Expect The Unexpected

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working in marketing for eight years, it’s that stuff happens.

Let’s face it.

No matter how prepared we are, we often end up thrown off guard.

When things happen differently to how we predicted.

When things don’t go to plan; even if they’re planned well.

It happens often in marketing.

I’ll explain.

Nearly 200 years ago, The Whitehouse was set on fire.

The British Army moved in on Washington DC, burning everything in sight.

Just before this attack, the British sieged the state of Maryland.

America’s last line of defense at Bladensburg was overthrown.

Paving the way for the British to invade the capital.

President James Madison had already left with the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

The War of 1812 started two years before as the Americans declared war on the British.

But they weren’t really prepared for war. They had no strategy. No objectives.

The British on the other hand were a little more prepared, not to mention better trained.

They adopted a defensive strategy.

Most of the army was held back from Canada and the reliance was on local militias and native allies to bolster the British Army.

Weakening the Americans, the British waited for the right moment – recalling the troops fighting Napoleon in Europe – before unleashing the entire army in the direction of Washington.

On August 24th, 1814, key American political buildings including the Whitehouse were burning to the ground.

The British took the capital by force.

But then something happened.

To the absolute amazement of the Americans.

26 hours into the occupation, the weather took a turn for the worse.

One of America’s most destructive hurricanes touched down in the middle of the city.

A storm on an unprecedented scale.

Extinguishing the fires burning out throughout the city, including the Whitehouse.

Wiping out the majority of the British soldiers taking shelter in houses that collapsed on top of them.

Destroying military equipment the British had brought with them.

When the storm died down, the demoralised British had no choice but to flee.

Returning to their ships – many of which were also damaged – and setting back up north.

The President returned to the city only two days later.

What does this story tell us?

It tells me that “stuff” happens. Simple as that.

In life, you can’t really predict what will happen to you in the next six months.

Just like you can’t predict your competitors’ plans.

And even if you could, you can’t predict your customers’ plans.

But even if you could do that, you can’t predict other external forces.

(Even now, in 2018, experts and the technology they use still can’t always accurately predict the weather days in advance.)

We also know as marketers, that the campaigns we undertake have no guarantee of success.

The unexpected often happens.

Nothing is certain except the unforeseen.

If you can predict the future, you’re in the wrong line of work.

All that can be done to counter the unexpected, is to expect it.

Short-term planning and adopting a flexible/agile methodology is what you can do. Keeping a close eye on current market trends.

A continuity plan for your business and for your marketing activities also needs developing.

A Plan B that details alternative actions to those within the original (and don’t forget, short-term) plan.

Of course, a long-term business vision is required for any organisation.

But the tactics to achieve this vision will always change because the landscape will always change.

If you are flexible with the plan you’re executing, you can react with real sense of purpose when it goes bad.

Such a crisis can even signal opportunity.

Isn’t this where real creativity is born?

Organisations can be destroyed overnight due to their inability to react in the face of adversity.

Of course, we know more about the world and what goes on within it more so than what we did 200 years ago.

Data and machines and tests and updates make failing harder.

But not impossible.

I’m told that hurricanes in Washington are virtually unheard of.

But then the storm of 1814 happened.

And against all odds, it saved Washington DC.

A year later both sides signed a peace treaty.

Which tells us one thing for sure: Nothing is sure.

Which means we should expect one thing: The unexpected.

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68 thoughts on “Expect The Unexpected

  1. I’m writing a poem on this Gareth as we speak. I hope you don’t mind. You inspired it. I’ll put it on my Big Blue Mouth blog anytime now πŸ™‚

    1. Hi John. Yes, the unexpected could happen for a reason.

      But we know that all things don’t always go our way, and even though those “negative” instances happen that may be beneficial in some way long-term, attempting to avoid a full-scale catastrophe is wiser than not trying to, whatever the situation.

      Thanks for stopping by – I appreciate it!

  2. Interesting. I had no idea about that hurricane and how decisive it was for the outcome of the war.
    I agree that sometimes there are dire situations that suddenly improve in unexpected ways.

    1. In his Last Lecture presentation, Randy Pausch said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

      I think this is true in many walks of life.

      Thanks for reading, Luccia. Appreciate it.

  3. Loved your article, Gareth. Sound advice. Another hurricane hit Washington DC in 2017. Since then, several companies, local and foreign, are struggling to adapt to the continual changing marketplace.

  4. With the story of that historical passage, you have caused a tremendous stir. Of all the interesting things that you bring to collation, you leave me with that the planning is the way to wait for the incidentals. I enjoy reading because of the importance of your topics.

  5. Living in the Houston area in the wake of so much flooding and hurricanes, I realize how lucky we are to have a weatherproof house (mostly…) in an area that hasn’t flooded so far. Living in a third world country taught me to be grateful for fully stocked supermarkets and access to running water. During Hurricane Harvey a well known philanthropist who has a chain of furniture stores opened up doors to people who had lost their homes to the weather while many churches did not. That was the best marketing plan that I have ever heard of and it came from a good place!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Kerry. I appreciate that and that you stopped by to read. The philanthropist in question sounds like a good (and maybe less importantly, strategic business) person!

      1. He was always a good salesman but had a personal link to mental health charities. By the time the hurricane came around he had made his fortune and his heart took over.

    1. Thanks Lee… and thanks for reading. πŸ™‚

      If I can provide something entertaining that’s worthy of your reading time, that might give you useful snippets of info, then I’m happy!

  6. As a history major in college, I enjoyed your historical perspective to “the best laid plans sometimes arent.” As usual I’m always amazed and disappointed that someone who isn’t from the United States knows more about United States history than the majority of Americans do. If you ever come to the United States , not only visit Washington DC , but be sure to visit Baltimore and see Fort McHenry where the Star Spangled Banner, the American National Anthem was written. You will enjoy it.

  7. Reblogged this on AfterHollywood and commented:
    Only Change Remains The Same. Right now in Washington D.C., I am witnessing a soft civil war as the hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh seem a bit out of control.
    When I read this blog posting this morning, I had to reblog it because the only thing that remains constant in life is change.
    May this posting inspire you as much as it does me.

  8. This is a “so true” post — stuff always happens. And we just have to be ready, I suppose. Thanks for following Oh, the Places We See! It’s great to have you on board, but watch out. We kinda let things happen here, too.

  9. What an amazing article. I really enjoyed how you used an historical event to explain that nothing is guaranteed, life is life and is always changing.

    Thank you for taking the time recently to stop and follow my blog, I really appreciate that, and look forward to following along with your site too πŸ’™

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