We suggested in an article a few months ago that an entrepreneurial outlook could be key to a business’s hopes of navigating the COVID-19 crisis. Those companies banking on a miraculous return to normality would be severely disappointed, we said, while those showing flexibility in the face of disruption would have a chance of surviving and even thriving. Whatever the outcome, nothing will ever be quite the same again.
That’s pretty much how things have panned out. Whereas hibernation alone has seldom been a recipe for success during lockdown, metamorphosis has often proven a highly effective strategy. In short: many of the healthiest businesses today are those that have been willing and able to change.
As the fight for the “pandemic pound” gives way to the battle for the post-pandemic pound, it’s now necessary to recognise what else has changed during the past year. Perhaps above all, it’s vital to appreciate that consumers, too, will no longer ever be quite the same again.
One reason why this is so important is that there’s an awful lot of pent-up demand out there. The emergency fiscal and monetary responses implemented by governments and central banks have brought unprecedented money growth, and it’s the public that has been left holding much of the cash. So there’s a lot of spending to be done.
And what really matters, of course, is how all this money will be spent. This will emphasise yet again the decisive division between those businesses that truly comprehend their function and those that are dangerously wedded to their form.
The evolution of “self-service sales”
Arguably the most compelling illustration of this crucial distinction lies in the sphere of home delivery. Here we can see very clearly the difference between hibernation and metamorphosis for companies and customers alike.
It’s not just corporate titans that have redefined themselves to take advantage of this rapidly expanding trend. Small businesses that have long struggled on the High Street have also embraced a new and transformative way of doing things.
Takeaways represent a classic example. Thanks to platforms such as Just Eat and Uber Eats, they’ve earned a steady audience through “front and centre” virtual shop windows that they would never have been able to afford in a physical world. Once the poor relations of restaurants, they’re now the poster children for the “not on the High Street” model.
Consider, too, an enterprise such as online florist Bloom & Wild, whose rise has been unashamedly built on what the company doesn’t do. Bloom & Wild doesn’t send you an exquisitely presented bouquet. Like “meal kit” suppliers such as Hello Fresh and Gousto, it simply provides the basic components and leaves you to do the rest.
Today’s consumers are perfectly happy with such an arrangement – no pun intended – which reflects an evolution of what might be called “pull sales” or “self-service sales” models. The secret sauce here is customer acknowledgement of value. The price anchor – the comparison that determines how much the recipient of a service is prepared to pay – is what counts.
Customisation in a world of accelerated change
Ikea was a pioneer in this field. It persuaded us to identify, specify and even collect our own purchases, which we would then take home and assemble ourselves. It gave us a genuinely customisable customer experience – which is what many more consumers have now come to expect after a tumultuous year of “new normals”.
So it isn’t enough to think only about what you offer: it’s also essential to think about how you offer it. This is what separates function from form and hibernation from metamorphosis. The first is passive, if not devastatingly inert; the second is innovative and geared towards continued relevance.
Focusing solely on the former is perilous. At best, it’s likely to culminate in an unpleasant realisation that operating in a way that may have taken years to perfect is no longer possible. This is why businesses must understand what they’ve always done well, what they could do better and, most significantly of all, what they – and, indeed, their consumer bases – might do differently.
Ultimately, what we’ve witnessed during the past 12 months or so has yet again underlined a helpful axiom for any company and its employees: staying the same is rarely an option. Flexibility and fleet-footedness have always been central to entrepreneurship, and the extraordinary events that have shaped the pandemic have only accentuated the merits of such attributes.
Going forward, these qualities look likely to become ever more useful. This is because change is no longer just a constant: it’s now a full-blown accelerant. In chasing the post-pandemic pound, businesses must accept the overwhelming likelihood that for neither they nor their customers: Nothing will ever be quite the same again.
Paul Kirkham is a researcher in the field of entrepreneurial creativity and Ingenuity Learning Support Development Officer at Nottingham University Business School’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HGIIE). David Falzani MBE is a Professor at HGIIE and president of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship.
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Nottingham University Business School specialises in developing leadership potential, encouraging innovation and enterprise, and developing a global outlook in its students, partners, and faculty. It is recognised as one of the world’s top business schools for integrating responsible and sustainable business issues into its undergraduate, MBA, MSc, PhD, and executive programmes and has unrivalled global reach through Nottingham’s campuses in the UK, China, and Malaysia. The School holds a Small Business Charter Award in recognition of its important role in supporting small and medium enterprises. It is accredited by both the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) and ranks among the UK’s top ten for research power.