To reroute or not to reroute? That is the marketing question…

At a cold Raymond James Stadium in February, 25,000 fans watched Tom Brady employ his unique talent – a mesmeric ability to find time where none exists and then find runners yet to appear in space – to steer the Buccaneers to an unexpected Superbowl victory over the Chiefs. 

Some passes were straight from the playbook; others were conjured up in milliseconds in Brady’s fizzing brain. The Gronk was usually on the end of them having run established routes or – more interestingly – discovered brand new ones. It was a wonderful display of experience, teamwork, trust, skill and risk-taking…

Superbowl LV also gave us an insight into the science and art of decision-making. At pivotal moments individuals and the team had to choose between options that would have a direct impact on the result. And the rest of their lives. Owning one of those chunky rings is a life changer…

And that got me thinking about marketing. Is it best to play it safe and stick to a well-planned marketing strategy or take risks and change direction to beat the odds?

Strategic planning – you know it makes sense!

Most of us exist in a business environment that relies on strategies. From impressive five-year plans involving multiple departments to shorter ones designed to ensure a meeting is productive – yes, in a way, even agendas are mini strategies of a sort.

Even my anti-establishment mother was a fan. “Remember the five Ps,” she would tell me with a knowing look in her eye, often as important exams approached. “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” It sounded more like a tongue twister than advice, but she had a point.

In principle, the components of a strategy are simple. It is about deciding what to do (lots of research helps) and how best to do it (all those realistic action plans, company buy-in, clear definitions and attainable targets etc). It’s wonderfully logical. We use strategies all the time. And strategies work.

Until they don’t.

Strategies can flop (or, more likely, not do as well as hoped) for a variety of reasons. The strategist can fail to find the right solution to a business challenge. The strategist can make the perfect diagnosis, but others may disagree, so the remedy is not implemented as intended. Even when the strategist comes up with a great solution and everyone is on board, sometimes life – all those known and unknown unknowns – get in the way. Like pandemics

Strategic flexing – is that a shortcut to failure? 

The solution, then, is to set out a clear path to follow – as per any well thought out traditional strategy – but then be more adaptable and prepared to reroute if the landscape suddenly changes. A little like the Sat Nav system that spots trouble ahead and offers an alternative route.

We intuitively understand there’s no point sticking to what is theoretically the best route according to all the data and preparation if the world around us has changed – a car crash of a pandemic, for example. It’s time then to make a decision: be patient and apply the long-term strategy by sticking to the established route or be adventurous and try the untested reroute option?

No one likes sitting in a traffic jam and the anticipated benefits of the new route – whizzing along the open road, roof down, Dolly Parton/The Cars/Led Zeppelin/Johnny Cash crooning on the stereo – are intoxicating. It’s a no-brainer. A new route is the obvious solution.

Balancing risks and feedback loops 

But what if the evidence for changing route was flimsy? What are the potential risks? Everyone (or is it just me?) has taken a Sat Nav reroute and ended up pulling their hair out as the journey time inexorably gets longer… and longer… and longer. It seemed a good idea at the time, but was the traffic hold-up just temporary? Remaining on Route One was perhaps the best strategy.

Sudden changes can be tempting but they can also lead to inefficiency. It’s also worth bearing in mind that longer strategic decisions carry longer feedback loops. In other words, don’t worry about the odd traffic jam. Just keep on trucking. Wait for the plan to come to fruition. Allow long-term factors and efficiencies to play out.

Conclusion? Marketing departments need to be flexible. They need a strong sense of direction so the future is not controlled by external events, but they must also be more reactive and agile because the world is increasingly unpredictable. More like a great game of football. That’s why the team that gets the balance right between playbook and reactive inspiration will win Superbowl LVI in the SciFi Centre. My money’s on Brady. And the Gronk. Again…

In truth, we’re not great at football, but if you are interested in creating a new content strategy then we would love to hear from you.

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