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When Agility Underpins Stability

CMOs and marketing departments are going through a tough time. Outside of those businesses thriving amidst the current flux, many are experiencing budget cuts coupled with new pressures to adapt to our ‘new normal’.

Making decisions on how to allocate those increasingly scarce marketing dollars is no enviable task. Where are the cuts to be made? How does one reduce ad spend or promotional activity in a way that mitigates damage to sales revenue? What elements of R&D can be temporarily suspended to help weather the storm?

When it comes to R&D, the logic behind suspending the foundational pieces of research that underpin the development of successful brand strategies and NPD (i.e. usage and attitude studies, segmentations) is sound. Of course there are exceptions to the rule with certain categories being minimally impacted by the current state of play, but by and large, people are living such unsettled lives in the present moment, that it’s entirely probable that once the dust settles and we enter a period of greater predictability, their attitudes and needs may have changed again.

However, whilst a momentary pause on these pieces of work may make sense for many organisations, this work will be of fundamental importance to all when the flux has subsided. After all, consumer attitudes and segments will have changed in many verticals, and failing to grasp these transformations will have financial consequences.

But in the meantime, the key challenge for marketers sits with guiding their organisation through the flux to the other side … and quick insight has never been more critical.

Early on in my career as a researcher and strategist, a wise head shared the analogy of research being like a lamp post with me, and it’s an analogy worthy of reflection in darker times. Firstly, research can be used to illuminate the way forward. Most researchers like to think that their toil is being used to unearth fresh insights that help inform future decision making and underpin strong business performance. But equally, like a lamp post, research also provides stability. It can enable those responsible for decision making to have a sound, evidence base to support their decisions and gain the support of critical stakeholders (and serve as something to hold on to when justifying strategic decisions if things change or don’t go to plan).

As it stands, for many marketing teams and CMOs, the present moment demands evidence-based decision making. This novel coronavirus has led to plenty of novel challenges, and if opinion is the dominant force informing strategic decision making, there is ample opportunity for mistakes to be made that could impact a business long term.

The best route to ensuring sound decision making is occurring through this unstable period, is to be able to capture ongoing insight, in a relatively inexpensive way. Having an agile, light touch program, that has the ability to gain timely, robust answers to the unknown mind-blowing question that may dawn on a CEO two weeks from now is worth its weight in gold.

At the present moment, Pollinate has setup Agile Insights Hubs for a number of key clients we work with. In one instance, this has not only enabled a key client to gain answers to questions with a quantitatively robust sample every week, but also enables the team to qualitatively pressure test ideas with 20 consumers based on what is important at that specific moment in time.

Areas of enquiry have been varied and included understanding shifts in basic consumption behaviour, exploring a new brand platform and creative, right through to having consumers participate in sensory research in their own home. Through the video content generated from an online board and weekly online mini groups, one of the most valuable elements of the program is the team’s ability to bring to life insights in a rich and engaging way on a weekly basis. It’s proven so beneficial when having to justify decision making with global stakeholders, that the marketing team are looking to roll out a 12-month program.

So in this period of flux, when it comes to the unenviable decision of having to cut and/or reallocate funds, marketing teams have an enormous responsibility to ensure that decisions are being made from a strong, consumer centric evidence base. Marketers need to be agile, as getting the right answer to the right question at the right time will underpin any given organisation’s stability not only in the short term, but most likely in the long term. The accumulation of small, opinion informed decisions through coming months is something to be concerned about … for some, it may mean there is no business to run that U&A for in 6 months time.



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