Splitting the Yarrow: Foresight in the Face of Uncertainty


Written By: Jim Mott

Managing Risk

Risk, and the management of uncertainty, permeates our society. From the way in which we regulate our institutions, to how we play sports, to the way we conduct business. So much of our activity is geared towards either minimising risk by making things predictable, or toying with the fringes of risk to make things more fun.

Whilst of course risks are all about the big payoff, uncertainty is bad news for Brands. Uncertainty hurts consumer confidence and people save more when they are afraid of the future. Businesses behave in much the same way. Investment drops because companies are less willing to make a bet against the future, they hoard cash and hang on, which breeds even more uncertainty.

Right now, times are such that political, economic and social uncertainty threads itself around everything we see and hear. Risk has burst forth from the structures we built and that once relied on to protect us from it.

Playing with uncertainty
Philippe petit exemplifies the joys of risky behaviour

Risky Business

Kevin Chesters, Chief strategy officer at Ogilvy and Mather, has written on this same subject, noting that whilst there is a general sense of unease right now, there is also opportunity for Brands that are able to offer consistency, reassurance and clarity to an audience in desperate need for some kind of stability. Or as he puts it “Be a beacon of certainty within the world of uncertain.”

Crucially, Kevin also notes that it’s the companies that are willing to invest time and money in their brands that are most likely to emerge from times of uncertainty stronger and healthier, because they have demonstrated the backbone and confidence that prove to their audiences that they will be there for them in the long haul.

We’ll be taking the time in our first blog to talk about this and the idea of ‘honey badger’ brands who have benefitted from increased investment in times of recession and uncertainty.

Back in 2011 the Harvard Business review wrote something similar, but took it a step further, introducing the idea of ‘institutional grounding’ as a crucial activity for brands wishing to both survive and thrive in uncertainty.

Here the brand purpose becomes more than just a moniker, and anchors the company to values that stand above the vagaries of profit and loss. Making those values tangible through socially driven action and activity further embeds the brand in the world, affirming it’s identity in a way that offers certainty to troubled consumers.  We’ll take a look at this idea in more depth in our second blog.

Finally, and perhaps in the face of the previous two ideas is the idea that times of uncertainty are also times of great creative force and potential. Security deadens the creative spirit and brands should take the opportunity of more troubled times to harness the inherently disruptive ideas that emerge. This more aggressive strategic approach draws on the idea that as the landscape shifts beneath our feet there is territory to be grabbed. In our final blog on this subject well take a look at brands who have done just that.

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