By Prof. Gustavo García-Mansilla, Executive Director of the MSc in Marketing and Digital Media, ESCP Business School
What has the pandemic changed, and how should it affect the way we run a business? Professor Gustavo García-Mansilla says more market research and innovation!
Imagine that a loved one has been through a traumatic situation, leaving considerable mental scars as well as certain physical aftereffects. That the trauma was over a prolonged period and has changed their overall health. What would your attitude be towards this person?
Now imagine that you have been through the same situation, with the same consequences. How will this change the relationship between the two of you?
Now let’s call your loved one the “customer” and you, the “company”. And let’s do a simple shift of personal behaviours to the field of business. Nothing will ever be the same again. It could be worse but could also be much better, depending on how the two parties behave.
There is no need to reiterate here the effect of Covid-19 on the markets, as there is already a glut of information and opinions in this world saturated with data and content. Let’s focus on the action plans.
The first step is the basic empathy we should all feel towards somebody who is suffering. In commercial terms, this is known as the “customer-oriented” approach and means no more and no less than putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Understanding what is happening to them, how they feel, how their needs have changed and, above all, their feelings. And from that point on, adapting what we can so they feel better.
Should all businesses undertake a digital transformation? No. Unless the context has changed…
In essence, this is what all companies ought to do, as a universal principle, to manage their business in these (thus far) enduringly viral times:
First step: more market research. Qualitative. Ad hoc. Customised to their requirements (customers and company), the target segments, the customer profiles and the markets in which it operates. Primary objective: understanding what the “new”, post-traumatic customer is like. And drawing relevant conclusions that serve as a guide when making decisions to correct its course.
From then on, a clear commitment to innovation. New problems call for new solutions. Not for more of the same, or it will get progressively worse for us. The “patient” needs us to behave in ways that are new in order to adapt to their new needs.
Innovate or more of the same…?
Where can we innovate in marketing? Well, frankly, everywhere. Product, prices, distribution, communication. And also processes and internal organisation. By applying very well-known tools with proven, decades-long success: innovation was not invented when Covid-19 emerged. But with conviction, by creating a truly innovating “culture” at the company and not a mere stopgap to escape the crisis. Availing of the opportunity to relaunch the business and make it stronger and more competitive.
By spurring on innovation, we can seize the chance to begin a real transformation process, of the sort that digs deep where it needs to do so: in the corporate culture. The rest is just window dressing and will follow the evolutionary curve of any trend. Should all businesses transform? The answer is no. The principle of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the result of prudence and business sense, and that is a good thing. Unless the context has changed. And nobody has been untouched by that change.
In what shape have society and individuals emerged from the “everlasting” pandemic? We can only say, in general terms, “differently”. The distinctions depend on each sector, each organisation and, ultimately, how executives read the situation. The response, which can vary according to the company, will guide the business strategy. And success will follow. Or not…