strategic planning

The “what if?” question you can’t ignore in your next annual plan

It came as a surprise to no one when Mirriam Webster announced “pandemic” as the 2020 word of the year. In business, there’s another p-word we’re all sick of hearing. You know the one. Just picture Ross, Rachel, Chandler, and that infamous couch.

The extent to which your business had to pivot was likely critical last year. In 2021, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re too exhausted to look ahead. I wouldn’t blame you if you’re still mourning the loss of what you hoped to achieve in 2020. And I wouldn’t blame you if this year has you thinking annual plans are a colossal waste of time. Why bother planning when it all might fall apart anyway, right?


why plans still matter

The leadership team at Deloitte Global wrote that in one sense, nothing has changed. Smart businesses still need to forecast and strategize accordingly.

For many of us, annual planning happens between now and March 31. Post-COVID, this might seem naive. Just how should we go about producing an annual plan when the same-old business practices still apply, but also when, as even the same Deloitte team acknowledges, “everything has changed”?

One way to start is with your ‘why’.

distilling lessons from 2020

employees work in a brewery

Distilleries were some of the quickest companies to adapt when COVID-19 hit Canadian cities. Distillers like British Columbia’s Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, were spurred to action, repurposing their pot stills to produce hand sanitizer.

Nevermind completely overhauling your company’s daily operations, logistics, distribution networks and product marketing. What if what you produced was no longer one of life’s simple luxuries, but a potentially life-saving tonic? What if you had to re-imagine your why?

Tyer Dyck, CEO of Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, felt it was his family’s duty to help. So they re-imagined their broader purpose, re-tooled, and began producing hand sanitizer in the wake of a global pandemic.

“For our family … it’s the thing that made us feel more proud than anything,” Tyler told CBC News.

That so many distilleries shifted to sanitizer is a testament to the fact that sometimes, your why can and should be re-imagined — even if only temporarily.

Another unsettling business lesson from 2020? Sometimes, you need to tell your customers not to buy what you’re selling. Sometimes, you need to cancel your call to action — or at least hit pause.

For Destination BC and Indigenous Tourism BC, isolation orders and travel restrictions meant their entire industries became verboten, practically overnight. As organizations that boast 15-million customers per year — that is, 15-million annual visitors to British Columbia — that was a crushing blow.

How did they respond to this attack on their why?

In a word: beautifully.

Pre-pandemic, Destination BC had a long-running and evocative marketing campaign that leveraged its longtime tag, “Super, Natural British Columbia.” Featuring stunning visuals and a true sense of adventure, the campaign invited prospective visitors near and far to “Explore BC”.

In a brilliant marketing maneuver, this year audiences were invited to “#Explore BC….Later.”

destination bc social media graphic

The spots used the same remarkable and recognizable imagery, replaced with a new call to action; to “pause, stay in, and dream of later.” It was astutely part ad, part public service announcement.

Audiences were reminded that only by following public health orders will be able to travel this beautiful part of the world again. Speaking to strategy magazine, Maya Lange, Destination BC’s VP of global marketing explained how the campaign keeps their key driving insight — that nature is the primary reason people visit the province — while tapping into the collective experience of wanderlust stunted in 2020.

That’s really the key component – getting people to continue to dream about coming to British Columbia,” Maya Lange told Strategy.

So while Destination BC’s why was on hold, they could at least continue to tap into what motivates their target audience.

Meanwhile, Indigenous Tourism BC put their own unique spin on this year’s mantra to “support local.” The group called on British Columbians to visit the some-203 Indigenous communities in their own proverbial backyards. Where to start? By downloading their newly-launched Indigenous BC Trip Planner app. So much more than just a trip-planning tool, the app also taps into First People’s rich storytelling traditions, with songs, legends, words and phrases from Indigenous languages. And so just when it seemed like a tourism app launch would be destined to fail, a re-imagined why made it all make sense.

Whether we are planning a comprehensive community engagement or re-energizing a brand with a fresh communication strategy, we always start with why. As you prepare your annual plan for 2021–22, start with your why. Does it need an overhaul?

The answer may very well be: no. In a post-pandemic world, maybe your ‘why’ will be stronger than ever. But as 2020 taught us, we can never prepare for every possible externality. It was an unprecedented year, but now the precedent is set. Whether it’s the next pandemic wave, full-scale sector disruption, or climate disaster, we will be here again.

And when that time comes, you’ll want to be primed for transformation at a deeper level. You may not need to change your purpose this year, but as you enter your annual planning, ask yourself:

  • What if we had no choice but to change our ‘why’?
  • What principles would guide us in finding a new purpose?
  • Where could we see ourselves going? Where would we draw the line?

You don’t need to articulate a fully-formed, alternate why, just yet. But asking tough questions now will make the process that much easier later, when you won’t have time to plan — only pivot.

learn more

Are you re-imagining your why in 2021? What principles will guide you and your team? Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need a thought partner for the process.

Cover photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

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Natalie has over a decade of experience in strategic communication. She is passionate about powerful stories that inspire positive action.

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