It will be hard to look at your 2020 data and not immediately recall everything that happened. But don’t throw away the valuable information you get from it.

Jordan Cardonick, vice president, analytics at Merkle

Jordan Cardonick, vice president, analytics at Merkle

No one will look back on 2020 and think it hasn’t been challenging at its best and undeniably heartbreaking at its worst.

It’s critical to put the things 2020 has done to businesses, consumers, and people into the right context and understand it in any forward-looking perspective. It will be challenging to look at the 2020 data and not immediately recall everything that transpired. Still, it is important that we also don’t throw away the valuable information we get from it.

There will be pieces of information that will allow us to move forward and help us find opportunities. Even companies that saw massive growth, like grocery chains and online retailers, shouldn’t assume that they’ll continue to see big gains.

Here are some recommendations on how to look at year-over-year results and prepare forecasts and other forms of measurement headed into 2021 and beyond. These are areas that companies on both ends of the performance spectrum can leverage to uncover insights and opportunities.

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Data context matters 

No matter whether you saw massive dips or gains in performance, it is essential to review the circumstances of that performance when utilizing it for forecasting or analysis. While 2020 will be a challenging year to forget for most, it can still be easy to find yourself in a position to not fully grasp all of the impacts to your business when making decisions or only looking at the surface KPIs when making decisions.

Companies that never saw issues with their supply chain for decades saw issues they never expected before, so don’t mistake selling out for not having enough inventory or fulfilling typical orders. Take a look at Whirlpool, which reported sizable supply chain issues driven by the pandemic. While their production is on track and beginning to meet demands, they may not see a full recovery until Q1 2021.

Find the needle in the haystack 

Customers who traditionally were loyal to brick and mortar shops began buying online for the first time. We also saw individuals who shopped based on brand loyalty shifts to more generic names. The fact is purchase habits seen this year are not going to be normal, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be useful, and it doesn’t mean they can’t carry over.

Review your first-party data to see what trends in behavior you can turn into a long-term strategy and which individuals only purchased with you because you had a product in stock at that point in time. Getting into the details on performance will help keep organizations from making hasty decisions about who their customers are or what trends are here to stay.

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Continuously monitor change

There is no doubt that there will be long-term changes to behaviors and typical trends that manifest into 2021. Companies are already making changes to work policies from home and parents are moving to homeschooling as a viable option. This means trends that have been consistent for years—such as how computers, tablets, and mobile trends spike at different times of the day and weekdays tend to perform better than weekends—will likely shift for most products.

B2B and B2C identities are likely to converge more and more as we see devices take on new roles. We see that with home computers becoming tied up in online learning and mobile devices used for work.

For now, we don’t know which ones will last or which will be fleeting, so reviewing the data regularly and making comparisons will be important. This may mean developing additional dashboards that showcase dimensions and KPIs deemed less relevant historically due to their consistent nature.

Plan for multiple scenarios 

As companies develop and refine their 2021 budget and performance plans, it will be important to consider the ideas mentioned above. We can expect the impact on 2021 to further wedge inconsistencies into what we’ve known as “business as usual.” This may be the case with planning, so consider the amount of analysis and research that will need to get done.

2021 may be the first year of new, continuous benchmarks, or it could see a continued variance as an upcoming election and wavering concerns about the virus remain. Organizations should utilize their current and previous data to establish some performance expectations and mitigation plans, depending on what ends up being closest to reality as it comes.

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2020 has been a year, unlike any other. It will go down in history for many reasons. While many may feel there isn’t much to look back on, as companies and businesses, we will have to review the data and the continued points of feedback to help us navigate through 2021 and beyond. They can still help develop recovery strategies and identify potential “gotcha” moments that can pop up in future years.

Merkle is a performance marketing services agency.

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