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The case for marketing in uncertainty: it’s time to let go

Marketing, and more broadly business, is a discipline that loves certainty.  

Covid-19, Strategy

Simon McEvoy

UK HEAD OF STRATEGY

Simon has worked with a wide variety of clients, from large multinationals like Xbox, Thomson Reuters and Sky, to smaller organisations and NGOs like National Trust, Outward Bound and Samaritans. His role is to act as the ‘bridge’ between data insights and creative in the agency, working across Strategy and UX to produce attention-grabbing, innovative but most of all effective work.

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We analyse, assess, strategise and plan to create ‘certain outcomes’ that deliver ‘guaranteed results’. Marketers promise their Board that they can grow the business. Agencies promise marketers they can win customers and boost sales. Martech providers promise everyone that everything will work perfectly if we only buy their product. We want, we sell, and we buy certainty. 

However, as Niels Bohr once said – “it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”.  

Anyone who knows how complex markets are understands that such certainty is impossible. Even the most well researched and acutely considered strategy is liable to fall apart once reality hits. Competitive forces, changing buying behaviour, political interventions and technological innovation all conspire to throw our best laid plans off track.  

The only thing certain is that certainty is impossible.  

Nothing could have brought this so sharply into focus than the global Coronavirus pandemic. In only a few months, this has gone from being a footnote in the news, to bringing the entire world to a standstill. Companies have sent employees home, entire sectors like leisure and air travel have been brought to their knees and our supply lines have been put under immense pressure.  

We are becoming acutely aware of how finely balanced and interdependent our economic system actually is.  

What faces us ahead is the definition of uncertainty. Long periods of isolation. A likely global recession. Many people falling sick and some dying, putting incredible pressure on our public services. All lasting many months, potentially more than a year.  

For those companies still trading, existing marketing plans have been torn up, business models are being pivoted and companies are focused on how they survive in this uncertain world.  

But survive they must. Business has an extraordinarily important role to play in overcoming Coronavirus and returning to growth – maintaining supply lines, keeping people employed, providing finance and loans and developing and distributing vital healthcare supplies, especially a vaccine.  

Business is the engine of recovery, bringing vibrancy back to global markets once we get the virus under control. Marketing and sales—as the growth engines of business—bear the bulk of responsibility for ensuring this happens. In time where many are paralysed by fear, we marketers need to adapt, and push forward with some add courage, resilience and a dash of luck.  

Uncertainty can be scary, it can be daunting, but it is something we marketers simply have to navigate now and in the future. The coming months can either be something we dread, or a whetstone to sharpen our wits on.  

Nothing is certain, but what we know is that by experimenting with the advice here, we can increase our chances of success and potentially come out of this period stronger than ever.  

We need to reframe the relationship we have with customers, so we get closer to them as supportive partners and real humans. We need to invest in our brand as a source of advantage in a downturn, and make sure it’s fit for purpose. We need to be agile, responsive, and learn how to test, learn and change course quickly. And we need to make sure our digital experience makes us easy to buy from when we can’t be in the same room.  

At Omobono, we’ve spent the last two years readying ourselves for uncertainty and complexity, through a transformation programme we call Omobono 2.0. What we’ve learned is that at its core, facing the uncertainty of life requires incredible vulnerability and courage. It requires us to say ‘I don’t know’. To let go of being ‘right’. To treat failure as learning and avoid blaming ourselves and others.  

These are new skills for many organisations, but those that master them quickly will increase their chances of surviving this crisis and set themselves up as better businesses full stop.  

And it goes without saying, we’re here to help. If you’re struggling on your own, juggling back to school drama, and conference calls with your work spread all over a kitchen table, you don’t have to.  

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Donna McGrory

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