No matter what you call it – post-pivot, post-pandemic pivot, new normal – the current situation can be a netherworld for brands that can’t keep up.
As this prolonged pandemic is demonstrating, the nature of long-lasting disruption is profound, generating permanent changes in adoption of new behaviors that will impact a wide range of categories for years to come.
Wishing this a “one-and-done” event to be dealt with won’t make it so. Sustained and continuous effort is required if you want to push into new spaces with strategic brand innovation and actions.
Many companies and their brands have valiantly adapted over the course of the pandemic, and are now reconsidering the resilience and sustainability of those actions, and making shifts where needed. In this sense, the proverbial pivot is never truly over!
In fact, in many ways, brands are the original pivoters, since they are continually tasked with having to evolve.
What this looks like in “real life”
Amidst the very real prioritization to shore up core business, innovate new supply chains, and weather the pandemic storm, some companies de-accelerated overall innovation initiatives and pipeline development early on. It’s probably not a surprise that thinking around the innovation pipeline might've suffered as many struggled to fight fires on a much more fundamental survival level. But facing an empty blackboard and starting anew can be daunting.
Although overall corporate spend on innovation declined (along with marketing budgets), some companies scrambled to get ahead of it, and began reconsidering their innovation pipelines as early as May of 2020 – including optimal levels of investment during the pandemic. Now, these managers are looking to measure the resilience and sustainability of those actions, and ideas for ways forward.
Still others (especially those in highly-impacted categories) – especially now – recognize the need to “hypercharge” their innovation pipelines and engage with their customers at an even deeper level.
Results show that openly engaging with customers, even in difficult situations, pays off in the long run. For example, those companies who invested during the global financial meltdown of 2008 and 2009 were ahead of the game coming out of the situation, and managed to maintain much of their gains.
Regardless of your company’s position on the proactive innovation continuum, for most companies, the simple fact is that their customers’ realities have shifted to the point that any previous ideas or strategies need to be completely re-thought, and in some cases, re-imagined.
Blowing the socks off technology adoption times
Probably the most exciting aspect of consumer behavior during this prolonged pandemic is the compressed and collective adoption window for many technologies, especially those that support the fulfilling of daily needs. You can say some of this adoption was forced, but nonetheless, adoption that was projected to take 10 years has occurred in a much shorter timeframe.
A resulting and glaring challenge for brands is that consumers have now firmly established an entirely NEW set of routines over the past year. This means that for projects that may have been paused, reviving them isn’t likely going to be as easy as just hitting the play button.
Three areas that have experienced rapid uptake and adoption (regardless of gender or age, including those aged 65+) during the prolonged pandemic are:
E-commerce: Many consumers who were previously hesitant about online shopping found it to be a distribution lifeline during the pandemic, as a way of distancing themselves from the risk of in-person shopping trips. Moreover, the pandemic pushed adoption across a wider range of categories, with groceries being an obvious winner.
Grocery and household supplies procurement: In addition to ordering online for groceries and prepared meals, trial and usage of curbside pick-up and at-home deliveries also greatly accelerated. Many service providers were able to advance their delivery protocols given the critical mass of demand and the permission for experimentation. Entirely new approaches can now be imagined – even re-designing grocery stores and breaking models that have been in place for over 50 years!
Tele-medicine: Insurance companies and healthcare providers quickly saw the benefits of offering online-delivery medical appointments and advice for patients reluctant or unable to make in-person office visits. The high trial and usage of tele-medicine services also helped conserve medical resources, and limiting the strain on healthcare workers and medical systems stressed from treating COVID patients.
Restaurants are another good example of the rapid uptake of contactless menus, payments, delivery models, and improved operating costs.
So for some industries, the gains from drastically shortened adoption times made this an enormously exciting time.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
But that doesn’t mean it’s been dead easy for any of these companies to navigate through the past year or so. Moreover, building on the momentum created will require continuous monitoring of multiple touchpoints.
That’s because in the new (and still changing) paradigm it’s not just about providing the product and/or service. It’s more about making the value proposition such that people still find greater value in continuing their new behaviors than in reverting back. There will be an adjustment between the old and new behaviors. For example, when needing to get groceries, people will ultimately find a balance in their usage of curbside grocery pick-up versus at-home delivery and in-person store visits.
With so much time having passed, there is a growing sense of urgency to see which behaviors have shifted as relates to your category – and of course, what it will be like to endure these changes and how they will impact your business.
Future-forward brands can seize the momentum created and make further changes to digitally transform and move into heretofore blue ocean spaces. In short, the lines between black and white are now permanently blurred, creating plenty of new opportunities.
As the world moves out of crisis mode and further into “pandemic duration mode”, consumers will increasingly look for “who's meeting my needs best.” And with this massive disruption not going away any time soon, continued monitoring is required to truly understand the impact and find the right mix of strategies and offerings for your company in terms of meeting profit and other goals.
Identifying and evaluating growth opportunities doesn't just happen by accident
Having a robust nurturing and development program for your insights, knowledge roadmaps and innovation pipelines is more important than ever, as exampled by the ravages of the prolonged pandemic. It’s actually moved into the realm of risk management!
As you explore what needs to be re-evaluated, reconsidered, and reframed at a macro level, don't forget to also pay close attention to even the most basic givens that you had to rely on prior to 2020.
Is your audience even the same? Does your customer segmentation tools or audience data even still hold? Have demographics shifted? Are the basic business tools, benchmarks, metrics, KPIs still accurate? You may be surprised that more than just a few things have shifted and are in need of a refresh.
One of the first steps is to gain new perspectives and alignment through a diagnostic evaluation of the key changes that have occurred, peering through the lens of real-world behaviors to explore:
- Where your company (or your brand) is now situated in people's lives and perceptions?
- How is that the same or different than what it was (pre-pandemic)?
- What new opportunities, products, and/or services are emerging?
Next, reconsidering your company’s best strategies going forward is in order, thinking through:
- What new threats have emerged because of the situation?
- Who are your new competitors?
- How can the disruption be leveraged or built upon?
- What new customer experiences can be anticipated?
- How resilient are the actions taken likely to be?
Finally, reframing your viewpoints and perceptions and breaking through your own company’s blind spots leading to true innovations and pipeline development for the near future, based on thorough exploration via incremental, focused research – with an emphasis on how behaviors changed far beyond any one product.
- How has daily life changed from a broader perspective?
- How have your customer’s personal priorities (time with family, for self, etc.) and career priorities changed?
- How are their root-level, inner-values-type transformations playing out (i.e., life goals, values and aspirations changed)?
Who's doing the re-inventing here, anyway?
Gaining clarity about what the future might hold is a powerful opportunity to be a part of shaping that new reality – rather than having the new reality shaped for your brand. Clearly, you can get a leg up by starting sooner rather than later.
Psssst: A sometimes overlooked benefit of early adoption is that you will have benchmarks against which to measure future behavior.
As Satya Nadella (CEO Microsoft) has famously opined: Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future.
At Conifer, we concur and add to that: Reinvent … or be reinvented!