With the world in Covid-19 lockdown, brands and organisations find themselves operating in the age of the “New Normal,” a seemingly convenient and almost reassuring phrase that attempts to give meaning to a period of great fear and uncertainty. 

Covid-19 is proof positive that the world we live in is increasingly unpredictable. Unable to pin down and comprehend what is happening today, quite often there is a temptation to gaze to the future and hypothesise about how different everything will be. While today it might feel that the world has changed permanently, it is worth remembering that this is a temporary state of affairs, a “Newer, New, Normal” will arrive.

The brands that manage to navigate this period of flux and bounce back quickest from the knock-on effects of economic decline and potential recession will be the ones that are set up best to manage unpredictability. Rather than predict the future, these brands will be influencing and designing the future.

The desire to predict the future has some problem solving logic to it—identify the end scenario and work backwards, outlining easy steps to reach the destination. However, as Covid-19 reveals, tomorrow is uncontrollable and sequential planning risks making decisions on the shifting sands of what tomorrow brings. Instead, focus needs to be placed on embedding creativity and agility into the heart of brands. While plenty of organisations make the agile claim, they often remain claims rather than behaviours that deliver tangible results.

In response to Covid-19 there have been real examples of brand innovation (as well plenty of bland-branding). The winners who are most likely to be able to ride out uncertainty are the brands that have quickly been able to pivot to create new products, services and brand extensions that are genuinely useful. In many cases, their extraordinary levels of creativity have created offers that will remain relevant even post lockdown.

One recent innovation inspired by Covid-19 with long term potential is Bacardi’s #Raiseyourspirits virtual bar. Their partnership with food delivery company Deliveroo is helping temporarily closed bars earn money through home delivery. From Bacardi’s perspective, there is potential mileage in pursuing new consumption occasions by creating home drinking experiences.

Microsoft Teams began as a workplace tool to improve efficiency. As Covid-19 has provided the ultimate brand stress-test, Microsoft Teams is buoyed by its meteoric rise. It will be interesting to see how else the brand can reinvent the work experience.

Arguably the biggest brand to translate adversity into opportunity is Alibaba. In response to the SARS crisis in 2003 when China was in shutdown, Alibaba set up Taobao, pivoting from being a mainly B2B business to one that also operated a C2C e-commerce marketplace, allowing small and medium-sized businesses to sell their products. By the end of 2006, Taobao’s success had led to eBay, once China’s market leader, to shut down operations in the country.

By Dominic Twyford, Business Director at FITCH India

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