Strategy in the Age of Earthquakes

By Media Insights Archives
Cover image for  article: Strategy in the Age of Earthquakes

The old saying "May you live in interesting times" holds special resonance today. Over the past 18 months we have experienced many "interesting" cultural shifts from a global pandemic that impacted how we work, study and play to a reckoning around social justice to a rise in global authoritarianism and even a Capitol insurrection. The relevant question for us is, how do all of these events impact our industry?

Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, Vice President of Marketing at DoorDash and The Martin Agency's Chief Strategy Officer Elizabeth Paul sat down for a virtual fireside chat at the recent 4A's Stratfest to discern our future as they delved into our past.

Sometimes, like in New Zealand in 1931, an earthquake of high magnitude can change the topography of the land to such a degree that new maps have to be drawn post-quake. "It is a story that we find ourselves in today," Paul began. "We are in the midst of a cultural earthquake … In many ways it is an age of earthquakes and I believe that strategists, as students and shapers of culture, have a unique role to play in what comes next." To that end, Paul and Amoo-Gottfried discussed the three fault lines for agencies and marketers going forward.

Fault Line No. 1 -- Fixed Versus Fluid

Taking the earthquake analogy one step further, Paul outlined three fault lines in our industry. "The first tension or fault line is Fixed versus Fluid," she explained, requiring a decision of what to hold onto and what to change.

For Amoo-Gottfried, it is a careful consideration path. "When you look at businesses over time, in the midst of chaotic change, it's really hard to figure out the things that you want to hold onto," he said. "The things that don't change -- your North Star, your purpose as a business, why you exist and what problem you are trying to solve for people -- that part of it won't change, but the 'how' of it will change." It is vital to be clear about your purpose. "The playbooks over the past 18 months have changed," he noted. "We had to pivot … a map is not as useful in an earthquake but a compass helps." And clarity of mission is vital.

Fault Line No. 2 -- Selling versus Serving

"The second fault line is Selling versus Serving," Paul stated. "A lot of marketers now, because of the pressures that everyone is feeling to make sales in a shifting economy, are shifting their sales down funnel to optimize conversion."

Amoo-Gottfried responded that his company, DoorDash, looks at tensions not as impediments but as ways to work through a process to a company's advantage. "My philosophy is that brands matter only insofar that they solve problems for people," he said. "Ultimately, our job is to figure out what people need and how do we show up to meet that need and how do we serve that need. And if we do that consistently, the bottom line always, inevitably, takes care of itself." These needs have changed over the past 18 months and continue to evolve. The challenge is to keep up with these changing needs and respond effectively.

Fault Line No. 3 -- Speed Versus Craft

Paul's third fault line, Speed versus Craft, concerns the need for speed in a vastly accelerating environmental pace. But does a fast pivot serve the company and the consumer? "There have been times when pressures have done amazing things for us as an industry," she explained. "They forced us not to overthink things. They forced us to do things that are right in the moment to be responsive to our audiences and to be responsive to culture. But obviously from a crafts standpoint there are times when the threadbare nature of having to move quickly can really show."

How can one balance speed and craft? "This is really hard," Amoo-Gottfried admitted. "At some level this is a genuine tension. I can't claim to have figured it out. I don't think we have. I will say that some of the best work that DoorDash did last year was done very fast." Indeed, the campaign Open for Delivery was done in six days! "It wasn't six days for the sake of it," he stated. "It was six days because we all felt that it was of imperative importance to get that work out in the world as soon as possible so that businesses could continue to operate. It is important to figure out what is driving that speed."

Future of Work

Arguably the one thing that the industry is not discussing, according to Amoo-Gottfried, is burnout. In the past 18 months the pace of work has accelerated and the degree of change in how we approach work and personal commitments has never been greater. "[We are] carrying a psychic cost of living in the pandemic, of living through a racial reckoning, living through MeToo," he noted. "Whatever it is that is going on, there is a mental cost to our teams having to negotiate that tension. The challenge is to figure out how to get around that work-life balance."

According to Paul, the future of work must not focus on structure -- remote versus live in-office, for example. People are going through a trauma. "People don't process trauma in the trauma," she explained. "They process later when they get to a safe place. As much as it is the natural question to ask, because we all want certainty, the real question is how you care for people in the midst of shaking and what do you need?

"They need a compass instead of a map, they need community, they need a connecting story and people need compassion," she concluded.

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