Is your Vision damaging your business?

…it is if your business planning cycle is typically 3 years or lesser. The longest planning horizon for most businesses entails new product development or acquisitions at around the 3-year horizon mark and marketing activities like advertising communications and pricing/promotions are typically planned annually.

Brands aren’t built overnight and sustainable brands need an evolving strategy that will navigate economic cycles that are a lot longer than 2 or 3 years, in fact typical economic cycles are 7+ years.

What you are missing out on is an opportunity to understand how your customers are adjusting their consumption behavior as the economy waxes and wanes. Granularity of information flooding researchers in recent years has motivated business strategy to be focused on maximizing short term profits and opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, short-term planning is important- the short-term is the bridge to the long-term and public companies are answerable to shareholders in the short-term. At the same time the most sustainable brands and businesses are the ones that have the information and experience to help them adjust to economic changes. In that respect, Businesses need to be like Neural Networks- learn and adapt based on past experiences, while adjusting to newer paradigm shifts. While lifestyles evolve and change much more rapidly today than they did 10 years back, there are some consistencies that business managers need to take into account especially if they are in the B2C domain.

For example how people adjust to economic upheavals, what spending categories do they curtail during a downturn and which ones do they prioritize coming out of a downturn. If you compare the growth in Retail spend data by segments from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2004 to the spending from 2011 (2 years post the respective recessions), you will notice some remarkable consistencies. The top 3 segments by growth vs. prior year in both cases were Building Materials, General Merchandise and Restaurants, while Electronics, Apparel and Sporting/Music stores were bottom segments.

How cool would it be if you could predict how your customers are going to change their consumption preferences in a sluggish economy and an expanding economy, what trade-offs in terms of share of wallet would they make as the size of their wallet shrinks or expands? And how cool it would be if you were able to anticipate these changes in consumption preferences and adjust your product portfolio, assortment and marketing/pricing strategies accordingly? So one would think it is easy for businesses to compare what their customers did in the Great Recession vs. the 2001 Recession, but you would be surprised even with big data how few companies have less than 5 years of data readily accessible for analysis. However different we are today compared to 10 years back, some elements of history do tend to repeat and if you chose not to learn from history you may well be condemned to repeat it.

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