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How to plan for uncertainty in five steps

Ellie Madgwick discusses the impact of the pandemic on planning and what we can do to adapt.

Reflecting on the UK government’s various announcements over the last couple of weeks has really solidified for me what I’m sure everyone else has known for a while: we’re in this state of ambiguity for the long haul. And while we can’t be sure of much at the moment, there is one thing we know is here to stay (aside from the phrase ‘in these unprecedented times’ in every other email we receive), and that is uncertainty.

The following five points are relevant to good planning regardless, but are particularly relevant for what is set to be another tumultuous six months.

  1. Be flexible

Now, more than ever, we should build in programme reviews to evaluate and re-plan where necessary. The situation we’re in now means that nobody has a crystal ball to predict where we’ll be in even three months’ time. One way of building in more flexibility to your communications strategy would be to break activity into quarterly chunks, reviewing and re-planning based on current context.

  1. Context is everything

With restrictions being placed and then lifted in different regions across the UK almost daily, it’s more important than ever that you are switched on to what’s happening in the political and socio-economic landscape around the country. This is especially true if you’re running any campaigns that are specific to a region. Using tools like YouGov can help us to understand how different demographics are feeling about their local situation.  

  1. Listen in

Another way of ensuring your communications are relevant to people is to conduct social listening. Often, this is carried out at the start of a campaign planning process and is brilliant for uncovering insights straight from your audience. Doing this more often, using tools like Brandwatch, will serve as a temperature check for any campaign you might be launching, especially if you’ve spent a few months in production.

  1. Use behavioural science

Our behaviours have been changed in a myriad of ways since the pandemic struck. To take just one example number of recent studies have shown that much of the UK population is worried about financial and job security in the midst of an economic downturn. In behavioural terms this will certainly affect how people interact with brands, be it through lack of motivation (financial worries are prioritised over and above anything else) or lack of opportunity (disposable income may be lower). Understanding barriers and diagnosing interventions through the filter of behavioural science can help to deliver more effective communications and commercial strategies.

  1. Some things are still certain

Although we are going through a time of huge change and disruption, some things will always stay the same, especially in communications. Knowing your audience inside out, keeping on top of what the competition are doing, and understanding the shift in behaviour you need to engender so you can hone your creative will help keep your campaign relevant throughout the course of the year, and beyond.

is a strategist in our Digital, Strategy and Insights team. Coming from a digital background, she has worked on devising and implementing successful campaigns for clients across a range of sectors.