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A Year of Digital: The Pandemic, One Year On (Thinks Out Loud Episode 320)

A year of digital: Customer engaging on tablet

Can you believe it’s been a year since the pandemic started? I mean, I’m sure you can; you’ve lived through it. And one entirely believable result of the pandemic is that we have now lived through a year of digital. Digital is how your customers live their lives. It’s how people connect with friends and family. Most importantly, it’s how business gets done.

The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud looks at the pandemic, one year on, and how it has shaped our year of digital. In particular, we look at the key trends that have emerged during our past year of digital and how you can respond effectively for your business.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 320: A Year of Digital: The Pandemic, One Year On Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode. Take note, there are a lot of links this week based on the wide-ranging discussion. Be sure to check out all those that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.

Free Downloads

We have a couple of free downloads for you to help you navigate the current situation, which you can find right here:

Thinks Out Loud is sponsored by SoloSegment: SoloSegment increases large-enterprise, B2B website conversion with easy-to-install software that automatically connects website visitors to the content they need to see to achieve their goals. SoloSegment does this using anonymous data and machine learning ensuring privacy compliance, addressing the many anonymous visitors, and improving the efficiency of marketing teams. Visit

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 19m 28s

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Transcript: A Year of Digital: The Pandemic, One Year On

Well, hello again, everyone. And welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 320 of the big show, and I think we’ve got a fun discussion for you today.

The Pandemic, One Year On: Introduction

I wanted to look at the pandemic, one year on. I’m recording this on Sunday, the 14th of March. So, we’re just over a year into the pandemic and I’m curious what we’ve learned. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned, and I’ve been thinking about what I’ve seen work for people and some big trends and some things we really ought to be thinking about as hopefully the pandemic starts to get behind us. So, there’s going to be a lot of links in the show notes. I just want to tell you right now. And in the spirit of transparency, I’m not going to list every single post. I’m not going to mention every single past episode or every single past article that I’ve read or written or talked about here on the show, during the show. But check out the show notes. You’re going to find a whole list that I’ve been referencing throughout this episodes. Just be conscious of that. If you hear me talk about something and you’re like, "Oh, I’d like to learn more," make sure you check out the show notes because the links will be there.

A Year Into the Pandemic: Five Digital Lessons from the Pandemic

Now, some of these are things we’ve talked about before on the show, I’ve talked about before on the show, and there are more or less five big trends that have emerged during the pandemic. Some of them are things that have emerged because of the pandemic and some of them are things that predated the pandemic, but have become more common during the past year. I don’t want to say all of these were caused by where we are, but many of them have started to come to the fore during the period where we are in.

A Year of Digital: Acceleration of Digital Adoption

So, what are these? Well, there are really five and the first one will not shock you, and that is the acceleration of digital adoption. This shouldn’t shock you because I don’t know we’ve done like 10 different episodes impacted over the last year. Just a couple of weeks ago, talking about Shopify’s huge year that they had, and the generational shift to digital that we have seen over the course of the last year, as evidenced in the earnings reports of the big tech companies, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.

We’ve talked about the fact that digital will drive the next decade of business growth. That is baked in at this point. And so, that’s the first big trend that you have to be aware. And I not going to spend much time on it, A.) because I have in past episodes and B.) because you’re probably well aware of it, even without those episodes.

A Year of Digital: The Ground Shifts Under Digital Giants

Now that said, another big trend that has emerged in part because of that, is that we’re seeing the ground shift under the feet of those tech giants. There have been a series of ongoing antitrust lawsuits. There have been hearings on Capitol Hill and more to come. We’re seeing legislation introduced in a number of states to try to put more control around what Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, the influence that they have in our lives.

I’m not going to make any predictions about this one. I don’t know where this ends up. And I’m pretty sure Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft are unsure where it ends up. And they’re probably not thrilled about that. But it highlights a couple of things, one, it highlights particularly in the case of Google and to a lesser degree, Facebook and the others, how brittle their strength is. They’re really dependent on being the go-to choice for people. And if anything gets in the way of that, that’s going to have really significant effects on their business. There has been enormous competition in social, for instance, in the last, gosh, six months, and I’ll link to the folks who pointed this out. But I mean, you look at things like Substack and Clubhouse and TikTok, you wouldn’t have seen those emerge a couple of years ago, the way that they have as quickly as they have. So, that’s a trend I’m going to continue watching as we go forward.

A Year of Digital: You Must Be More Digital and More Human

The third big one is, and this is pretty obvious, obviously with this enormous acceleration of digital adoption, we know that customers want you to be more digital. What we also know to be true is customers want you to be more human. They rely on digital, they rely on their ability to reach for their phone at any hour of the day or anywhere they may happen to be, whether they’re sitting on their couch or sitting in their car, to connect with the products and the services that they need, but they want that experience to be human. Not just personalized, that’s undoubtedly true, but also comfortable, accommodating, recognizing that, you know what, they have other things going on in their lives that are really important to them and they don’t want this to be a hassle. They don’t want this to be hard. They don’t want it to be a struggle. Life, right now, is enough of a struggle.

Make it easier for them to do what it is that they want to do and that they need to do, because that’s how you’re going to drive customer loyalty in the longer term.

A Year of Digital: Digital Must Become Invisible

Now, of course, that’s going to depend upon technology, which is the fourth big trend. Because obviously, we’ve also seen in alignment with the shifting ground under the feet of the major players, the tech giants, we’re seeing people want more privacy, and that means you’re going to need more artificial intelligence. You’re going to need more machine learning to identify who are the people you’re connecting with without identifying them personally. And there’s a related piece to this, which that’s becoming the norm and AI is becoming boring.

This is something that I’ve talked about before. I talked about this in an episode called Amazon go instant gratification and the boring future of business, almost two years ago, that tech trends become boring over time. It doesn’t mean that they’re not important, it’s just that as they become more commonplace, they also become invisible. Customers and business leaders begin to take them for granted. Not because they always work, not because they’re perfect, but because they have reached a point, they, the customers, they, the business leaders have reached a point where they expect the technology to work. Nobody cares any longer if it’s AI, nobody cares any longer how you use technology to create a personalized experience, as long as you respect their privacy, and as long as you produce results. That’s the only part they care about.

A Year of Digital: A Predictably Unpredictable Economy

Now, the last of these trends, of course, is that all of this is driven by and will continue to be driven by a predictably unpredictable economy. Right now, it looks like 2021 is going to be a huge year, just a monster year for many industries and many businesses. The thing to be aware though, is it could change and it could change in either direction.

We could see resurgent outbreaks of the virus or weird variants that crush the nascent recovery. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I hope that doesn’t happen. But I would be delusional if I ignored the fact that it could happen.

On the other hand, the increased stimulus and pent-up demand for many products and services could cause your business and lots of other businesses to boom in ways that we haven’t seen since the late 1990s.

On the other other hand, we’re already starting to see a tight labor supply in some parts of the economy. And obviously, a number of economists are concerned that inflation could be driven up by that booming demand, which could then put the brakes on the economy and so on.

So, what it means is that we really can’t predict the economy too much.

A Year of Digital: Your Response

Now, I wanted to end with that one, even though that’s actually the first of these, because as we think about how to respond to them.

Develop an Agile Culture / Practice Scenario Planning

I want to start with how you respond to that one, and that is you need to get more agile. I’m not here to make a prediction about what the economy will be. I’m suggesting that anyone who says with certainty that the economy will be axed, it will grow by X percent, or it will shrink by X percent is ludicrous.

The best economists in the world plan for multiple scenarios. And you should do the same. You should look at what would it be like if the economy grew by 5% or your business grew by 5%. What if it declined by 5%? What if it grew by 20%? What if it declined by 20? And then work on being able to respond in an Agile fashion so that no matter what happens, you find yourself in the right position to succeed. This is one that I did write a piece about the other day for Hotel Recovery, and it’s in the show notes and you’re going to want to check that out.

Embrace Customer Centricity

In addition to getting more agile, you need to embrace customer centricity. It’s time to recognize, it’s long past time to recognize that customers are continually connected.

It isn’t the social web. It isn’t the mobile web. It isn’t the local web. It’s all of these combined.

  • Are you using the "Hub and Spoke model" to connect with customers where they are?
  • Does your website work as well on mobile as it does on desktop?
  • Have you started to think about how you can move your offerings from a fixed time and fixed place to an any time and any place model?

Because the companies that will emerge as most successful at the end of the pandemic are ones that are putting the customer first and thinking about those kinds of questions.

Recognize Radical Transparency

Customers also recognize that you need to recognize the radical transparency that now exists and how you can put it to work for your business.

This is something I’ve talked about many times, but your customers know more about your products and your services and your prices than your employees do. Are you thinking about content as a strategic product to help them find accurate, easily accessible information? Because that’s what they’re looking for. They need answers to questions and you can be that answer, but only if you make that a priority for your business. Have you recognized that radical transparency cuts both ways and that customers leave data trails that you can use to learn what’s most important to them so that you can respond to their needs more effectively?

  • Are you looking at things like the search behavior on your website?
  • Are you using social listening to understand what’s top of mind?
  • And of course, are you doing this in ways that recognize and respect their privacy?

Legislators and lobbyists are coming for big tech because of how much they rely on personal information. It’s time to start working towards building a business that doesn’t rely on personally identifiable information to connect with customers and drive commercial activity, because pretty soon you’re not going to be able to any way.

Remember That the Plan is Not the Goal

And then, of course, the last big response is to remember always that the plan is not the goal. You’ve probably already made plans for where you want to be at the end of this year, but those plans are just one way to get to where you want to be. Your goals are what you’re ultimately trying to get to.

One of the key concepts behind agile is not to get stuck doing what you’d planned, just because it was in the plan. If things aren’t working as you move forward this year, change them. And change them fast. Because we’ve learned that "speed is the new currency of business," as Marc Benioff likes to say. We’ve learned that instant gratification isn’t fast enough. And that rather than trying to predict the future all the time, the companies that are most successful are those who actually respond to what is happening in real time so that they’re taking care of their customer’s needs, so that they’re focusing on what questions that those customers need answered, so that they’re adapting to the reality as it exists and making the changes necessary to continue to compete. Because if you can do that successfully, it doesn’t matter if all of these trends turn out to be a bunch of hogwash.

I’m doing quite a thing, last week I talked about something being "a humdinger," this week I said, "hogwash." I don’t know what’s happened to me during the pandemic, I think I’ve turned into, well, a guy who says "humdinger" and "hogwash," anyway.

A Year of Digital: Conclusion

So, anyway, the point here being, there are some big trends a year into the pandemic that we’ve learned a lot about, and we’ve learned a lot about how to respond to them. Companies that will do best coming out of the pandemic are those that recognize both the trends and the responses, and learn to be more agile, to be more customer centric, to use data that learn from customers and create content that answers their questions, where they are, and to remember, of course, that the plan is not the goal.

Because if you can do all that well, you’re going to set yourself up to succeed, not just in the year following the pandemic, but in all the years following the pandemic.

Show Closing and Credits

Now, with all that said, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 320. While you’re there, please don’t forget that you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you see to get Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do each week, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning, natural language processing, and some very cool AI technology to help understand customer behavior and personalize the experience the customers have on large enterprised B2B websites. SoloSegment does this using anonymous behavioral data to connect website visitors with the content that matters to them, to help them accomplish their goals and to drive conversions for your business. They do all of this while protecting customer privacy. You can learn more about SoloSegment and all of the wonderful things they do by going to Again, that’s

Show Outro

With that said, I want to say once more, how much I appreciate you tuning in every single week. It means the world to me. We recognize a year in, this has not been a normal year. This has been a crazy time and I know people are going through all kinds of tough times as a part of that. The fact that you choose to spend some part of your day, some part of your life listening means more to me than I could possibly say. So, with that said, I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead and I will look forward to catching up with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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