Endings, beginnings, and change: Being a planner in times of crisis

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon.

Don’t mind me as I get a little personal here.

This has been an upside-down, crazy year for everyone, myself included. And as I embark on a new, unexpected chapter of my life, I wanted to reflect on what it took to get me here — and on what might lie ahead.

In Tarot, the Death card represents endings. But it also represents change, transformation, the kind of new beginnings that are only possible by letting go of the past and starting fresh.

This can be a painful process. It so often is. But as I’m trying to remind myself, new beginnings can be hopeful, too. It’s a feeling I had nine years ago, standing on the precipice of the last new beginning. And it’s a feeling I have today, as I embark on this next one.

Continue reading “Endings, beginnings, and change: Being a planner in times of crisis”

Marketing during COVID: A 4-step plan

I’m writing this about nine weeks into lockdown, during the biggest pandemic of the century.

2020 wasn’t supposed to be like this. The year started with optimistic projections. The global economy was healthy and robust, with the OECD projecting lofty growth among both G20 and developing countries. It was to be an Olympic year. Unemployment was down. Living standards were up. Digital advertising revenue was forecast to grow by nearly 11%, to a whopping $326 billion.

And then everything changed.

Continue reading “Marketing during COVID: A 4-step plan”

How to be data-driven in a crisis

In times of extraordinary change, how should businesses navigate and interpret the massive quantities of data coming their way? My team of strategic planners, analysts, and insights specialists spend all day every day interpreting numbers. But what happens when those numbers suddenly seem to become irrelevant in times of massive upheaval or change?

Right now, we’re facing unprecedented times—in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, it seems like things are changing so quickly that one day’s numbers are no longer relevant by the next. We’re accustomed to looking at 30 or 60 or 90 days of historical data to make forecasts, but that feels impossible now.

Many businesses who rely on big data for decision-making are struggling with this right now. So, I’d like to propose a few guiding principles to help data-driven decision makers cope with a crisis of this scale.

Continue reading “How to be data-driven in a crisis”

Just get moving: Overcoming digital paralysis

moving-day I’ve finally up and moved. Welcome to my new home here at WordPress. And, apologies for being out of touch for so long.

See, when I started this blog back in 2010 over at Typepad, that platform was all kinds of modern and full-featured. But, digital years are like dog years. Seven years later, my non-mobile responsive site on a limited-access platform wasn’t looking so new and shiny anymore.

I knew I had to migrate the blog over here. I just never seemed to get around to it. Despite being in the industry for fifteen years, my actual technical skills are fairly limited. I’ve set up WordPress blogs before, and I knew how easy it was to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to do those million things right, from design to functionality to site admin. The actual work involved felt daunting. Because I never felt like I had enough time to finish the task, I never actually started it.

I’d fallen into the classic digital paralysis trap: Because I couldn’t do everything, I stopped myself from doing anything. Which is why it’s been nearly two years since my last post.

Oops.

The thing is, plenty of companies suffer from digital paralysis, too. The rate of change in digital is too fast for most corporations to keep up.

Continue reading “Just get moving: Overcoming digital paralysis”

7 useless facts about your personas

Aaahh, personas. Those imaginary people that all planners invent to help inspire our marketing.

At their best, personas are like our childhood imaginary friends – so real that we can almost hear their voices in our heads. At their worst, they’re cardboard-cutouts, boring “average” people designed to appease everybody and please nobody, with 2.1 kids and a dog, who haven’t existed outside of a Norman Rockwell painting in half a decade.

Continue reading “7 useless facts about your personas”

The trouble with estimates

By its very nature, estimation is a game of unknowns. When we make projections for budgets, revenue or returns, we base them on a series of wobbly assumptions. Each assumption in itself might be somewhat reasonable, but the more of them we put together, the shakier the foundation is on which we build our estimate… and the more likely the estimate is to collapse in a heap.

The fact that we base so much of our decision-making on these estimates ought to be worrisome, when we consider how they’re actually built in the first place.

Continue reading “The trouble with estimates”

A portfolio approach to digital planning

How much money should you be allocating to each channel in your marketing mix?

One simple answer is that you should calculate the ROI of each channel and then shift your budget from the less profitable channels into the more profitable ones. But, even leaving aside various challenges with measuring ROI across a multitude of digital and offline channels, this approach is problematic even assuming you could get accurate numbers. It fails to take all sorts of factors into account, such as the value of emerging channels versus established ones, the difference between awareness marketing and lead generation, and the impact of one channel on another to create a sum greater than its parts.

But the opposite approach — not measuring at all, but simply planning budgets by instinct or by what “feels” right, is even worse. If you have no idea how your various tactics are performing, then you’re flying blind. And as demonstrating ROI becomes increasingly important for marketers, there’s no way that such a laissez-faire way of planning is going to work for very long.

It occurs to me that we need a different approach — one that takes a holistic view of multiple channels and tactics, and drives towards a common goal, but which allows for different performance objectives for each tactic.

Such an approach exists. Our friends in the financial planning industry have been using it for years. They call it portfolio planning.

Continue reading “A portfolio approach to digital planning”

The Destructiveness of Anger

Can anger, criticism and negative feedback generate more creative and better ideas than encouragement and positive feedback?

That's the hypothesis explored in a provocatively-titled article in Wired Magazine by Jonah Lehrer entitled The Creativity of Anger.

Why does anger have this effect on the imagination? I think the answer is still unclear – we’re only beginning to understand how moods influence cognition. But my own sense is that anger is deeply stimulating and energizing. It’s a burst of adrenaline that allows us to dig a little deeper, to get beyond the usual superficial free-associations. In contrast, when our mood is neutral or content, there is no incentive to embrace unfamiliar possibilities, to engage in mental risks or brash new concepts. (Why rock the boat?) The absence of criticism has kept us in the same place. And this is why anger makes it easier to think different.

The article has been making the rounds on social channels and stirring up debate all day. Some people are lauding it as a breath of fresh air, while others are aghast at the attack on the sacred cow of brainstorming in a positive, non-judgmental feedback loop.

Personally, I think this sort of thinking leads us down a dangerous and destructive path. Here's why:

Continue reading “The Destructiveness of Anger”