Prime minister Theresa May has finally secured deals on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and the nature of its future trading relationship with the bloc. However, with the likelihood of getting these deals approved by parliament in a postponed January vote looking small, uncertainty still hangs over the entire process. At this point, all options are still equally possible, including no deal, an extension to negotiations and no Brexit at all.
But none of that has so far changed the fact that 29 March 2019 is set in law as the date when Brexit will happen automatically. For brands, waiting to see what occurs is no longer an option – plans, and contingency plans, must be made now, otherwise they won’t be in a position to act on whatever sequence of events actually comes about.
Of course, even knowing what the worst-case scenario might be is a challenge. Further weakening of sterling looks likely in the event of a no-deal Brexit – in the short-term at least – which would most likely push inflation up still further. If the stock market loses confidence there’s also likely to be less investment capital available, and some brands selling products imported from the EU may have to brace themselves for insufficient supply and delays in distribution.
Therefore, at the very least all marketers should have a plan for the possibility of lower demand, tightened margins and reined-in marketing spending – and they might want to have their own version of KFC’s ‘FCK’ apology ad up their sleeves.
The opposite is also possible, where the outcome for business is better than expected and all the uncertainty priced into markets over the past two and a half years quickly evaporates. In that case, be ready to maximise the opportunities for increased sales and consumer confidence.
None of this is certain, though, so marketers will want to make friends with their colleagues in risk management as soon as possible, if they haven’t already, and find out what wider plans their business has for the different eventualities.
They will also need to be ready to execute on their plans – and change course if necessary – at speed. Marketers will have to brief their agencies fully with plenty of time to spare, and they’ll also need to ensure their business can deliver on any promises made to customers.
The time for prevaricating and hoping for the best has come to an end. Even if brands do not know what is coming around the corner yet, they now have no choice but to act.