inside, they’re doing Google Hangouts and making up dances to Hamilton.
Covid strengthened their friendships like it strengthened my business relationships. And I’ve never been prouder of my two girls than I have been during the biggest crisis of my lifetime.
They couldn’t go to school. They couldn’t have birthday parties. They couldn’t go on vacation. Most of their activities were cancelled.
But they persevered.
My 10-year-old is taking four dance classes. My 7-year-old is training for her second 5K. Outdoors. In the middle of winter.
When I see them happy and healthy despite the insanity that still dominates the news every day, it’s hard for me to get too upset about a bad month at the office. Instead of sounding the alarm, I can push forward with calm and confidence.
That’s perspective. And that could very well be the most important thing I’ve learned and gained from 2020.
Hate to sound cliché, but sometimes it takes serious adversity to make you realize how lucky you are.
So that’s my 2020 story, at least the short version. There are plenty of stories within this story that I still need to unpack. Stay tuned.
Ready to tell your stories? If you’d like to discuss how authentic, strategic storytelling can help you grow your organization, internally and externally, let’s talk.