Don’t miss our awards deadlines

Explore our new sections and topics

Moving toward a sustainable future: The innovation and transformation of the food industry

Kees Kruythoff

chairman and chief executive officer

Sir Martin Sorrell

founder & executive chairman

Panel: Growth, Optimism and Scaling for 2021

Optimising digital strategies to thrive, rather than survive, during 2021 is the subject of a new panel from The Drum and CRM platform HubSpot.

Fast-paced changes during March and April as the world began its working-from-home operation, the agile tools and technologies which powered those rapid pivots, a potential return to the ‘old normal’ and feeling optimistic about 2021 were key talking points.

You can watch the fascinating panel here.

Pivot to Prosper

“At the beginning of lockdown, lots of companies had to quickly come up with both a new tech stack [ecosystem] to allow teams to work together, plus come up with a new strategy,” said Hubspot regional marketing director for EMEA, Inken Kuhlmann-Rhinow.

She cited the example of Lola, an American startup led by Hubspot co-founder Mike Volpe, which Hubspot has now partnered with, as part of its Hubspot for Startups programme.

“Lola was offering travel expense software,” she added. “But during this year, nobody was travelling. They had a product but they didn't have a market. So, they decided to remodel it for budget management, because people still have to manage their budget, and that's a pain as well. It’s impressive to see how some companies really quickly shifted and adapted.”

Waze UK country manager Ruairidh Roberts asserted that companies which had pivoted most effectively had used their existing resources rather than creating a new product.

He gave the examples of Waze partners McDonald’s and Aldi, both of which began offering new services as a result of the pandemic.

“I think the way companies like McDonald's have reacted is very impressive,” he said. “They closed down all their restaurants in the first lockdown period, they then had to re-engineer their kitchens and physically change how their restaurants and kitchens work to adhere to safer working environment guidelines. Now, during this lockdown, where other businesses are having to close, they are capable of remaining open.”

“Aldi, another good partner of ours, now offers click-and-collect,” he added. “They famously didn't do it before. It's not about inventing something new, it's just about offering what is appropriate and right, and making sure that they're engineering their operations to be able to do that,” he said.

The question of whether brands and consumers might revert back to the ‘old normal’ after the pandemic was discussed but dismissed by panellists, who believed that customer expectations had permanently shifted in response to extraordinary levels of innovation.

“One of my clients referred to the beginning of lockdown as three years of innovation in three weeks,” said Criteo UK country manager Marc Ó Fathaigh. “And I also had clients who said that every day during March and April was Black Friday for their ecommerce teams. And I think customer expectations have moved with us.”

Kuhlmann-Rhinow added that many technologies, such as chatbots, had seen accelerated innovation and take-up thanks to changed consumer expectations, and that she believed that new technologies and start-ups would spring up to meet that need over the next 18 months.

“Covid is accelerating certain adoption areas, in a big way,” she said. “That’s not going to go back because consumers are getting used to it. We’ve seen the use of chatbots, for instance, rise. And that’s not going to disappear - it’s just forcing us to adopt more quickly.

“So you need to have the right tools in place. I think we are actually going to see a lot of innovation happening in the next nine to 18 months, with new start-ups and new technologies.”

Optimising and Optimism

Panellists agreed that they felt optimistic about their prospects in 2021.

“Compared to 2020, absolutely,” said Roberts. “2020 has been a year to forget but I think 2021 will be about resilience, invention, innovation.”

“I think the innovation we've seen since the first lockdown has been really transformational across so many businesses,” said Ó Fathaigh. “I'm optimistic about that.

“This really stress tested all the businesses that are out there, and stress tested all of their processes and marketing teams. Ultimately, with the innovation that should come out of this, there's never a better time to set up. A world changing start-up often comes right after a recession so I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.”

Pinterest director of business marketing for Europe, Visha Naul, said she believed that consumers would respond positively to brand-led optimism.

“Brands have a chance to really be purposeful in this current climate,” she said. “There has been a 167%, increase in ‘inspiration’ and ‘positive quotes’ being searched on Pinterest. “Consumers need this right now. And I think brands can deliver.”

Kuhlmann-Rhinow said that while she was optimistic, she also believed that brands had to ensure that they were properly investing in the customer experience, adding that businesses had to keep up with their customers to ensure long term success.

“Everybody ultimately always thinks about revenue growth and that being your top line metric.” She said. “But what could it be next year? For me, one of the main things I want to fix is around customer experience. And therefore, retention is actually my go-to metric for next year. I think you really need to obsess about the experience and invest in there and spend a decent amount of money to make that happen.”

Watch the full panel here.