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September 09, 2020

By: John Wells, President, RAPP LA/Dallas

Few things challenge brands more than being caught off-guard. It leaves them scrambling to find a balance between short-term needs and long-term implications as they arrive at a reasonable and responsible path forward. Make the wrong move in a message, partnership, or operational change, and you could jeopardize the future of a business.

I’ve certainly been witness to more than a few brands overcorrecting when responding strategically to changes in the marketplace. They enact these plans that fit the immediate circumstances but make no sense once the storm has passed. They’re left trying to right the ship again and “retconning” the decision to fit in with their overarching brand strategies.

Rather than rushing to respond, a much better option would be a more calculated approach. Be mindful of the impact each decision will have on not just the brand or vision for the business, but also the individuals in your organization — not to mention the customers you serve. You want to make sure to communicate internally why each decision is being made and how it might affect strategy going forward. Giving customers a heads-up is wise, too.

Keeping the Big Picture Top of Mind
With so many variables during times of change, it can be difficult to keep a clear view of long-term goals. Smaller, short-term milestones can help solidify that vision in the back of everyone’s minds. It’s a means of providing direction for where the business is headed as you collectively maneuver around each new obstacle.

Sure, you may need to take a detour or two. But the destination itself remains the same, and leadership must make this known. Leaders also need to determine whether the detour is necessary or just an overreaction to a passing fad. It requires an agile approach to addressing new challenges without losing sight of the big picture.

Our company, for instance, had to focus on retaining a large, long-term client. We limited and almost stopped all new business efforts to focus on this client’s retention — “almost” being the operative word here. While our attention turned to this short-term task, the team never changed the long-term approach to business affairs.

Finding That Delicate Balance
Arriving at the right mixture of tactics to fulfill short-term needs and maintain a long-term vision isn’t always easy. Lots of variables, as mentioned before. But you can do a few things to help maintain a healthy balance. Consider starting with the following:

  1. Keep measuring performance indicators.

Whatever you can quantify in relation to your business is always a good thing, especially when unforeseen hurdles arise that could jeopardize a long-term vision. Think about how a sudden issue might impact current KPIs. Define (or redefine) a means of measurement, and then evaluate, assess, and change strategies if necessary. I prefer to pick three at first to set a timing cadence, usually focused on financial and behavioral measures. Of course, your choice will vary depending on your business goals.

  1. Assemble a strategic response team.

The best ideas sometimes emerge from the unlikeliest places. Dip into your talent pool and bring together a cross-discipline set of individuals to be part of the conversation. Give them an idea of what long-term success will look like at the other end, and provide a forum for this team to develop outcome-based initiatives to weather the impending storm. The goal here is to embrace diversity of thought and perspective to capture a real sense of what’s going on and anticipate the best path forward.

  1. Respond to consumer trends.

When the marketplace is in a state of flux, it only makes sense to monitor consumer behavioral trends with greater regularity. Things can change on a dime, after all, and the response will likely be a shift in marketing tactics and investments. If, for example, foot traffic is down, an endcap display won’t provide the returns you’re looking for. In fact, our current climate has led to many brands using social media for customer engagement. A recent CMO survey found that 84% now use social platforms for brand building and more than 54% use them for customer retention — causing social media to jump from 12.3% to 23.2% of total marketing spend.

We no longer live in a “set it and forget it” business environment. Teams must constantly pay attention to how the day-to-day changes affect long-term plans. Otherwise, you start to lose sight of where a brand is headed, which can impact customer sentiment for years to come.

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