It is fair to say that the past few years have been a bit like living in a washing machine. We’ve seen phenomenal developments in technology, particularly in the digital space; We’ve watched the US dollar dive faster than an Italian footballer in the penalty box at the World Cup; and social networking has replaced porn as the number one activity for people on the web. Yeah, I know, crazy, huh?

So what does this all mean to the marketer desperately trying to hold on to their already limited budget, while being challenged by bean counters looking to cut costs? And, let’s not forget the added complexity of more and more channels to choose from to market your products and services? In short, it’s challenging.

Charles Darwin is reported to have said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Actually, this is not one of Darwin’s quotes, but that’s not really important to this article. What is important is the message it implies: ‘Adapt or die’.

This is as true in business as it is to the evolution of man or any species. And, I believe, it holds particular relevance for today’s marketer.

Take the iPad (or any kind of tablet device for that matter) as an example. I have sat in countless meetings and conferences where we’ve been told that the iPad is going to rule the world and the way we consume media will change forever. Now don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt that tablet technology is changing the way we consume media (in fact, I think they’re awesome and mine gets plenty of use!)

What I want to know is where were these budding Nostradamus’ forecasting the iPad revolution five years ago when they were barely a blip on our radar? Let alone the rapid change we have experienced with it (Erick Qualman, you are the exception.)

The first iPad was launched in 2010. Within eight months version two hit the stores, iPad 3 is scheduled to come out in February 2012, and competitive tablet products are appearing at a rapid rate. In 2008 and 2009 there were very few even thinking about this medium as a general consumer media platform, let alone a marketing platform, so how on Earth do we think we can predict what is going to happen in the next five years?

Our collective inability to predict what has been hailed as one of the biggest shifts in media consumption must raise some doubts about our ability to predict the next evolution of products and services that will drive consumers’ media preferences. Or am I being too harsh?

Perhaps we should focus on the things we can predict with a high level of confidence.

Number one: The future is uncertain. The accelerated rate of change and development of new products and services is unprecedented and shows no signs of slowing, despite the tough economic conditions. If we accept this premise, then we can predict more change is on the immediate horizon and consumer needs will change accordingly.

Number two: Marketing budgets will continue to come under pressure as marketers try to spread their marketing spend across an ever-increasing array of channels to maximise ROI and share of voice.

Neither of these certainties should come as any surprise and as any marketer who experienced the dot com boom and subsequent crash back in the early noughties would know – be prepared for anything! Just think of how many businesses got caught up in the emotion and excitement of that era only to be left with empty pockets at the end of the ride.

So what can you do as a marketer to prepare yourself, and your business, for the next big ‘thing’ without blowing the budget?

Ask yourself these questions: In your marketing plan from three years ago did you set aside a budget to develop apps for iPad? What about a comprehensive social media participation program to engage consumers with your brand? Did you factor in that there would be a decline in magazine and newspaper readership and distribution?

If you did, I suggest you are in the minority and should be congratulated. In reality, most businesses are still focused on what has happened in the past, or what is happening right now, not what’s around the corner or trending for the next five years. Given the speed of change with technology and the rapidly changing needs of customers, not thinking about the future is a dangerous approach.

As marketers, we need to be on the front foot, continuing to analyse the market to forecast the changes we think will occur and how they will impact our business. More importantly, we need to create a business, specifically a marketing program, that is agile and responsive to the market and the needs of the customer.

Businesses need to be able to adjust quickly to maximise the opportunities that change presents and not be caught up in a three year plan that has been crafted over 12 months earlier, then carved into stone. Failure to adapt can only result in one outcome, commercial extinction.

History is littered with businesses that desperately hung on to the old way of doing business as it had always brought them success. Just read Jim Collins book, How The Mighty Fall, for some great examples. The way we used to do business and the way we market them has changed forever and will continue to change. Just what that change looks like, nobody really knows.

To paraphrase Darwin’s ‘quote’ earlier in this article, ‘It is not the strongest business that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the business that is most adaptable to change.’

Graham Plant
BY Graham Plant ON 29 September 2011
Graham Plant is CEO at Effective Measure.