The brands we work with are in the challenging position of planning campaigns that will happen in an unknown context. Clients from all sectors are writing briefs that, as one would expect, are asking us for insights into the category, consumer and wider environment. Whether it’s as soon as the end of this year or as seemingly distant as 2021 and beyond, there is a consistent question; how will we know what life will be like? How can we plan communications which will resonate in this unknown future?

Of course, this challenge is not limited to communications. Society, business and government are all grappling to develop strategies to understand and navigate the complex operating environment caused by disruption and change on both a global and local level.

Planning campaigns against the backdrop of constant change is the strategy roulette we all now play. But placing your bet needn’t be the gamble it seems. Uncertainty presents opportunity in our approach to insights because, actually, confusion is a strategist’s friend. Within it we find new points of view and routes out of the problem, we challenge assumption and rethink biases.

So here are some ways to use uncertainty as an opportunity to find insights.

Opportunity 1: Forget what you know
Whether it’s Vogue’s August edition or George The Poet’s stunning verse for Coca Cola’s latest campaign, there is a clamouring for the world to pause and reflect on what is truly important.  This is an opportunity for everyone. When it comes to insights, it’s a chance to leave behind some of those biases we all hold. If we all assume that we know nothing about our audiences then we can start to find real insights rather than use assumptions. So let’s reset and recalibrate what we used to assume.

Opportunity 2:  But don’t forget everything
While changes feel new and rapid, many of the trends we see now are simply extraordinary accelerated changes that were already in play. It’s what McKinsey has dubbed The Quickening.

Forbes recently wrote of the banking sector’s digital acceleration and The Financial Times reported similar for automotive, both radical accelerations of what was already at play. When we reach for insights, looking back to what was there before is a good place to start.

Opportunity 3: Revealing data
Being data-led in our approach to insights is nothing new but, in the current environment, it can reduce ongoing uncertainty and mitigate risk. During this period of restriction, people have changed how they behave online, conducting even more of their lives digitally. If you look for the right data, this can give us even more of a window into human behaviour.

Think with Google publishes a regular report on search insights that are a fascinating indication of how people think, feel and act when things change rapidly.

YouTube has also been publishing its perspective on how what we watch, read, and listen to online has changed during the crisis.

Opportunity 4: Ask why?
Never before has understanding human behaviour been so essential and thought-provoking. Often the stalwart of healthcare communications, now we can all see the power (and weakness) of the irrational ways people respond to communications. But behavioural science is not something reserved for public health campaigning. The H+K Smarter team is always a fascinating start point for campaign insights; helping unpick why people behave the way they do. For instance, a consumer brand that wants more frequent replacement of worn products, and based a campaign on the leftover value in the degraded products. Or a recycling campaign that got tens of thousands of kids recycling – but without mentioning recycling at all.

If someone says they can predict the future, then don’t believe them. But that doesn’t mean we are completely at sea; we can better read the clues that are there if we only look for them.

Because, as Mark Twain so eloquently put it, ‘“history never repeats itself but it rhymes”.