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Business leaders need to think long and short term to face 2021 challenges

By Richard Carroll, Managing consultant



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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January 26, 2021 | 8 min read

As we move into 2021, Covid-19 has brought about another national lockdown, further uncertainty to businesses, and continued changes to consumer behaviour.

prepare for 2021

To survive and thrive in this environment, leaders need to look long to ensure their businesses are being set up to weather the storm, while also looking short, retaining their resilience and agility to negotiate these challenges and succeed.

Although these challenges will affect different businesses and sectors, three areas will be critical regardless of market position.

  1. Moving quickly from survival to growth

  2. Understanding changes in consumer behaviour

  3. Setting your teams up for success

Moving quickly from survival to growth

As we transition away from government support the true economic impact of Covid-19 is going to become clear and businesses are going to have to make difficult decisions to ensure their survival.

Knowing and accepting this, streamlining the existing business and testing new growth models and partnerships has never been more important.

Coke has halved its brand portfolio to focus on growth areas, Brewdog has offered to turn its bars into vaccination hubs to remain relevant and the BBC has pivoted to show school programmes on terrestrial TV to home-school our children. Change doesn’t come by standing still – focus on areas of growth and make the difficult decisions now to pivot or close business units down that are not supporting the organisation.

Thinking longer-term, leaders will have to ask themselves a simple question – wait and hope for consumer demand to return to pre-Covid levels or proactively seek opportunities to position for success.

Greggs has moved quickly, partnering with Just Eat has given it some stake in online food delivery while taking advantage of favourable rental agreements that will enable the chain to open 100 new stores this year. Nestle too, by investing in UK direct to consumer meal kit business Mindful Chef and US meal delivery service Freshly, has enabled growth into new areas of high demand, while also bringing new business insights and go-to-market opportunities for existing brands.

Some things will never go back to how they were and the shape of your business’ recovery (potentially survival) is likely to be impacted by decisions made over the next 12 months. In this instance, inaction is worse than taking calculated risks.

Understanding changes in consumer behaviour

Changes in consumer behaviour are happening at a ferocious speed. Brands like Debenhams, Arcadia group and others that have failed have simply been unable to keep up and effectively meet changing consumer demands quickly enough.

Take steps now to ensure you have access to the right insights to understand your consumers and their needs. Establishing quick feedback loops that bring research, product development and marketing planning together should provide the agility to identify and exploit opportunities.

Monzo has been doing this for several years, publishing its development roadmap and allowing consumers to suggest new features so they can prioritise the things that matter, while Deliveroo used a mixture of data and intuition to adapt to consumers lockdown demands.

These approaches do away with traditional processes and show another way is possible – moving from idea to execution in days or weeks, learning what works and scaling it quickly.

Looking long, leaders need to consider how consumer behaviour is going to change again and understand what worked before is unlikely to work again.

Starting to think about how you remove friction from consumer journeys or bypass traditional distribution methods, such as the physical store, will make your product or service easier to access in a dynamic world.

The 2008 financial crisis tells us something about exiting a recession successfully. The strength of your brand will be essential, and, under the right circumstances, the best marketers will be increasing their spend on long term brand building, not cutting it. Generating awareness and brand equity now will enable you to convert to sales as the recovery progresses.

Purpose is going to be a key driver in your recovery, but not as brands have often approached it in the past. People saw through empty promises in 2020, now brands need to walk the walk, ensuring issues that matter to consumers are at the heart of any business strategy, with transparent communication on goals and progress.

Setting your teams up for success

How you support and motivate your workforce must remain a priority. Some find working from home liberating while others are longing to return to the office.

Looking short, your teams could be suffering in silence as they seek to juggle everything from health concerns to childcare. When we spoke to businesses as part of our remote workforce report, the ones who are getting this right are avoiding a culture of supervision and micro-management, instead promoting a culture of flexibility and trust.

Thinking longer term, for those returning to the office, now is the time to start planning the transition. Proactive businesses are already speaking to their teams to understand their needs and identify potential challenges and opportunities in a hybrid home/office model.

Start setting up specific groups to look at what role the office space plays in the future, and how employees will use it. If you can get it right, a progressive, flexible working policy will bring huge benefits in employee wellbeing, diversity, inclusion as well as giving you access to talent you might have previously been unable to utilise.

Take action to build for the future.

For those not thinking in this way, this methodology will have to become normal practice to navigate the challenges ahead. With an unclear path to recovery, leaders need to ask themselves if they are changing quickly enough. If the answer is no, then quickly seek to understand what is holding you back within your organisation.

As a leader, now is the time to be proactive, using your influence to decide the course of action, rather than reacting to external events. Build a vision for how your organisation will operate in the coming months and over the long term and then align your actions to make it a reality.

If you are keen to adapt your business and marketing strategy but are unsure how to create your short and long-term vision, then get in touch with Capgemini Invent.

Richard Carroll is a senior digital marketing and brand consultant at Capgemini Invent.


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