Why uncertainty is the perfect environment for strategic planning

rishi sunak

Paradoxically, Rishi Sunak announcing that the furlough scheme will be extended until March creates more uncertainty, not less.

Yes, we now have greater financial stability for our team, but all this tells us is that there’s every chance that lockdown 2.0 will be continuing indefinitely – or at least, beyond the original end date of 2 December.

We really have no idea when it will end or what that end might look like. More often than not, we can feel completely and utterly at the mercy of this virus and un-chartered path of destruction.

Lisa Eaton,  founder and Managing Director of strategic communications agency, Unwritten Group and professional marketing academy, Fabric explains that, we are not completely powerless – there are invaluable activities we can do during this time to really strengthen our business in the longer-term. We just need to recognise the importance of breaking our routine every now and then.

The combination of this extended furlough safety net and longer-term uncertainty means that now is an especially good time to take your foot off the core ‘business as usual’ activity to re-consider and develop both your business and your marketing strategy.

I know it probably feels counter-intuitive – how can you plan ahead when you have no idea what the future holds? But strategic planning could in fact be one of the best uses of your time right now.

We know that markets and consumer behaviours are constantly changing, and whether we operate in B2B, B2C or the third sector, we all need to review what we are selling, who to and how they might want to consume it going forward. One other thing that is quite likely to change is our key competitor landscape. With so many businesses evolving in order to survive, you could find your corporate toes are unexpectedly trodden on if you don’t keep your eyes open. Just because your future competitors are not currently operating in your arena it doesn’t mean they’re not going to break down the door…

During times like these it’s easy to become overwhelmingly reactive – you may be focused on desperately trying to stay afloat and of course we absolutely do need to focus on our immediate survival. However, if we don’t take at least some time out to fully consider the external environment and look at ways of re-purposing our offer, we’ll become stuck in day-to-day panic mode until our business finally gives up the ghost and we emerge burnt out, battered and more than a little bewildered.

We say this about self-care so it makes sense to say this about business-care too – we need to prioritise time today to take care of our future health and wellbeing. Right now, that means scheduling time to pause, reflect and be as creative and disruptive as we can in that space. We need to do the things we often put off doing for fear of neglecting more ‘urgent’ problems – looking around us, taking note of what others are doing and going off-script will unlock so much more potential than simply reacting to the day’s news and our existing customer demand.

Developing a marketing strategy, as many already know, usually breaks down into three key stages: Data and insight, strategy and tactical activity, followed by measurement and evaluation.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what next month will look like never mind the next five years, but exploring a range of scenarios will future proof the business not just for Covid – but for anything that might hit us over the coming years – the Brexit deal being another looming unknown. If we can consider the possible impacts of these different scenarios in advance, understand what our competitors are doing, look at new product or market possibilities and assess our channels of communication, we will be better prepared to respond quickly and informatively – resulting in greater rates of success.

Even if we manage to firefight our way through lockdown 2.0 and emerge at the other end still in one piece, our customers will no longer be engaging with us in the same way as before. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels and believe that, just because one day we’ll be told its safe to go back into the office, that that’s what we’ll all immediately do.

Lockdown has provided us with significant challenges – particularly around remote working, Covid safe spaces and transforming physical products into digital ones to enable us to maintain our customer base and sales figures. But these challenges have also brought with them opportunities. We’ve found new and preferred ways of working, we’ve developed new skills, our priorities have changed and our needs have too – so you can be pretty sure the same goes for our customers. If we don’t stop and consider how we can capitalise on these opportunities as soon as possible, we can pretty much guarantee that one of our competitors will beat us to it.

Building a customer-centric marketing strategy will enable brands to make more meaningful connections which is paramount in the current climate. As people become more cautious, consider how that might affect their buying behaviour and therefore your pricing strategy. And what about the huge ‘clap for our carers’ turnout and increased community spirit that we’ve seen over recent months – will that encourage more altruism or socially-minded purchasing?

It’s tempting to go for seemingly quick-wins by firing out tactical promotions to the customers we already know – but on their own, they won’t safeguard the health and wealth of your business. Don’t wait for Boris Johnson to break the news about what tomorrow might bring, explore the possible scenarios and solutions yourself. Some of the risks we face could create a thousand exciting revolutions in the business world.

To summarise, take control of the things you’re able to influence and create meaningful change for your business and for those around you.