Over the last few weeks, everything has changed.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, we have the evidence that the future is not neatly laid out in front of us like a predefined runway just waiting for our plans to land. Forget about jetpacks. The only thing we can predict with certainty is that the future is uncertain. Like it or not, ready or not, we need to adapt at speed.

Alan Watts, a mid-twentieth century writer, once said, "The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” If we can accept that uncertainty is the new normal, then we will need to embrace it. We will need to use uncertainty as the lens we apply rather than the problem to be solved. 

​We can learn from the increasing velocity of customer behaviour from when COVID-19 was spreading across the world in March. The demand for bread makers rose quicker than the bread they make, with an increase of 652 per cent compared to 2019, and the demand for fitness equipment increased by a breath-taking 307 per cent. New ‘winner categories’ emerged at speed not seen before. ​It is clear that customers are thinking and moving faster than the businesses they rely on for consumption. Can organisations react at the same pace?  ​

The need for organisational agility has never been more pressing, but the window to reposition is narrow. Now that quarantine restrictions are gradually being lifted in some countries, those first back in the market with new and relevant product and service offerings for 'the new normal' are establishing a sizeable 'first mover' gap between themselves and competitors. ​

The risk-averse, now with limited capital and traditional market options, may well seek validation to hunker down and wait this out. ​​These businesses create an opportunity for their competition. Competitors who seize the moment, especially with relevant offerings, surfaced and served up at speed to consumers via great digital platforms. This creates a killer competitive edge that may prove insurmountable. ​ 

As economist John Kenneth once said, "In the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there’s no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.”

From bread makers to fitness equipment, and home office monitors to face masks and hand sanitiser, it is the consumers that define what is valuable and what is not. But predicting these demands in an uncertain market will be difficult. Traditional customer research will struggle to accurately predict where the market is heading in the mid- to long-term. 

In a contracting economy, price-cutting won’t defend market share as all vendors ease pricing in a mutually assured race to the bottom. So, other non-price dependent factors, that customers perceive as highly beneficial, will emerge as substantial market differentiators. 

Here are our picks:

  • Trust – consumers will increasingly favour suppliers and vendors who can demonstrate solid practices. This will ensure minimal risk to the customer in transacting goods and services
  • Safety – customers will appreciate businesses that prioritise their welfare across touchpoints and their overall journey. Businesses will need to demonstrate a clear concern to protect their customers by taking preventative action
  • Convenience and access – consumers’ constricted travel patterns are likely to drive the emergence of innovative delivery and fulfilment logistics options
  • New ways of working – expect to see more professional and one-to-one consulting services move online.

Market disruption always demands change. Businesses have decisions to make. They can stick with the current status quo and wait for the economy to resettle, and then adapt to suit, or they can get close to customers, keep in step, and adapt their business rapidly.​

There have been rapid market changes before. The difference now though is we have the toolsets we need to come out of the gates at speed. Our focus now needs to be on how best to adopt them.

This blog is part of Datacom’s Survive to Thrive: Digital Recovery Framework campaign. Learn more about what your business can do to survive the impact of COVID-19 and how it can recover quickly in a new digital economy.

Greg Whitham is Datacom’s advisory services' consulting director, specialising in customer experience. If you’d like some expert help in the area of customer experience design and implementation for your organisation, we'd love to help – contact us and we'll be in touch.

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