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Last week, my daughter temporarily lost the use of one of her arms, and Twitter found many of its advertisers temporarily pausing campaigns there.

Conceptually, they’re related to a broader theme, one that  I explored in a 2020 column, “In a World without Facebook.” 

The theme is how to adapt to constraints.

The biggest difference between my daughter’s constraint and advertisers’ constraints is that marketers can prepare for theirs. Some such constraints are more predictable than tripping on a curb.

I didn’t think Musk would go through with the Twitter acquisition, but was it a plausible scenario? Sure. And was it plausible that Musk would upend the ad model (even if he hasn’t yet)? By all means.

The scenario planning I wrote about before comes from a simple, powerful exercise I borrowed from the former dean of the former 360i, Mark Avnet, who is now with the IAB.

It’s such a fun exercise that it’s practically a game, albeit with real-world consequences. Here’s the question you’re trying to answer:

What would you do if the world as you knew it changed?

You’ve probably experienced more than a few versions of this in the past few years. The pandemic, economic volatility, invasion of Ukraine, Roe vs. Wade… where to begin, right? In the course of 24 hours this week, we went from “red wave” to “red trickle,” and it’s weird because the GOP is usually the party with more biting catchphrases. Where’s Frank Luntz when you need him?

Perhaps your world has changed since the start of the decade too. There are microcosms. Divorce. New schools. New partners. Job changes. Death. Births. And that’s just the story of my family since 2020. My second great-nephew was born yesterday. How is your world doing?

In my microcosm, since my daughter’s injury, she has been learning about adapting to her changing environment. She now has to adapt to go about her day one-handed. It isn’t actually single-handed, as she has many hands (parents, teachers, sitters, friends, doctors, etc) who can lend a hand. And it is nowhere nearly as challenging as someone who must adapt permanently, from birth or later on, to being differently abled.

But all the assumptions my daughter had before about how long it would take to get ready for school or what activities she can participate on are now tossed aside. At least for now, it’s a new reality. And somehow, she’s embracing it as a learning experience. I’m learning a few things too.

As for Twitter, it relates more directly to the Facebook scenario spelled out in the previous column, even if the Facebook example was hypothetical — a thought exercise. We are still living in a world with Twitter, and it’s a world where Twitter is supported by ads. But for some advertisers, that’s now on hold. And Musk has at least considered putting Twitter behind a paywall. So, what do you do if he follows through?

Well, one thing you can do is plan. You can add forced constraints for scenario planning. I keep thinking back to the cold open of the “Baby Shower” episode of The Office where Dwight is about to give birth to a watermelon, and he keeps shouting at Michael Scott, “Adapt!”

You adapt in the parking lot with a watermelon and a Sharpie before you have to rush to the hospital.

A whiteboard will also do.

The exercise is called — ready for it? — “In a World.”

Here’s how it works:

There is a set structure to “In a World,” with five steps that will help frame your thinking about any constraint or disruption:

  1. In a world where ___ is true:
  2. The big disruptive thought is: ___
  3. What this means is that people/businesses/something will: ___
  4. This could impact this brand/these products because: ___
  5. We could test this by: ___

You can test where it’s true that all of Twitter is behind a paywall, or where Meta fully realizes or abandons its metaverse dreams, or where LinkedIn becomes the most popular social network (at least for certain demographics). 

You can explore a world where retail media campaigns are as easy to buy as Facebook campaigns, where CTV becomes the most scalable form of video, or where the third-party cookie dies once and for all. 

You could get way more creative here. Sea levels consume every city half a mile within the Atlantic coastline. Civil War II. A new pandemic makes everyone who’s infected think they’re a sea otter (Best. Pandemic. Ever!). 

But just sticking with the more plausible scenarios can make some of these hiccups feel far less shocking, and you may even have some ideas for what to do once the scenario occurs.

You can plan to be agile. You can plan to have a diversified portfolio of ways to reach your target audience. And you can plan to have some other hands around if you ever catch yourself feeling single-handed.

David

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