Ed Pilkington: Uncertainty is no excuse for failing to plan

It’s impossible to know everything, but what we do know should help us plan ahead, which is all the more important in uncertain times.

I was watching a Newsnight programme at the start of the year, where the panel were looking ahead to 2018. Before they started predicting what the year ahead might hold, the group (the majority having featured on the panel the previous year) reflected on what had happened in 2017 and which of their previous predictions they had got right.

In some cases they had been pretty much spot on and in other cases they had been very wide of the mark. This got me thinking about the planning process that all of us in business go through – what do we get right and where do we go wrong?

We live in a rollercoaster world, where predicting what may happen can seem impossible, and yet we still have to forecast and plan.

So, as we plan ahead we should know that we won’t always be right, because quite simply there are some things we just don’t know, and not everything is in our control.

But there are certain things that we do know, based on our knowledge and an understanding of the world and trends around us, which should allow us to ride through the uncertainty of the world.

So what will happen in 2018 and what are the big issues and implications for those of us who are building brands?

Top priorities for 2018

In the world of communications we will all be looking at our media plans and trying to ensure ‘safety’ for our brands. We will all be learning how to manage data better and starting to get our heads around the rise of artificial intelligence. We’ll also be thinking of the implications new technology – Blockchain being one example – may have on our businesses and, more specifically, on how we buy media (and how we buy in general).

READ MORE: Why marketers need to get to grips with Blockchain

Managing the digital world will of course remain essential, but we also need to recognise that consumers live in a physical world with a need for real connections.

In my world, we’re actively driving our online business but with the ultimate goal of facilitating enhanced consumer connections (i.e. when buying a product online and enjoying at home with friends and family).

We know that the holistic wellbeing trend continues to accelerate. The sugar tax will kick in shortly and we will pay more for our Coca-Cola (not reformulated) and even drink a different Irn Bru (reformulated but still, apparently, tasting great). People are conscious about how they live and certainly in our business we must continue to plan and to offer our consumers choice.

We should continue to be receptive to who is setting the trend, spotting these opportunities and factoring them into our planning in the most relevant way.

In a world of economic uncertainty we also know that people are increasingly conscious of their purchasing habits. While consumers may be spending less year on year, it seems consumers are still willing to treat themselves, especially when it comes to luxury products. We can and should plan for this trend. It may not be an everyday purchase, but we must plan for people increasingly opting for products that help them optimise their lifestyle and set them apart.

And in an increasingly frantic and non-stop world we also know that we need to deliver the products and experiences we know our consumers expect. Getting our offers right – the size of what we offer, the price, and the communication that grabs the attention but doesn’t distract or annoy – is key. It’s about doing the basics but in a way that is relevant now. Again, we can plan for this.

So, we may not know who will be leading the big and emerging economies of the world in two, three or four years’ time (and if we are British we may not know what our new blue passport will allow us to do); but there is plenty for us to plan around, where we have enough knowledge and where, if we execute brilliantly, we should deliver for our businesses.

As ever, we must be ready to adapt at pace to the unpredictable, the new trend or the new opportunity, and remember that consumers don’t always behave in the way that we may predict. We should continue to be receptive to who is setting the trend, spotting these opportunities and factoring them into our planning in the most relevant way. We have to review and understand the trend in light of the brand or business strategy and not have a knee-jerk reaction.

As I look ahead at 2018, I’m excited by the possibilities that the world is throwing at us. I feel there is so much to learn and I also feel that there is a lot where we know what we should be doing and we should be getting on and planning and executing it. So, the need to plan in these interesting times is as great as ever.

We can be on top of big societal and human change where we should be expert – and we can make a stab at the impact that the changes in the world will have.  We won’t and can’t predict everything that is going happen but with the right blend of planning, flexibility and adroitness we can make 2018 (and as we look ahead 2019) really good.

Ed Pilkington is marketing and innovation director, Europe, at Diageo



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  1. Luis Madureira 9 Feb 2018

    Dear Ed, great article and pretty much on the spot regarding one of the current biggest challenges, making sense of the competitive environment. Would love to show you how we support companies like yours (which used to be “mine” as well), address this challenge.

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