short term marketing plans for economic uncertainty

How to plan your marketing in uncertain times

leonie waldron
Leonie Waldron
Head Strategist


  • Creating a marketing plan in tough economic times – without a fair degree of confidence that you can actually execute it – can seem like a risky bet. Instead, try technology forecaster Paul Saffo’s approach of setting rough tentative goals and then systematically iterating the process till you get closer to the truth. 
  • Having a flexible marketing plan that is adaptable to change can help you weather uncertain times.
  • Consider shortening your time horizon to the next six months and focusing on consistently carrying out activities that your business already has the capacity for.
  • You can also repurpose existing marketing activities or content, and prioritise smaller, cheaper campaigns over resource-heavy ones like trade shows or expensive R&D projects.

In uncertain times, it can be challenging to forecast sales figures and plan marketing activities with confidence.

However, having a marketing plan – no matter whether it is simple or complex – is crucial for your company’s success. Knowing where you’re going will keep you and your team consistent with your approach, and it is this consistency that helps to create strong feelings of trust and kinship towards your brand.

‘Strong opinions, weakly held’ – a framework for creating a flexible marketing plan

Back in 2008, US technology forecaster and Stanford University professor Paul Saffo coined a framework for taking decisive action, dubbed ‘strong opinions, weakly held.’

Saffo describes his process as follows:

“I have found that the fastest way to an effective forecast is often through a sequence of lousy forecasts. Instead of withholding judgment until an exhaustive search for data is complete, I will force myself to make a tentative forecast based on the information available, and then systematically tear it apart, using the insights gained to guide my search for further indicators and information.”

“Iterate the process a few times, and it is surprising how quickly one can get to a useful forecast.”

While Saffo’s approach has been alternately held up and torn down by various commentators over the years, the concept of planning as best you can – without all the information you’d like – is a skill that we can all benefit from in an uncertain climate. 

This framework asks business leaders to make a tentative forecast, and then systematically think through each part in order to get closer to the truth.

stormy skies

As I write, news outlets are reporting the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank this week, there’s a state election looming here in NSW, recession rumblings continue, a federal budget is on the horizon, and just this morning the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates to their highest level since the GFC.

Economic uncertainty has just been kicked into overdrive.

So how can we confidently forecast our sales figures and create our marketing plans when things might change at the drop of a hat?

Creating a marketing plan amidst uncertainty

Saffo challenges us to simply start – and then gradually pick apart our assumptions with a critical eye.

“Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect. This is the ‘strong opinion’ part. Then – and this is the ‘weakly held’ part – prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that point in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.”

Experienced leaders have been through similar economic cycles before, but for those new to the game it can be uncomfortable to take decisive action without having all the data you’d like. 

And creating an extensive marketing plan without a fair degree of confidence that you can actually execute it can seem like a risky bet. 

What to do instead

A more palatable approach (especially for overthinkers) is to shorten the time horizon of your planning – say from a whole year to the next six months – and focus on consistently carrying out activities that you already have the capacity for

  • Consider what you already have in your marketing stable that can be repurposed and reused in different formats
  • What activities can easily be handled month-to-month?
  • Are there smaller, cheaper campaigns you can work on? You might like to prioritise these over longer-term, resource-heavy activities such as exhibiting at trade shows or expensive R&D tasks. 

Shiny new projects and unproven, untested tactics definitely have their place, and brave experimentation is a vital part of marketing. 

But if your confidence in being able to achieve budget and reach business goals has taken a bit of a hit recently, remember to stay consistent, hold your course – and be open to adjusting your sails when new information comes to light.

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