The year 2020 has been like no other. When I was a student over two decades ago, we had a seminar titled Marketing 2020. This was when Y2K fears were real and 2020 was a representative of anything in the future, but something that needed to be planned for. The year 2020 when pronounced, has a rhyme and zing to it and had been much awaited for these very reasons. It marked the turn of the decade with the first set of millennials moving out of their teens and 2020 was meant to announce a ‘coming of age’.
But alas, what a tumultuous arrival it was…the global pandemic has upset the equations for a lot of businesses and forced a transition to newer ways — sometimes beyond recognition. But this piece is not about the pandemic and the impact. What set me thinking is that businesses face such disruptions even otherwise. The disruptions could be regulation-led, technology-led, competition-led and like the last year, led by external factors. As a business, you most likely don’t have a playbook to turn to for such situations. Here are some (oversimplified) basics that can bolster you when disruptions actually hit you.
• Question everything that you do or don’t do: The Reliance Jio tsunami had hit the incumbent telecom operators in 2016 and disrupted their business models. Some fell by the wayside, the market leader Airtel transformed radically and by joining forces with Vodafone and Idea (now Vi), did the unthinkable. They also re-engineered their costs, brought digital transformation into the core, warmed up to the idea of offering entertainment content as a part of their portfolio and more such. They questioned everything and are now recovering smartly.
• Innovate Ruthlessly: Efficiency is a given, innovation and transformation have to be the focus in troubled times. Netflix’s switch from their dwindling DVD rentals business to streaming movies is the stuff legends are made of.
• Trend-hunting: It’s important to distinguish long-term development from a passing trend. Blackberry had their wonderful Qwerty phones. However, their inability to correctly assess the touchscreen revolution in the wake of their own successful range caused (amongst other reasons) their downfall. Bajaj Auto successfully made the transition from scooters to a formidable force in the motorcycles segment.
• Communication is the key: Engage with your customers and reach out to your loyal base. Choose your medium of communication carefully. Overhaul your communication strategy. I recall when Cadbury’s India was hit by the worms controversy in 2003, it threatened their very survival in India. The company engaged with its retailers through a ‘Project Vishwas’ – a confidence-building and educational engagement with their almost 2,00,000 retailers. On the consumer side, they roped in Amitabh Bachchan to regain the consumer’s trust.
• Revisit your vision statement: When in doubt, cogitate over your vision statement. It has been put together after much rumination and can be your guiding spirit when faced with disruption. Stick with the basics, re-affirm your brand’s core attributes, maintain quality and you’ll find answers embedded.
Our customers’ behaviours have been rewired in the last year and new habits have been inculcated for all times to come. The year 2021 will prod us to discover and research more of these newly formed habits to drive sharper consumer actions and change our ways of doing business. As business owners, we would need to work on content strategy, product development, multi-channel distribution, digitisation, re-positioning and such. However, some of the elements, if anything, are likely to accelerate:
• March of technology and its pace of change in newer facets of life.
• Importance of UI/UX, packaging and vanity in everyday lives.
• Influence of social media.
• Collaboration will have a renewed purpose - virtual or otherwise.
• A digital life - this is sure to be a permanent feature of our lives.
Massive disruptions, when they happen, are usually democratic in nature and affect the small players and Goliaths with similar intensity. So, in this pandemic-induced disruption, while a lot has changed, a lot has remained the same too. Amongst that, is our customer’s sense of self-esteem, her privacy concerns and the need to feel secure. Businesses hereon have to re-assess what they know of their customers. She is going through a full cycle of habit formation and is willing to adopt new habits post this pandemic. This presents apposite opportunity for an entirely new category of products and services.
Whether this is your big opportunity to play on a grand stage and outshine your competition will totally depend upon your nimbleness and the tenacity of your actions.
Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting 2021. Let the show begin!
(The author is a senior professional in the corporate sector and writes on varied topics that catch his fancy. The views expressed here are his own.)