With “Back to School” Season in the Rear View Mirror, the Need to Plan for Multiple Futures is Clear

September 17, 2020

The back-to-school season is now moving into our rear view mirrors – yet while mid-September would normally mean a settled routine with school well underway, it is still a time of upheaval for most students, parents and faculty.


A tumultuous start to the school year also meant new challenges for brands that have traditionally relied on the standard back-to-school trends seen year after year. We know that the pandemic has accelerated pre-existing shifts in consumer behavior, and we can anticipate more of the same as 2020 continues, particularly in terms of ecommerce. The altered back to school season, with many districts across the country choosing online learning or a hybrid learning models, was beneficial for certain industries, particularly electronics. However, retail may still be feeling the sting of a slower shopping season. After all, new shoes and backpacks took a backseat for students who are no longer leaving their homes to learn.


The seemingly constant back and forth regarding this school year – from kindergartens to colleges – all but guarantees even further changes as time goes on, and brands need to be prepared for multiple versions of the future. It is not an exaggeration to say that scenario planning has never been more critical to business success, as we explored in our most recent ROI Genome report.


The value of scenario is both quantitative – making sure supply and demand is balanced for efficiency and waste avoidance – and qualitative – outsmarting our own inherent biases that tend to lean more toward optimism. In looking at the back to school season, this inherent optimism bias may resonate as many parents held out hope that their home offices would once again be quiet and children could be safely sent off to school.


But regardless of the starting point in realizing the need for scenario planning, anticipating and preparing for the future is what distinguishes the leading brands from the rest of the pack. By understanding what sales are going to be, and tuning the estimates and scenarios under the latest circumstances and curve balls thrown into the game, business leaders can prepare their teams and organization to be in the best position to make decisions for both short and long term growth.


Setting a Smart Foundation

Most business leaders understand the need to plan for multiple versions of the future, but an increased pressure brought on by outside macro factors can make it tempting to skip the foundation and dive right into the action. Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions, but rather for a clear, measured approach with an honest look at past metrics and a clear vision for future goals.


Looking at past metrics may be something that brands are hesitant about right now, questioning whether historical data can be used to predict such an unprecedented future. But the fact is, data from the past is still remarkably valuable. By understanding what is changing, why, and what the impact has been of comparable changes for various businesses or similar situations, it is possible to make logical conclusions that hold up over time. Without a foundation built on the past, it becomes all the more difficult to track what has changed and how over time.


Armed with smart, data-driven assumptions based on the past and present, business leaders can confidently build a stronger foundation for future goals. That is where the 3 main principles of successful scenario planning come into play:



It must be data-driven. Because one of the critical factors of scenario planning is its ability to help us see past our own inherent biases, a successful plan must be rooted in credible and robust, data-informed analytics. Accessing and understanding this data and what it means for your business brings the second principle into play.


  1. It must be collaborative. Cross-functional input and alignment on plan options and assumptions is a necessity. Too often, when implementing new plans or strategy, the left hand of a business does not know what the right hand is doing. This can be particularly true when decisions are rushed and the pressure is on. Take the time to identify and collaborate with internal stakeholders to agree on KPIs, methods and desired outcomes.


  1. It must be constantly evolving. The very nature of scenario planning means that it is not a “set it and forget it” strategy. Rather, it should be ongoing and iterative, integrated into key decisioning and planning windows.


The back to school season has proven that stability in seasonal trends may well be a thing of the past as we adjust to the normality of constant change. But whether facing market disruptions, competitive pressures, consumer behavior shifts or other forces of change, scenario planning can keep businesses prepared, and while hindsight is a wonderful thing, many brands are learning the hard way the importance of preparing for the unexpected.



Ready to take a closer look at scenario planning? Download the latest ROI Genome report.

Let's transform your business.

Analytic Partners can help your business evolve.

Get in touch with an expert