When The Going Gets Tough…

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We are living in very uncertain times. The new president has just been sworn in and love him or hate him, he has promised measures that will create shock waves to the economy, and now that he is in charge we will begin to see what was fact and what was rhetoric during the run up to the election.

Over in Europe, three countries are facing elections of their own this year (Italy, France and The Netherlands) and one, the UK, will start the formal exit from the EU. All of this means that as a company or business leader, making any kind of predictions is very hard. Not that it is all that easy any other time, but right now, at this juncture, it seems more difficult than ever.

I am not here to provide you with predictions from my crystal ball as I am about as much in the dark as you are. But what I can tell you is that inertia is probably your worst enemy. And that is as much true if your business today is doing pretty well, or is on a downward slump.

Uncertainty is a challenging problem, because the human mind is conditioned for survival. Facing uncertainty, your instinct will automatically drive you to choose the safest option. And when alternate options can not be easily predicted in terms of results, you might be tempted to elect the status quo, even when the status quo is demonstrably not desirable (i.e. your business was already not progressing).

This is a real problem that many businesses face. Even if we take the uncertainty of politics and the economy out of the equation, many business models have been turned on their heads by advancing technologies and data, or simply by evolving consumer preferences and tastes.

In presentations and white papers, people love to elaborate on the poor leadership at Kodak, Blackberry or Nokia to not foresee and respond to the challenges their business was facing. But for all these well worn examples, there are also great examples of companies and leaders who courageously looked at what they knew and made a call.

Facebook was woefully behind in mobile a few years back. But it made a call, developed a strategy and a plan, and today more than 75% of its business is mobile driven (can we please stop saying that this is the year for mobile? That moment is long in the past!).
Unilever saw that consumer preferences and tastes were evolving rapidly towards healthier and sustainable, and placed a big bet on that idea. It seems like that was absolutely the right call.

The Coca-Cola Company at long last admitted that all Coke’s are consumed equal, i.e. the motivations to like the taste of a Coke, a Coke Light or Zero are all more or less the same. But sometimes we want to watch our waste-line and choose the less sugary variety. Today, they are all advertised together.

And the self-driving car is swiftly becoming a reality, so Ford, Mercedes and others are placing bets on companies and technologies that could one day enhance or even replace some of their core product today.

At Flock, we help businesses sort through the decision making process around the “how” of marketing (process, structure, organization, resource allocation, briefing, etc.). Most organizations first think about the “what” of marketing (i.e. content, messaging, media, digital, budgets, etc.). It is critical to make important decisions around the “how” first. “What” you will do will be seriously influenced by “how” you do it. Or as Deborah Wahl at McDonald’s puts it in a recent Ad Age interview:

“Ms. Wahl said she’d highly recommend that other advertisers undergo the process because it forced McDonald’s to examine its own business and align internally before figuring out what it was looking for in an outside partner…. Ms. Wahl said the procedure moved a lot more smoothly and faster because of the very thorough, detailed…. work Flock did ahead of time with McDonald’s to figure out the company’s internal needs and operations.”
So stop procrastinating and start transforming! We will gladly help you do it!

[Maarten is a featured contributor to MediaPost, this article was originally published here]

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