How fast is fast enough?
Karen Almeida, head of stakeholder communications at Conran Design Group, writes about how businesses and their brands can demonstrate their credentials for accelerating change and how to convince their stakeholders that they are resilient enough to make it work.
The need for businesses and brands to reinvent themselves is nothing new. As the world changes, they must adapt or risk becoming irrelevant. Research from stockbroker AJ Bell last year showed that only 30 of the companies that were constituents of the FTSE-100 when it was created in 1984 are around in a similar form today. The rest have been acquired or broken up, or they have shrunk, gone out of business or entirely reinvented themselves. Remember Imperial Chemical Industries, once the UK’s largest manufacturing business? ICI, as it was known, is long gone, but AstraZeneca, currently top of the FTSE-100 leaderboard, was formed from ICI’s biosciences division, with Swedish pharma company Astra.
The last twenty years have seen an extraordinary degree of change as the internet and mobile phones have transformed the way we live: today we work, shop, communicate, bank and are entertained online.
And now, COVID-19. The speed with which the pandemic took hold across the globe has left us all reeling. Many businesses are having to adapt their business models on the fly. Supermarkets had shifted away from building megastores to assembling networks of smaller high-street branches to adapt to a trend for ‘little and often’ food shopping. Now they are rapidly having to shift direction again to support the overwhelming demand for home delivery. Will it be a long-term trend, or just a blip? Most organisations are having to alter the way they work at the moment, and It’s too early to know whether all the changes will be permanent. But many businesses are facing the prospect of permanent alterations to their business models, and alongside that, to their brands. Can they do this fast enough, and how do they convince their stakeholders that they are agile and resilient enough to make it work?
How can businesses demonstrate their credentials for accelerating change? It’s important to set the scene – explain what the market will look like and give the strategic rationale for doing things differently. What resources and relationships do you have that will allow you to adapt your model and reshape the business so that it can thrive? Do you have the financial capital to invest in making changes? In the last couple of years, culture and values have become an important topic of conversation for businesses: can you demonstrate that your workforce is adaptable, resilient, energetic and entrepreneurial? How will shifts affect your social contract with your stakeholders, and will your purpose still be relevant, or does it need to be revisited? And how does this impact your brands?
Petrochemicals business Ineos recently announced an ambitious plan to build an international consumer healthcare business off the back of its rapidly activated venture into hand sanitiser products. Among its first external hires for the new division were Heads of Brand and Packaging, suggesting that no matter how easy it is to make operational changes effectively, an ability to shape a new brand proposition and communicate it effectively are just as critical to a successful shift in the business model.
Delivering and communicating rapid change successfully may be hard to achieve, but perhaps COVID’s silver lining will be that it will be a dress rehearsal for an even bigger challenge that we face: climate change. The full impacts of that might yet be a while off, but maybe businesses will have learned some valuable lessons this year that will make them better prepared in the long run to adapt and survive.