By Eileen Kiernan, Global CEO, UM

The past year has reshaped consumer behavior, disrupting how businesses work and driving marketers to pivot and innovate.

E-commerce accelerated by a decade in a matter of months thanks to COVID-19, causing nearly half of small businesses to close and forcing brands to rethink strategies for the future. The nationwide reckoning over race this summer prompted brands to take a stand on social issues better balance profit with purpose.

So, when the new constant is radical, fast-moving change, how do business leaders decide what bets to make in a sea of endless – but potentially rudderless – possibilities?

First, we must accept that the models of the past won’t work in this new reality. The way forward is full of unknowns unfolding at an unprecedented rate. Agencies can futureproof by embracing the now and the next with an open mind, while challenging legacy ways of working and understanding how to pivot quickly.

To execute on a futureproof model, agencies and clients must ask themselves seven questions:

#1: In a sea of complexity, what’s the single most important result? 

Identifying, owning and organizing around a clear North Star is fundamental to a futureproof business model.

It’s all too easy to waste time, energy and resources chasing dog whistle KPIs that drain progress. It’s more imperative than ever to decide what to chase and why, and remove impediments by designing the right framework to operate and measure success.

#2: What “next” question will matter most?

According to the Law of Accelerating Returns by futurist Ray Kurzweil, we will experience 20,000 years of change in this century alone. The intervals between those changes will get shorter and shorter, blurring the lines between today and tomorrow.

This requires agencies to go beyond toe-in-the-water testing and lean into opportunities that lie around the corner.

Good bets allow us to transform faster and enjoy the fruits of innovation. When we get it wrong – and we will, if we’re trying hard enough – the speed and incremental nature of the journey mitigates major risk.

#3: How do we achieve growth in a sustainable way?

As marketing embraced data and technology, it shifted from a cost center to a growth driver. But there was a price: the industry’s Holy Grail became short-term ROI.

This narrow definition of success ignores the fundamentals of marketing science. It also fails to account for the consumer experience and the nuances in every individual journey. We need to reverse this trend and build upon what has been proven over time, while adopting innovations that advance growth.

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