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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
To say 2020 was a crazy year would be a giant understatement. So many small businesses and entrepreneurs struggled, and it was a tough time for many. Running a digital marketing agency gave me a front-row seat to the challenges, but it also shed a very bright light on the huge opportunities available to those willing to go after them. I see five important shifts that businesses would be wise to make regardless of whether they’re well established or brand new. 1. Know what your customers value mostWe’ve got incredible tools available to us to perform deep market research and find out exactly what our customers like, dislike, want and don’t want. We can uncover who they follow online, where they eat, what they read and so much more.As creepy as that might sound, to market with integrity is to respect our customers and to serve them at the highest level possible. This means creating content and advertising that serves them only what they want and need, and none of what they don’t.In addition to the amazing tools we can access, good old-fashioned conversations need to take place. Actually calling customers to find out more about them is a strategy that will lead to far happier customers who find themselves cared for and fulfilled.Related: Digital Marketing in 2021: The Trends That Are Changing Everything2. Serve the customer before selling to themDigital entrepreneurs love to just go for the kill. So many just want to make the sale, but they have zero upfront contact with their potential customers. This is a huge mistake, but more than that, it violates basic human behavior. If it sounds like a great idea to simply go for the sale, please go try this out in a club or restaurant with a potential love interest, then bring your slapped face or black eye back here and let’s get a better game plan into you.Knowing your customer’s pain points, struggles and what they’re trying to overcome — and coupling that with asking about their dreams and desires and what success looks like to them — will equip you to get in front of them with content that demonstrates not only your expertise but also the fact that you care enough to show up for them before ever taking a dollar from them.I’m all for getting paid. Like you, I’m not running a charity here, but much happiness and fulfillment have come my way by showing up for my clients first, and I know it’s a winning strategy.3. Drive constant and near-immediate innovationCuriosity didn’t kill the cat; a lack of implementation did. Being an entrepreneur is all about solving problems, taking chances few others are willing to take, and innovating. The internet moves very fast these days. By the time you think of an idea, 738 other people already have a version live.Fast, imperfect action is the order of the day when iterating on new ideas. Yes, putting out a new idea that turns out to be poorly received can sting, but the trade-off is that you get very quick feedback, and that feedback can save your most precious resource: time.Get the thing live, let the people tell you if the idea has legs or not, and make fast course corrections. You’ll make much faster progress, and the people you desire to serve will get served much better and much sooner.Related: Adapt or Die: How to Thrive Amid Digital-Marketing Chaos4. Observe ever-increasing privacy rulesApple is throwing a giant monkey wrench into the digital advertising machine with its new iOS 14 update. This update will affect tracking on ads, which will skew results and decrease the efficiency of the data that advertisers use to make decisions about which ads to scale and which ads to turn off.It’s far too soon to tell what the long-term fallout of these changes will be, but one thing is certain: privacy is always under scrutiny. We have a long way to go to achieve a happy balance between showing highly targeted and very relevant ads to customers based on their prior behavior and serving ads that are creepy and violate people’s privacy. These changes will require a lot of patience as they roll out and we learn how to best function accordingly.5. Attract customers to your own site and email listsSocial media marketing is huge and will continue to be huge — and it’s constantly expanding. We have great tools, and even more great tools are emerging all the time. But relying solely on social media platforms to serve our customers is a big mistake, and it has been for years.Ad and social platforms could be shut down or taken from us at any time — in the blink of an eye and with little to no warning (and absolutely no recourse in many cases). It has become a code red emergency situation to attract customers to our own domain so we can serve them on (mostly) our own terms.Related: What You Should Know When Mapping Your 2021 Marketing StrategyThis plan leans on the first two points heavily: You have to know what your customers value most, and you need to serve them before selling to them. Nearly every interaction with your business should give the potential customers an opportunity to connect with you on your own website or email list and enable them to go deeper with you as far as further contact or to make purchases.Social platforms are incredible, but you have to have a strategic and strong lead generation plan in place that goes beyond social media, one that includes understanding your customers and helping them understand, know, like and trust you. An invitation to join you on your own platform should feel natural and like the expected next step.Followed closely and executed consistently and reliably, these five shifts will increase customer trust and loyalty and allow us to serve our customers and clients at the highest level possible.