The future is a scary thought for most CMOs. Market conditions change rapidly, and technology progresses even faster, so all it takes is one dominant competitor, one new trend, or one new piece of technology to make your business obsolete—or at least cause you a major headache.
This is where the concept of future-proofing comes into play. The idea is to use a set of strategies, approaches, and changes to make your marketing strategy less susceptible to emerging threats in the future. But since the future is so unpredictable, is it truly possible to future-proof your strategy at all?
Types of Threats
Let’s dissect the future-proofing problem by looking at various ways your current marketing approach could be rendered obsolete, or at least be threatened in the future:
- Competition. Direct competition is always a threat. If a cunning marketer sees your successful business model and realizes they can do something even slightly better than you (such as offering lower prices or a using a newer channel), they could steal most of your market share fairly quickly.
- Consumer tech. New technology in the hands of your customers could render your chosen channel obsolete. Think of all the industries killed by the emergence of the internet—including travel agents, encyclopedias, bookstores, and pretty soon, cable TV. Or imagine if the #deletefacebook trend grows to the point of a mass exodus while Facebook makes up 80 percent of your efforts.
- Commercial tech. Consumer tech isn’t the only tech that could threaten you, either. If a competitor or different industry gets ahold of better production or distribution technology, they could outpace you in efficiency and appeal, making it much harder for your strategy to work.
- Consumer preference changes. As many as 42% of failed companies cite the “lack of a market need” as a major reason for their failure, and it doesn’t always start out that way. If consumers suddenly find themselves uninterested in your products, even the best marketing campaign may not be able to support them.
The Best Future-Proofing Strategies
Obviously, we want to guard against these threats. But what are the best ways to do it?
- Find tech you can grow with. First, when building tech infrastructure or choosing a marketing strategy, make sure you go with a choice that can either last indefinitely, or be upgraded in the future. It’s hard to tell which tech products and strategies will last and which ones will die out, but if you focus on products that have room to grow, or that can be easily modified and upgraded, you’ll stand a better chance of remaining relevant into the distant future.
- Don’t lock yourself into any one strategy. Across the board, try not to lock yourself into any one strategy. Just because it works now doesn’t mean it’s going to work in the future, so be prepared for a drastic change at any time. But don’t embrace every possible change: “I once worked with a CEO who made five major pivots in how his company did business in one year,” said Ty Kiisel of OnDeck. “The regular shuffling of objectives confused customers and employees — and ultimately didn’t generate the profits he anticipated.”
- Focus on building brand power. Instead of focusing on individual conversions, gear your efforts toward building brand relationships. Consumers will stick with your brand far longer if they feel close to your brand—even if there’s a competitor with a better offer or a more modern campaign.
- Keep the hierarchy flexible. Internally, try to keep your marketing hierarchy flexible, and consider getting rid of it altogether. Rigid corporate hierarchies are an obstacle to marketing innovation; they pin responsibility on a handful of leaders high on the food chain, and make it much harder to make decisions and changes within the team. If you want to be agile, and respond to changes as they arise, you need to move quickly and embrace ideas at all levels.
- Encourage diversity of ideas. Diversity is a big deal; studies show that racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to achieve above-average results, with gender diverse companies 15 percent more likely. Incorporating diversity into your meetings and brainstorming sessions can help you come up with more creative ideas, and more creative solutions for your existing marketing problems. It also guards you against groupthink, which is a serious threat to your campaign’s potential.
- Offer an experience, rather than a product. Products can easily be replicated or replaced; experiences can’t. Make sure your marketing campaign emphasizes the experience of being a customer with your brand, rather than just the products or services you’re advertising.
- Hedge your bets by using multiple channels. You can also guarantee some stability for your company by pursuing multiple channels at once, such as SEO, PPC ads, and social media simultaneously. That way, if one strategy starts to flounder, you’ll have more time to pivot, and more options for meaningful long-term changes.
So is it possible to future-proof your marketing campaign? Given the sheer quantity of things that could pose a threat to your strategy, and the unpredictability of the future, probably not. But with so many strategies to give you more breathing room, it’s certainly possible to future-guard your strategy—and maybe that’s enough. Commit to adaptation whenever the landscape changes, and apply these strategies. It might be what keeps your marketing vision from becoming obsolete.