As you may have heard, there was a little dust-up today on the East Coast. MLC headquarters, located in lovely Arlington, VA, was the scene of several overturned trash cans and a mildly anxious evacuation (yes, West Coast folks, we know it wasn’t that bad – but we don’t gloat when you complain about the humidity). After safely making it to the bottom floor of our building, the team, taking advantage of the resulting structural check, decamped to the nearest watering hole – where we found the scene to your right. At 2:00 PM.
Having worked in the restaurant industry, I can tell you that most bars and restaurants have a staffing plan that basically calls for more staff when there’s more likelihood of high demand. Depending on the place, restaurants staff up for weekends, happy hours, Mother’s Day, Christmas – the list goes on. But I doubt there’s a single restaurant on earth ready for that kind of foot traffic at 2:00 PM on a Tuesday.
Now, we can’t fault a restaurant for not guessing – or even having the capacity to handle – the inevitable surge of office workers evacuated after the second-strongest earthquake in the history of the East Coast. After all, with limited resources and the vanishingly-tiny likelihood of an unexpected surge in customers at that hour of the day, it would be uneconomic to have extra bartenders and waiters on hand.
But the bigger your organization is, the more products you sell, and the larger your geographic footprint is, the greater the likelihood of some kind of unexpected exogenous shock – whether the literal one we experienced in the DC area today, or something as innocuous as a rap lyric that mentions your product – can present an opportunity to serve more customers, strengthen your brand, or gain market share. And here’s the thing about shocks: they very often present an opportunity for breakout growth, as opposed to the more mundane linear variety – just look at the interest in Moscato before and after the rap lyric that brought it to renewed fame.
To me, shocks help explain why a lot of what marketers go through in the planning process is silly, wasteful and even dangerous. Geologists can’t predict earthquakes, weathermen don’t do terribly well with the weather, and marketers and executives aren’t going to be able to truly, repeatably identify and prepare for the kinds of shocks that can deliver huge returns to a brand – and that makes planning, at least as its traditionally done, an exercise out of touch with the real, unpredictable world.
So what can you do to prepare for earthquakes, literal and metaphorical? First, build agility into your organization and processes – my colleague Ana actually wrote about that very thing this week. Invest in staff – like our New Media Ringmaster – with proven records of accelerating organizational responsiveness; they won’t help you predict the future, but they’ll make you a whole lot better at reacting to the present as it happens. Consider strengthening your social listening capabilities; these can help you pick up on trends before they hit the mainstream. As you plan, keep it simple: members love Mastercard’s Plan on a Page for a reason. Most of all, stay loose and ready to tackle opportunities as they come – even if they aren’t “in the plan”.
MLC members, for more on marketing planning, please visit our topic center, and consider registering for our upcoming webinar on Agent-Based Modeling – one tool that can help remove some of the uncertainty around the future.