Planning techniques we use when the future’s unclear

Posted on: January 8, 2021

A new year has dawned and traditionally that would herald a time of optimism, forward focus and planning. 2021’s start, like much of 2020, is however very different. The challenges of the pandemic remain as fierce as ever and many businesses are facing incredibly tough trading conditions.

But with the vaccine, this time around there are grounds for hope.  Also, to adapt and survive, businesses still need to plan. The challenge is how do you plan when the future is unclear.  Planning approaches from the past adopted a long-term focus – 1 year, 2 years, 3 years – but these are tough to create and implement given the speed at which things currently change.

So in this article, we wanted to share tips and techniques we find helpful for marketing and business planning when the future’s unclear.


1. Create a 100-day plan instead of a yearly one

Invest time in creating a plan that’s got a realistic chance of success.  For one it’ll help you and your team remain motivated and focused.  Instead of the traditional yearly plan, opt instead to do a series of 100day plans.  Do one, implement and achieve it and then do another… and so forth.

Focusing on these smaller chunks of time will help you adapt more easily to changing market conditions and have a greater chance of achieving your overall goals.



2. Use the 4 Ws to be more focused

Be specific in what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it.  Your plan will struggle if you’re broad-brush. Use the 4 Ws to keep you focused…

Who – consider who you want to attract – that may be customers, that may be contacts, it may be influencers.  Be very clear in your mind who specifically you want to focus on.

What do you ultimately want them to do?  Is there a specific piece of expertise, a product or service you want them to buy? Do you just want to get into a dialogue with them?  Do you want them to refer their contacts to you?

Why (WIFT)– now reflect on why should they bother?  WIFT stands for What’s in it for them and when consider this you start to understand what you need to do in order to encourage them to take the step you want.  That may mean running a targeted marketing campaign, it may need you to build goodwill with them or plenty of other activities.

Considering the WIFT also helps you to increase your understanding of their needs and issues.  This will ensure any marketing/business activities you do can be made more relevant and personalised to them.

When – Lastly, having considered what you need to do to encourage your target audience to take the step you want, diarise when you’ll do it. In doing so, don’t forget to be clear which of your team has responsibility for which component and build in the implementation and resource gathering time so you definitely get it done.


3. Keep measuring and monitoring. Don’t forget to act on what you find

Even with shorter plans, it’s important to keep measuring and monitoring outputs you’re getting for your activity as that will alert you to changes in market conditions, customer behaviour, public sentiment and the impact of seasonality.

A key learning point from 2020 was that businesses needed to be prepared to adjust and adapt in a far shorter timeframe.  Things will continue to change quickly but if you’re flexible and agile you’ll have a greater chance of overcoming challenges and making the most of the marketing and business opportunities around.

A great tool we like to use in line with monitoring and measuring is Stop, Start and Continue.  It requires you and/or your team to consider in relation to the latest market conditions and situation:

  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we start doing?
  • What should we continue doing?

This activity helps to turn the findings of monitoring into tangible, focused actions and gives clarity in how the plan now needs to adapt.


5 final tips to guide your 2021 planning

  • Concentrate your efforts on easier conversions – go for warmer contacts over cold and build goodwill over the coming months with those who know you.


  • Make sure people fully understand your expertise, offering and the benefits they bring (often they only see one aspect of a business offering). To help them, articulate clearly what are the ‘triggers’ that point to what you do. This will help to embed you in their mind for when such a need arises.


  • Keep communicating to stay on people’s radars. As we’ve said before in our articles, there is a lot of marketing and business communication ‘noise’ out there.  You need to adopt polite perseverance to keep imprinted in people’s minds.  To do this to a positive effect, whatever you do needs to be interesting, helpful and engaging for them.


  • To help you with this, opt for simple messaging, a preference for creating visual, audio and dynamic content over words. Also, play to seasonality and current sentiment to remain relevant. Tell stories and celebrate successes.  The more positivity you can share (but while remaining sensitive to the challenges people are facing), the more your communications will come to be valued.


  • Listen as well as broadcast – don’t forget to respond and foster dialogue, rather than simply broadcast and hope you get a response.



2021 is getting off to a tough start, but that shouldn’t deter businesses from planning.  Now more than ever, being alert to changing and difficult market conditions and planning how best to adapt to them will be crucial for survival and success.  The key then is to focus plans on shorter periods of time, very specific audiences and actions, and allow continual monitoring and measuring to enable those plans to adapt and evolve.

If you need a hand with your marketing and business planning in the months ahead, please get in touch for a chat.

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