It’s time for marketers to get surge savvy

Surge theory can help deal with disasters and pandemics, but it also has a place in everyday marketing, as Michael Waters, founder of Surge Studies, explains.

electric surge

There’s a word that never seems to be out of the news at the moment. And it’s hard to find a news report on the coronavirus that it doesn’t appear in.

The word is ‘surge’ (a surge of cases, a surge in insolvencies, a surge in domestic violence…) and it’s a word and concept that anyone involved in marketing should be familiar with. Even if you don’t often use the word with regard to actions you take or things you respond to, it’s a good bet that surge is what you sometimes do and deal with.

And it’s likely that you’ll need to do even more surging in the future. Getting even better at taking surge-like action for yourself or your clients will make a big difference to how successful you are.

So I want to offer some suggestions about becoming even more surge savvy. You’ll find much, much more in my recently published book (see below) but I hope these tips will set you on the right track.

1. Develop the habit of thinking surge.

Whenever you have a decision to make, ask yourself: “What’s the surge option here?” There nearly always is one. That is, there is nearly always a way of achieving something (a task or project) through rapid and robust action as opposed to doing it gradually or incrementally.

It might take more energy to accomplish something through surge-like action but there can be all kinds of benefits from doing so. One is that you steal a march on competitors. Another is that you better overcome whatever resistance there may be. And then there is the boost to self-esteem from getting it done quickly. Teams with a history of successful surge action tend to have high self-esteem. Above all else, some things can only be accomplished through acting quickly with all-out effort. The coronavirus pandemic has made this obvious!

2. Make surge-readiness a top priority.

Wanting to act rapidly and actually being able to do so are not the same thing. You need to be prepared to surge whenever an opportunity presents itself. For an organisation, there’s a lot to think about here. One of the critical factors is the need for some slack in the system. If people are meant to work flat-out, then there will be very little surge capacity. They won’t be able to suddenly switch from normal requirements and normal gears of operation to respond to, say, a sudden shock-to-the-system (a reputation-damaging situation, for example) or a massive opportunity. To do this without causing a lot of collateral damage requires a surge gear that’s been planned for in advance.

3. Model the emergency services.

Fire fighters, the police, trauma teams in hospitals – these groups are used to and, indeed, mandated to surge when necessary. Marketing outfits benefit from having some of the emergency services’ mind-set and practices. This might mean having well-defined levels of operation – say ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ levels together with working arrangements that make the switch from one level to another relatively painless. Having the names of reserve staff, outsourcers or additional resources to hand can also be enabling. So can rehearsing extraordinary surge arrangements to make them slick – like set-changes for theatrical performances.

4. Eliminate.

Surge action nearly always means eliminating or reducing some things you’d normally do. They may even be sacrifices. Best think about these beforehand and accept them when required.

5. Make time within your team(s) to talk about what I call surge dynamics.

I’m working to develop Surge Dynamics into a fully-developed discipline, but the following questions will give you some idea of what I have in mind and some very useful things to consider:

* Which kinds of surges are most evident in our arena of work?

* Does one surge trigger another?

* Are there competing surges at play?

* What measures can we use to prevent or minimise unwanted surges?

* Do the surges we deal with have a similar structure? Different episodes, perhaps?

Working effectively with the surge dynamics in your area of marketing activity will undoubtedly make a difference to your resilience and your success. Good luck.

  • Dr Michael Waters is founder of Surge Studies (surgestudies.org) and author of The Power of Surge: Achieving Big Things For You, Your Team, Your Community, Your Organisation… And The World (2020).

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