What demand planning and marketing can teach us all post-COVID

My first love will always be creative marketing. Creating brilliant marketing campaigns that win hearts and minds with the aim to change behaviour. However, I never forget that I first honed these skills in the numbers-driven FMCG organization that was H.J. Heinz in the mid 1990s… remember then? 

At Sussex Innovation, we often work with our consultancy clients to help them pre-empt impending icebergs before they are too close to turn the ship. It’s one of the things I love doing most. In the same way that muscle memory embeds in athletes’ bodies, I’m convinced that the intricacies of being able to plan in advance and ‘see’ road- blocks that could derail or unnecessarily stress organisations - is thanks to my decade at Heinz. It was an environment where, even at interview stage, I was told, “Don’t even think about interviewing here if you want to be able to hide from your numbers”.

Six weeks ago I was puzzling the latest “But what is the Government going to do when the first dose [of Covid vaccination] has been given to the first groups and they have to have the second dose 12 weeks out? Are they going to double capacity to keep giving first jabs on top of second jab? Stop giving first jabs completely? Or marginally increase capacity to continue to give SOME additional first jabs while they give second jabs?” Today I see the news that, “First jabs will be slowing down to deliver second jabs” and the attendant surprise. 

It’s worth looking at how this campaign could have been planned as either a demand-led campaign or a marketing-led campaign; how it would have looked and –crucially – how it would have worked. Either strategy is valid – it’s just a choice of business model:

1. If you choose to be demand planning led – plan to double the number of vaccinators at this point, until the date at which it is projected everyone in vulnerable groups has had two jabs and everyone has had one. Then drop numbers back to the number of vaccinators/vaccine centres needed to successfully complete the second vaccination for the remaining individuals. 

2. If you choose to be marketing led in your approach to the programme, communicate effectively way in advance that second jabs will necessarily slow down as the most vulnerable parts of the population get their second – and make a good job of explaining that. People might not like it but at least they can plan and you have shown clarity, integrity and transparency. 

Demand planning is not a perfect science. Things will change, especially in a constantly evolving environment like Covid. Policies will shift and new data will come to fruition. But knowing your numbers, knowing where your costs are, and knowing when to take or leave business, are major factors in business success or failure.

So I do admit, I laugh when people think of marketing as abstract or fluffy. It was not how I was trained in marketing. I am proudly a data-led strategist and marketer who builds all campaigns from the business and brand objectives based on accurate insight into client needs.