Originally written for Marketing Society by Kevin Chesters, Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy & Mather London and Simin Radmanesh, Planning Director at Ogilvy & Mather London

I think it’s fair to say that the Brexit vote took all of us by surprise: Agency and client. We’ve spent a lot of time this week chatting about it and the potential impacts of it on our business, our network, our clients, their consumers and their businesses. O&M London Planning Director, Simin Radmanesh has been leading a discussion with the team here on the implications.

It’s worth saying for starters that the result should teach us all a little humility. We should have seen it coming. We should have been more in tune with the country. We should have been closer to the consumers we claim to know. It should have given us all as marketers an intellectual slipper across the backside. We all deserve a B- for not anticipating this Black Swan.

Brexit will affect us all. That much is certain. What is a little more uncertain is by when, by how much, and how intensely. This uncertainty has triggered speculation across the markets, airwaves, and Twitter-feeds, creating a general atmosphere of unease.  But within upheaval there is always opportunity. Having steered brands through financial crises, political unrest and other periods of turmoil over the last twenty years, there are some pointers to follow to help brands navigate a path through the uncertainty.

1. Be consistent
While we are oriented as marketeers towards innovation and the new, when all the cards have been thrown in the air, people find stability in consistency. With government sending only messages of confusion, brands can aid people in finding stability by communicating “Business as usual”, re-affiriming their key values and their commitment to work in the interests of their customers. Be a beacon of certainty within the world of the uncertain.

2. Be clear
With a public lack of confidence and loss of leadership in government, this is actually an opportunity for business, through their brands, to establish/retain/regain credibility and demonstrate leadership and guidance in the months ahead. Brands can build equity through reassurance by focusing on comforting and optimistic associations that will bring contrasting brightness and hope to the gloomy news headlines. Perhaps it is even just having a simple and consistent PoV that will help your brand to navigate the choppy Brexit sea.

3. Be strong
Healthy, strong brands prosper during times of uncertainty – that was proven in 2008 and the recession of the 90s. Because they show their backbone and demonstrate that while other parts of life (economy, government) might be stumbling, they are solid and there for their customers. The worst thing to do in a time of chaos is add to it. In times of trouble the strong brands that invest time and money in their brands tend to emerge from the storm stronger and healthier. I know we would say that (wouldn’t we?) but the facts bear it out.

4. Be empathetic
Many people were surprised by the result – but could that be because we’ve been denying the reality in front of our faces?  The London bubble, the Facebook bubble.
The divide between London and the rest of the country, in terms of culture and values has only grown. Perhaps our surprise is a result of our bubble thinking and living. We might profess to ‘know our audiences’ but clearly we don’t know them as well as we could or should. Maybe it’s time to get out there and ask some questions rather than pretend we have all the answers.

5. Be less ‘London’
Perhaps we should never again sign off a project where we only research in London. Perhaps it should be a mandatory that if we want to run work nationwide we should test it nation, wide. Unless the project is for a designer café for hugging cats aimed at men with designer beards then we should always get outside the M25. If Brexit taught adland anything it is that we are not very in tune with what’s going on in great(er) Britain.

In the longer term, perhaps brands (and those that work for them), should take time, instead of judging the views of the 51%, to try to understand what’s driving those views.  Brands should endeavour to find better ways of connecting – really connecting – with their audiences and get into local communities. And then creating more localised campaigns that speak to the deeper needs of these parts of society.

Times ahead will be uncertain. But brands can play a strong and consistent role that will only be welcomed by consumers and potential consumers. Tough times ahead, but with every difficulty comes an opportunity. The bold and the socially relevant brands will take those opportunities with both hands.