The Secret Marketer: It pays to keep an eye on the big picture

Spare a thought for our overseas brand management cousins. Climate change, natural disasters, civil unrest and economic collapse are just a few of the issues dominating the immediate thoughts of many. These are turbulent times that will challenge even the best laid plans. Debates about whether to relaunch in period four or five or how best to tweak your media schedule suddenly seem trivial when macro economic forces conspire to turn your world upside down.

I remember being taught at business school about the value of PEST analysis. As the SWAT analysis captures one’s strengths and weaknesses, the PEST delves externally to look at political, economic, social and technology driven factors that may one day affect us. It is often used as a long range planning tool designed to stop us navel gazing and to ensure that we are mindful of the bigger stuff going on around us.

The PEST always seems a bit blue sky: nice in theory but not in practice.

In the years that I have worked in marketing, I can’t remember ever taking the PEST very seriously. It is the kind of thing that pops up once a year at a strategic planning meeting. It maybe gets 20 minutes at the end of a very long agenda and fills a few more scribbled flip charts that somebody then kindly volunteers to write up and circulate. That is usually the start and end of it.

The PEST always seems a bit blue sky: nice in theory but not in practice. One for the insights team or a remote bunch of consultants who are completely out of tune with the real world that we operate in. Instead we prefer to spend copious hours debating and re-crafting the small print of our brand ladders, onions or keys. Looking at it this way, what the hell are we doing? We’re in danger of being the ultimate tinkerers, justifying time and money dabbling with minor detail while being blissfully ignorant of the big picture.

Anyone in doubt or who thinks that these comments only apply to those marketers in faraway places, would do well to imagine a typical PEST of only five years ago…. “the UK will enter a banking crisis and subsequently be ruled by coalition government. Civil service job cuts will be unprecedented. Woolworths will no longer be trading and a new internet thingy called social media and Facebook will be so big globally that people now use it to overthrow oppressive regimes”. OK, so some things are predictable; but perhaps those flip charts are more useful than I ever dreamed possible.

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