In our recent blog we looked at three critical capabilities businesses need to develop successful strategies and plans in today's dynamic environment:

  • Know what you stand for 
  • Be adaptable
  • Learn, learn and learn some more!
The concept of adaptability and its impact on Marketing strategy and plans prompted some great conversations, so here we expand further on what it means.

When we have developed a strategy which covers a 1, 3, 5 or even 10-year horizon, how do we know if it's right to adapt it? And, if we do decide to adapt it, does that mean we're contradicting our original thinking? Well, no. Actually, we think businesses should plan to be adaptable. And the way to do that is through your capability to learn.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”

Much is currently being written about the nature of sustainable competitive advantage and that it no longer arises exclusively from position, scale, and producing or delivering an offering. Increasingly, businesses are finding that it stems from "second-order" capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.

Excelling at this capability means we will constantly be open to new ideas, prepared to take risks and, crucially, able to act quickly on the learnings.

So what does this mean in practice for the way we go about Strategy and Planning?

Leading companies will include a new element: a learning plan, supported by a learning mindset and cultural imperative. A systematic approach to capturing and acting on learning that is applied not only to individual activities but also to longer term strategies and plans. I recall for example, a former colleague talking about the marketing strategy for eBay. Everything started from a question of how they'd learn and adapt. TV campaigns didn't include channels that couldn't be bought regionally – satellite channels that could distort regional tests may have been cheaper but weren't worth the cost of inhibiting learning.

At the start of every good strategy or plan is a situation analysis: a review of the market dynamics to flush out issues and opportunities you want to address. Within this we review the learnings from our own activities. But businesses cannot afford to leave this learning review to an annual process, and no business intends to. Yet in practice, many do. A learning mindset isn't embedded into the culture.

Here are 3 simple questions that will help. They are obvious but, in our experience, they are not used enough. If you inspire your entire team to include these into strategies, plans, activities and everyday conversations, adaptability will follow. They are simple enough to apply to major projects (e.g. new product launch), crises (internal or external) and short term tactical activities (e.g. placement of online ads). They help people cut through data-overload to focus on the story of what has been learned.


1. What actually happened?

  • Identify the facts, not the perceptions
  • Relate them back to your objectives
  • Prioritise the critical ones but don't ignore the others

2. Why did it happen?

  • Make connections between the facts
  • What was the root cause of the result (either for good or bad)
  • What insights can you uncover? Any 'a-ha' moments?

3. What would we do differently next time?

  • What lessons have you learnt? [Document them]
  • How will you use these learnings? [From now]
  • How will you share them with other parts of the business? [And learn from others too]

It's not a new concept. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said 'Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever'. But it's importance takes on a whole new meaning given the scale of change we now face as marketers. So embrace it, be inquisitive, question what's happening around you, take risks, test out your ideas and above all, make sure you act on your learnings.

This post is by Amanda Jenkins, Marketing Capability Director at Brand Learning