Planning in a Time of Turmoil

by Christian Cocker, SVP and Executive Strategic Planning Director at RPA

Originally posted on ANA.net

Turmoil is defined as a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty. To say this has been happening a lot in our world recently is an understatement. It makes me think of the Kipling poem, If.

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,"

There's obviously a lot more to that poem, but the general feeling I take from it is that no matter how bad things might get, it's important to rise above it and stay calm and focused.

So, when you're a strategic planner, how do you "plan" when the world keeps shifting and a new disaster lurks around every corner?

Well, let's take another leaf out of Kipling's book:

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;"

In other words, just because times get tough doesn't mean we should take our eye off the ball. We need to remain calm. Breathe. Stay focused on what we know, and what we are trying to do. As a big believer in simplicity, here are three suggestions when in times of turmoil:

Know who you are, inside and out

In times of turmoil, things happen fast, and acting and reacting fast is crucial. That means being able to create messaging and marketing tactics rapidly. There's no luxury of a long timeline with multiple rounds of development, approvals, research to confirm, refine, or optimize. Is everyone on the same page with what the brand stands for, its voice, personality, enemy? Can everyone who is part of expressing the brand quickly and easily describe what the brand is about? When you feel the brand in your bones and everyone is on the same page, much quicker decisions can be made as to what behavior feels right and wrong for the brand. Precious time will be lost if there's disagreement because crucial work hasn't been done to truly clarify the brand and get everyone on point. When times are tough, relationships that aren't on the same page tend to break.

Keep an eye on the horizon (don't forget where you want to go)

Turmoil can represent opportunity. Stay calm, step back, and look at the big picture. The current uncertainty being faced is that there may be a recession coming. It's a truly unique situation (a once-in-a-century pandemic, inflation, but with high employment), so it's very hard to predict. Looking at previous recessions, there are some factors that are a safe bet. For example, advertising spend becomes more of a luxury during recessions and gets cut back. But time and again it's been shown that brands that maintain their SOV or increase it during a recession emerge stronger. Media costs due to market forces tend to go down, so it can be a better value. Increasing media spend to maintain or increase SOV isn't necessary, just cut less than competitors. Looking at it this way, with cheaper media, the same investment or slightly less means a larger SOV. It's a great opportunity for longer-term growth and holding fast might be a chance to knock out a couple of weaker competitors and position brands for a much stronger future in the long run.

Remember the fundamentals that don't change

Change becomes the only thing we hear and seem to talk about. "Change" gets attention because it's new, novel, exciting, and visceral. It's much more seductive than the flip-side — what's not changing. "What's not changing" can seem boring and won't grab the headlines. Let's not forget the last line of Kipling's poem:

"And — which is more — you'll be a Man, my son!"

(I would also suggest "a woman, my daughter" — note that this was written back in 1895). The point being we are human; made up of messy emotions, wants, desires, and drives. While the world around us continues to rapidly change let's remember there's a lot about us that won't change very fast.

Marketers need to consider the fundamentals that haven't changed. People still want to be entertained, to laugh, cry, commiserate, belong, feel loved, and be inspired. When I was growing up in the UK, I remember living through some tough times where money was tight in my neighborhood, but the one luxury people still afforded themselves was video entertainment (quaintly called satellite TV at the time), because no matter how bad things got, we all wanted to be able to have a bit of escape, a bit of a laugh, a bit of a cry, and to feel part of something. Times may change, but human needs remain constant. In times of turmoil and significant change, don't forget your brand can still cater to things about us that aren't changing.

So, as things get crazy, and they probably will in 2023, remain calm, remember to breathe. Make sure you know your brand inside and out, keep an eye on the horizon, and don't forget the things that aren't changing (even if nobody is talking about them).


"Planning in a Time of Turmoil." Christian Cocker, SVP and Executive Strategic Planning Director at RPA, 3/2/23.

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