How do you solve a problem like... planning for next year in the middle of a pandemic?
In this new opinion series, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.
This week, we receive advice on a topic at the front of every marketing mind: what happens next, and how to prepare for it.
Between the coronavirus pandemic, a US presidential election and the UK’s final departure from the European Union, there’s a lot of external events that could affect economies and consumer spending in the next year. So, with all this uncertainty, how can marketers plan effectively?
How do you plan for next year, when you’ve no idea what’s coming?
Shari Reichenberg, managing director, Rapp
It has become clear that some businesses are set up for success (or have pivoted to be so) in the pandemic: retailers with strong, mobile-first e-commerce platforms; entertainment optimized to be online and shareable; financial services providers with contactless payment solutions or strong loyalty programs; healthcare companies that are comfortable with digital platforms and telehealth.
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Our portfolio of clients has shifted considerably in 2020, with a dramatic increase in representation from ’pandemic-ready’ clients. Fortunately, their needs are fairly clear, be it acquisition, retention, engagement or advocacy; as such, we are able to engage in strategic planning right alongside them to lay down an educated guess as to their needs and our partnership in 2021.
Arianna Huffington, chief executive officer, Thrive Global
I had a quote on my Instagram the other day from John Lennon reminding us that life is what happens when we’re busy making plans. I think it’s very important to recognize that life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen. If we are a control freak and we think we are going to plan everything, these are going to be extremely hard times.
For anybody who thinks that this is going to be a few more months and we’ll be back to normal, they are going to be in for a rude awakening, so I recommend that you recognize that. This is like a portal between the world we’re leaving behind and the world we need to create — both in our own lives, in our companies and in society at large. It can give us a sense of optimism, history and opportunity to use this crisis to build something better.
Jinal Shah, vice-president of marketing, Feather
This one is easy. Scenario planning. We developed multiple data-driven scenarios that take into account how the macro shifts can impact or accelerate our growth trajectory for next year.
This in turn has created a clear roadmap for the strategic bets and pivots we’ll need to make as we see the relevant signals. The key, as always, is to remain decisive and brutally focused. I obviously want to be optimistic, but if this year has taught us anything, it is to ensure businesses are over-prepared and agile enough to embrace ambiguity.
One very tactical thing I’ve done with my direct team is that I've groomed them all to become generalists with a growth mindset. Irrespective of the scenario we execute, my team will be able to stretch and take on more creative or more quantitative projects to meet the demands of the strategy. This year specifically, we’ve invested in helping our marketing team level-up their skills and I’m confident that this foresight will pay dividends next year.
Harmony Murphy, general manager of UK advertising, eBay:
Planning is really difficult right now, so while we can create a rough roadmap for the year to come, the most important thing for us to factor in is agility and flexibility. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year, it’s to expect the unexpected. In the months to come, it’s going to be those businesses that are prepared to regularly reassess and pivot their strategies that come out on top.
That being said, new strategies or pivoted plans won’t always produce optimal results first time, meaning we’ll need to be resilient. During uncertain times, we have to be able to roll with the punches, keep on adapting, and not give up.
Keith Scandone, chief executive officer, O3 World
This is always a concern for services teams. There is always an ebb and flow nature to the work. For us, we have a good deal of ongoing engagements, so we have a slightly better view of the future. However, it’s still important to be a little more conservative, and a little more flexible.
For example, we’ve hired a contractor or two instead of full-time hires. As we’re a service-based company, we need to be smart with our money and savings, so if the pandemic continues to really impact the economy and business, this will allow us to have some netting to catch our fall.
This was also an opportunity to be really open with our team about the reality of things. It’s likely people are already concerned, so it was essential for us to be honest with everyone about the state of the business.
We are doing our best to be more organized and decisive than ever with budgets and time management. We also have thought through and discussed multiple scenarios for different departments based on whether things are great, or not so great.
Jill Kouri, chief marketing officer for the Americas, JLL
We’ve selected a few key areas of focus and we’re all rallying around those initiatives. As a global leader in corporate real estate, the ’future of work’ is right in our crosshairs. We’ve already realized how invaluable it is to work as one, versus working in silos. And we’re also creating a much tighter linkage with our research organization to ensure we’re delivering timely, regular, useful content to clients and companies all over the world as they reimagine the future of work.
Rachel Konrad, chief communications officer, Impossible Foods
I don’t think you can say we have no idea what’s coming down the tracks. 2021 looks pretty clear, actually. Global warming will continue to make cities and entire regions less hospitable to human life. Biodiversity will continue to collapse as species go extinct. Zoonotic pandemics will continue to ravage human civilization and destroy economies.
All of these scourges are rooted in our outdated, catastrophic reliance on animal agriculture to create meat. Impossible Foods’ mission is to make Earth great again by eliminating the need for livestock, making meat from plants instead. In 2021, the mission, messaging and comms team at Impossible Foods will be more relevant than ever!
Emma Robertson, chief executive officer, Engine Transformation
If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is how vulnerable organisations are to external forces and that the perfect plan can quickly become obsolete. To quote Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
A new approach is required – a much tighter grip on the aim and ambition, and a much looser one on how it is delivered. Organisations must build fluidity and adaptability into their planning, while accelerating the underlying enablers that can deliver change at pace.
And the answer is not always technology – decision making, empowerment and culture can be the biggest barriers. Make transformation a mindset, not a programme.
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