The future is an asset, not a guess!

A crystal ball gazing into what marketers and marketing should/could be doing in the coming times!
 
The future is an asset, not a guess. As such, using it rather than predicting it, is the only way to create the conditions for a tomorrow that is better than today.
 
Few industries will have more predictions or “future of” reports than marketing. After all, it’s in our best interest to be a step ahead of the consumer. However, rather than prediction, intention is what has enabled the creation of strong global brands, remarkable campaigns, game changing products and services and thriving economies.
 
Marketing can no longer be taught, investigated, and practiced as confined to transactions between buyers and sellers, but needs to be reconsidered as deeply embedded within society and our living world.
 
Critically, though, this is perhaps the perfect stage and time – an open invitation for marketers to stop viewing themselves and their trade as economists do. As preached by ad legend Rory Sutherland, “My definition of marketing is simply the science of knowing what economists are wrong about. The human mind does not run on logic any more than a horse runs on petrol.” Perhaps, rather than chasing more universal laws of marketing, and what Sutherland calls ‘measurebation’, why not chase the exceptions that bring exponential success? And why not use that to help shift a business culture focused on short-term advantage, obsessed with money and uninterested on much else?
 
Particularly when, as explained by Sutherland in an exclusive master class for The Marketing Academy,“ “Marketing could be viewed as the most determining factor for social progress – not just in terms of changing our buying habits, but also in transforming our values system.”
 
Well… so what? A typical career lasts for 80,000 hours; so if you can make your career just one percent better, then in theory it would be worth spending up to 800 hours working out how to do just that. The past holds the patterns, the present is blurred, but the future is from where such exceptions can be seeded and harvested. Dr Toby Ord, a Philosophy Fellow at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, frames the point in a rather compelling way: “Of all the people whose wellbeing we should care about, only a small fraction are alive today. The rest are members of future generations who are yet to exist. Whether they’ll be born into a world that is flourishing or disintegrating – and indeed, whether they will ever be born at all – is in large part up to us.”
 
This conclusion holds true regardless of whether your moral framework is based on common sense, consequences, rules of ethical conduct, cooperating with others, virtuousness, keeping options open or just a sense of wonder about the universe in which we find ourselves. Regardless of your personal stance, this is an opportunity for a sound investment of your time. Now and then.
 
“We know how marketing works, but do we know what we want it to work for? Profit is the default worldview. Prosperity is the renegade counterpart. Why not both?”
 
Why not embrace ambiguity, apply genuine foresight and rigorously imagine possible scenarios where marketing’s effectiveness can be considered in novel and holistic ways?
 
THE POST-COVID POSSIBLE SCENARIOS 
 
By all accounts, the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak was not an unpredictable ‘Black Swan’, since many working in the emerging infectious diseases field provided several indications of its possibility. What is hard to predict, yet possible to project, is what may happen after this. The challenge of a global response is that there are multiple world views operating, all with different interests. Thus, predicting what the future may hold is pointless. But projecting alternative scenarios, preparing for potential risks and setting a course of action that helps actualize a desired future is a valuable lesson that futures studies can provide.
 
We need to stop talking in terms of the ‘new normal’. Please!!! What we are currently facing is a set of circumstances that have changed our environment. To what extent and for how long is unknown. This will again depend on your industry, your target audience and your ability to pave the road forward as opposed to waiting a return. How? Marketing’s ‘4Ps’ can be a good indicator. Move on from planned obsolescence to products that last longer or, even better, regenerate. From a burnout workforce to one that better integrates life and work. From the cumbersome commute and costly square metres to ubiquitous mobility and commerce convenience. From low prices funded by cheap labour to competitive prices enabled by smarter supply chains and business models.
 
What we have seen more than anything else is incredible adaptability, agility and versatility, none more so than within our small business community. If you weren’t digital before, you certainly are now. Again, every marketer needs to arm themselves with skills and pivoting abilities, rather than grand strategies and we could all learn something from SMBs. In this (as in any time of change) we need to focus on what we need to learn, NOT on what we already know. How do we use data to learn more, improve outcomes and make sure we are resonating with our consumers?
 
This time has also given us the opportunity to press the reset button. Change is not new to marketing. COVID-induced change across industries and economies has forced simultaneous change for all marketers and tested their adaptability. It’s on a bigger scale but not totally new. We have been forced to forensically look at ourselves, our budgets, the environment in which we are operating and, ultimately, our consumer. This has forced optimisation through digital, collaboration, through necessity and working in a much more agile manner. We may now expect some positive outcomes, like grit to NOT return to a normal that only partially served us.
 
The strength of a society is based on how we treat the weakest, not how we glorify the strongest. Young people are no longer the future, but the present. 
 
This is the disruption that truly creates the fourth industrial revolution. Along with external innovation, there is inner innovation – a social revolution. Evidence-based science and technology inform public policy, not the whims of particular leaders. The insights from fighting COVID-19 are applied to climate change. There is a dramatic shift to plant-based diets. It is business transformed, social mutation, not back to usual. There are, however, concerns about privacy. COVID has accelerated tech adoption. Any brand that is still wrestling with ‘digital transformation’ will likely be struggling to keep up. It is wrong to think digital doesn’t incorporate creativity, just as it is wrong to think creativity has nothing to do with data. It’s both and, the sweet fruit of this marriage could mean the rise of sentient marketing. In this new reality, brands proactively take action to avoid errors, sensing adversity and remaining alert to micro-trends and opportunities in its environment. The sentient enterprise is frictionless and truly unified by its brand’s strategy – for real, not just as a model on the paper. Like many actions that the brain executes, the sentient enterprise listens to data and makes autonomous, real-time decisions without requiring a human’s conscious intervention.
 
Predictive marketing should absolutely be embraced but, as with all technology, success will be driven by more than just profit. Empathy, connection and responsibility, combined with value delivery, may become the new metrics assessed by brand trackers. Without delivering this, brands will quickly lose meaning and the ability to command price premiums and, ultimately, will commoditise.
 
For now, consumers are searching for brands that help them make good choices that support the well-being for all – planet, people and the economy. Brands able to demonstrably track progress across the triple bottom line will move away from niche indexes reporting on ‘green brands’ and become the new gold standard for the more mainstream ‘best brands’ reports.
 
Another (not so optimistic) scenario is that of a great despair looming large-  Not an apocalypse, not a depression, no magic- just a slow and marked decline of health and wealth. Walls appear everywhere. The World Health Organisation and others try to contain it, but the virus repeatedly slips in and infects the bodies, minds and hearts of all. We are back to the Middle Ages. The efforts to address fail. The least connected to globalisation fare the best. The vulnerable are forgotten. Intergenerational memory of past pandemics informs reality. 
 
As marketers, do we have enough influence to impact this scenario? This often depends so deeply on political and economic inputs that are beyond our control. However, as an industry we are overwhelmingly one of optimism, action and awareness. Adopting a Future Back strategy(something that we practice at ISD Global( https://bit.ly/3oCwAZD) is a manifestation of marketers’ ability to foresee this and disrupt inertia or apathy. There are many steps between here and there. Marketing doesn’t only have to be to ‘sell’ products and services. It can equally persuade and inform decisions about health choices, protecting the vulnerable, combating mental health deterioration and lessening the height of any ‘walls’. As a part of society, marketers would be part of the effort to resist the described decline. A few of us have already started.
 
A systemic view of what marketing effectiveness is, and can be, needs to be supported by data, insights, technology, media ecosystems and the power of brand. Proficiency is part of the solution and posturing part of the problem.
 
Above all, we have the unique opportunity to address the claim from the most important marketing theorist of the 20th century, Wroe Wilson, who said that, “What is needed is not an interpretation of the utility created by marketing, but a marketing interpretation of the whole process of creating utility.”
For the 21st century, all marketers can make an honest attempt at doing just that. If we succeed, we can expect to ignite a journey to a desired future.
If we fail…
 

Is there a case to revisit the Case Study Method? 

Is there a case to revisit the Case Study Method? 
 

Back in the 1920s, Harvard Business School(HBS) professors decided to develop and experiment with innovative and unique business instruction methods. As the first school in the world to design a signature, distinctive program in business, later to be called the MBA, there was a need for a teaching method that would benefit this novel approach.

Central to the case method is the idea that students are not provided the “answer” or resolution to the problem at hand. Instead, just like a board member, CEO, or manager, the student is forced to analyze a situation and find solutions without full knowledge of all methods and facts. Without excluding more traditional aspects, such as interaction with professors and textbooks, the case method provides the student with the opportunity to think and act like managers.

HBS professors selected and took a few pages to summarize recent events, momentous challenges, strategic planning, and important decisions undertaken by major companies and organizations. The idea was, and remains to this day, that through direct contact with a real-world case, students will think independently about those facts, discuss and compare their perspectives and findings with their peers, and eventually discover a new concept on their own.

So far, so good.

In lecture courses, claimed a Harvard professor, students ” are waiting for you to give the ‘answer ‘ “. There is a built-in bias against action. What we say with the case method is : ” Look, I know you don’t have enough information, but given the information you do have, what are you going to do? “.

Consider a typical scenario. James is the CEO of MegaCorp Inc. What should the company do now? The professor and almost 90 of James’ classmates anxiously await his response to the totally ‘ cold call ‘- designed to ensure that students have prepared the case. James did give it a long thought. After all, he was told that the case study method is intended to ” challenge conventional thinking “. He has also been reminded that good managers are decisive, good MBA students must take a stand. So James swallows hard and answers the question.

” How can I answer the question? “- James begins. ” I barely heard about MegaCorp Inc before yesterday. Yet today, you want me to pronounce on its strategy. As is typical at Harvard, James was working on two other case studies the previous night, so he barely had a couple of hours to prepare on the MegaCorp Inc case. He had never knowingly used any of the MegaCorp products. Until the previous day he did not even know that the rat poison that he used on his basement was made by the same MegaCorp Inc. He had never visited any of its factories nor has been anywhere close to ‘ You Never Know Where, Newfoundland ‘, where MegaCorp is headquartered. He has never spoken to any of the company’s customers(except of course himself). James says ” My previous experience(the little there was) took place in a furniture company. MegaCorp is a high-tech company and I am a very low tech guy. All I have to go by are these few pages. This is a superficial exercise. I refuse to answer your question “.

What happens to James? At the business school, I will let you hazard(?) a guess. But from there James moves back to the furniture business, where he immerses himself in the products, the process, the people. And with his courage to be decisive and with an appetite to challenge conventional thinking, James rises to the position of the CEO. There with hardly any ‘ industry analysts ‘ at all, James and his colleagues learn their way to a strategy that transforms the furniture business.

Meanwhile, John, who is sitting next to James in class jumps in. He too has never been to ‘ You Never Know Where, Newfoundland ‘. But that doesn’t stop him.He makes a clever point or two and gets that coveted Harvard MBA. This gets him into a ‘ prestigious consulting firm ‘, where as in those case study classes, he leaps from one situation to another, each time making a clever point or two, concerning issues he recently knew nothing about, always leaving the firm before implementation (action) begins.

As this kind of experience rolls in, John doesn’t take far too long in becoming the CEO of a major appliance company.(He never consulted for one but it does remind him of that MegaCorp case study). There, after downsizing( it’s fashionable you see) a few thousand unsuspecting Human Resources, he formulates a glitzy high-tech strategy, which is implemented, so to speak, through a dramatic program of acquisitions. What happens to that?? Guess again!

Readers (of the book ‘ What they Really Teach You At Harvard Business School ‘by Philip Delves Broughton) are probably asking , ‘ Read the case and do that analysis in two to four hours?’ Harvard’s answer is YES. Students need to prepare two to three cases each day..so (they) must work toward getting their analysis done fast as well done well.

Some years back, HBS ran an ad in The Economist for it’s executive education programs. It had a dapper, uber smart looking executive-woman saying, ” We studied four companies a day. This isn’t theory. This is experience.”

Sorry. This is nonsense.

There was a book released in 1990 called ‘ Inside the Harvard Business School ‘ by David Ewing, for long, an insider. The first line of the book makes a sweeping statement ” The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world “.The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who had made it to the very top, the school’s superstars as of 1990. If you took a look at the post 1990 records of all 19, to see how they fared, there was only one word to describe it- BADLY. 10 of them clearly seem to have failed(meaning their company went bankrupt), they were forced out of the CEO chair or a major merger backfired, or the like. Performance of another four appeared to be very questionable. The other five seem to have done fine.

To conclude, most MBA students enter the prestigious HBS or similarly profiled hallowed Ivy Leagues smart, determined, aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce clearly on situations they know little about , while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem- no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the ‘ old boys ‘ network that can boost them to the top. Then what??

Begs the question!! Case Study or Case Unsteady?

Ready. (Case) Study. Go!!

ENDS