Looking back on Looking Up

Walker Smith writes: For the past three years, since the economic crisis ballooned, I’ve been writing a regular column called Looking Up, on the ways for businesses to manage through recession and tough markets; I wrote the last one in the series earlier this month.

I wrote the first Looking Up in October, 2008, just over a month after the global financial system went to the edge of collapse.  (I’m not being melodramatic here; if you need a stark reminder of just how close we came to financial meltdown during the eight days from September 12 to September 19, 2008, James Stewart’s New Yorker essay “Eight Days” is still chilling).

The column had three purposes.  It translated financial concepts, to help people navigate the macro-economic news. It provided evidence and examples, to show that there were still opportunities in the market. And the third, and most important, purpose of Looking Up was to offer insights and guidance about how to reach consumers effectively during the Great Recession and subsequent stagnant recovery.  Over three years, Looking Up focused on delivering insight and inspiration to our clients.

And looking back on something like a hundred issues, I see that three themes repeated themselves over and over again. They’re worth repeating here.

Innovation.  The single most effective way to thrive in a downturn is to innovate. Reams of academic research have demonstrated this across past downturns and across geographies.  There are hundreds of examples of successful innovations introduced during the depths of past recessions, along with hundreds of examples of defunct companies that went bust waiting out a recession while competitors innovated. The logic is simple: innovation sparks new demand, creates new jobs and advances the overall productivity of the economy, which is the key to prosperity.

No other theme has been mentioned in Looking Up as often as innovation, one of the core practice areas of The Futures Company. If you had to take just one thing away from Looking Up, it would be: innovate!

Sourcing growth.  The biggest challenge facing companies at the moment is sourcing growth.  Unemployment, stock market volatility, cuts in government benefits, deleveraging and housing price declines all mean that household budgets remain tight. But there are pockets of strength in the consumer marketplace; more can be found through close scrutiny and shrewd analysis.  A number of MONITOR methods, such as Dynamax, have been developed to identify this enduring spending potential.

Practice optimism.  Consumers take their cue from businesses.  Optimism is contagious (as research has shown time after time).  If you want consumers to be buoyant again, you need to help. Conversely, if your marketing echoes their worst fears, don’t expect them to be cheerful. There’s a virtuous circle here: if businesses look up, then your customers will too.

Global MONITOR is an innovative, strategic, future-focused Global Insights programme for clients and agencies. It identifies the key dynamics shaping the world and the consumer marketplace, as well as potential implications for your clients’ businesses. If you want to know more about Global MONITOR, please call Simon Kaplan in the United States, or Deniz Erdem in Europe.

The picture at the top of this post was originally published by Global Envision – well worth a visit – and is used with thanks. 

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