LOOK TO THE FUTURE NOW
Thanks to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, many companies are having to spend most of their time dealing with the day to day. That can mean finding ways to integrate new working and sales practices, or just trying to juggle cash flow.
But as vaccinations begin, even the most heavily impacted companies know they must start looking to the future. Smart brands are considering what they’ll do once the pandemic has been brought under control. Exploring what the business and customer landscape will look like in a ‘post-Covid world’, and how they’ll fare within it. Identifying any new strategies and products they’ll have to create to appeal to a ‘new’ consumer.
William Higham, futurist, author and founder of Next Big Thing, looks at what businesses can do to prepare.
THE FAB FOUR
I believe there are four things any company can do to better prepare themselves for this post-Covid landscape. They’re based on almost twenty years experience of helping enterprises prepare for the future, working with brands from Amazon to Walt Disney.
First, I think companies will need to ‘track the trends’. Determine which of their customers’ current behaviours are likely to change, in what way, and how that might impact their business. Next they should ‘identify new needs’. It’s important to understand what your customers will do, but even more important to understand what they’ll want. Third, they’ll need to ‘become change-ready’. In an uncertain world, companies will need to be better able to adapt their strategies to changing circumstances. And finally, enterprises will need to ‘diversify what they do’. If your customers’ needs and behaviours are changing, then there’s a good chance you’ll need to adapt the products you offer or the way you offer them.
1. TRACK THE TRENDS
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have created several new behavioural trends. But which, if any, will continue once the pandemic is over? Observing trends around previous crises has enabled us to build a three-tier analytical system. Segmenting new behaviours into one of three typologies makes it much clearer how each is likely to develop post-crisis.
● Environment-Specific Trends
These are behaviours which began during the current situation and exist only because of it. Focused on the immediate concerns of the crisis, they’re likely to decline as the pandemic declines. Hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing all fall into this category.
● Environment-Friendly Trends
Trends driven by the pandemic but that spoke to growing needs. Such trends are likely to continue, though at slightly more diminished levels than at the crisis’ height. Grocery e-commerce and a focus on safety both fall into this category.
● Environment-Growth Trends
These are new behaviours which began pre-pandemic, but which were actually accelerated by it. They’ll not only continue but grow at a faster rate than before the crisis began. They include: more self-sufficiency and focus on community.
2. IDENTIFY NEW NEEDS
Understanding customer needs enables companies to provide products and services to satisfy those needs. But creating such products takes time. Companies that can predict customers’ new needs ahead of their competitors not only give themselves time to properly develop them. It can also gain a first-mover advantage.
Combining observational research with an understanding of consumer behaviour has enabled Next Big Thing to identify three new needs we believe consumers will have once the pandemic is over.
● Take Care
The pandemic made many people more aware of their vulnerability to ‘outside’ events. As a result, they’ll come out of it seeking ways to prepare themselves better for future events. They’ll take greater care, with more focus on safety. They’ll take steps to improve their physical and mental health. And they’ll learn more practical ‘adulting’ skills.
● Calm Down
Increasingly anxious, many consumers will look to slow down, relax and switch off. Some will enjoy escapist pursuits. Others will seek guidance from earlier times for alternatives to a growth-led technological age. They’ll look for ways to ground themselves, with more focus on relationships, Nature or the spiritual.
● Join The Community
As their trust in institutions declines, people will look more to their peers for support. This will include family, friends and ‘people like me’: those who share their attitudes, hobbies or interests. As working-from-home makes us spend more time within our communities, it’ll increasingly include neighbours as well.
3. BECOME CHANGE-READY
The pandemic has impacted businesses in many ways. We believe its biggest impact might be acting as a wake-up call for CEOs to build more adaptability into their companies.
The pandemic is what forecasters call a Grey Swan. A Black Swan is a global or market-wide event that has a huge impact across business: but one so unexpected it’s impossible to predict. A Grey Swan is an unusual event whose timing is hard or impossible to determine, but whose existence can be predicted. It includes devastating storms, water and electricity shortages, the scarcity of key technological materials, disruptive new technologies, and citizen unrest.
Grey Swans are becoming more frequent, their effects more impactful across markets. Why? The world is more interconnected socially and commercially. The effects of global warming are growing. New technologies are being found, and adopted, more quickly. Economic differences are growing. Citizens have access to organisational technology.
To better adjust to an increasingly volatile commercial environment, companies will need to build greater adaptability into their strategies, organisation and cultures.
Companies will need to ensure their culture, and reporting and reward structures, enable them to adjust – and where necessary pivot – their strategies to adapt to new circumstances, new competitors and new technologies. They should explore a more team-based, blended workforce to help them expand or contract as necessary. Smart businesses will build innovation into the heart of their organisation.
4. DIVERSIFY WHAT YOU DO
The pandemic highlighted the danger of maintaining just one supply region, revenue stream or model. Companies that relied upon a single region to provide their materials were massively disrupted when access to that region was denied during the pandemic. Worse, many companies with a single sector or platform focus – airlines to cinemas – were devastated when access to that sector or platform ended.
To avoid such problems in future, and ensure an income stream whatever the crisis, companies will need to diversify across suppliers, sectors, products, platforms and customers. We work with companies to explore which of their models and streams are most at risk: and identify future-proofed alternatives around their core strengths.
At Next Big Thing, we’ve spent years exploring how companies can best prepare themselves for the future. We’ve helped businesses find success using all of the four actions above. Each one alone can provide protection against threats, and the means to take advantage of new opportunities. In combination, they can make any company future-proof.
For anyone wanting to become ‘post-Covid-ready’, I’ve created a talk on the topic. It offers a practical guide to the four key actions above and illustrates how any company can build them into their day-to-day business. To find out more, just contact firstname.lastname@example.org
4 Great Ways for Businesses to get Post-Covid-Ready by William Higham. Will is a consumer trends futurist, consultant, author and keynote speaker.