Insights October 14, 2020

Radical risk-taking and breakthrough thinking at the toughest of times

Living Word
By Living Word

What will it take for businesses to survive, and thrive, in disruptive and uncertain times? The magic concoction is a mix of agility and flexibility, radical innovation, and risk-taking.

Bradley Johnson, director of data analytics at Ad Age, recently wrote a piece about marketing, product and media innovation in the toughest of times. In it, he claims that every downturn brings opportunity and innovation. The statement is based on Downtime Opportunity: 2020 Edition, a new white paper by Ad Age that examines innovation from the 1930s to our present times.

The significance of innovations may only be apparent in hindsight. “What happened to marketers, media and agencies during past downturns?” asks Bradley and elaborates further. “There were layoffs, closings and cutbacks — no surprise. But every deep recession also saw great innovation with new companies, products, services and technology.”

Examples of some of the most successful companies that saw the light of day near or during a recession are Microsoft, Tesla, Airbnb and Uber. Overall, the Downtime Opportunity report offers an optimistic view of the future. “The winners will be those who take a risk, not those who hunker down,” according to Bradley.

Thriving despite disruption

Similarly, Helena Rubinstein covered the industry’s challenges in the Marketing Week article Post-Covid innovation needs to be radical, not marginal. She claims that the marketing community is equipped to understand changes in consumer motivation and behaviour and what type of innovation is needed in order to survive and thrive despite disruption. “Innovation will need to be radical, not marginal, and play a central, not subservient, role in determining strategic plans and marketing messages,” she says.

Helena highlights three new trends in particular: growth in ecommerce, digitally enabled business transformation, and demand for sustainable products and services. However, she admits that it’s hard to know which trends will stick, and looks at a number of plausible scenarios for how the world will evolve, depending on ideology and behaviour. For instance, will people yearn for the past or aspire for the future? And will they adopt a collaborative or more self-reliant approach?

Regardless, in order to handle disruption and uncertainty, businesses will need to revise plans according to new consumer behaviours and ways of working. Helena concludes: “The vital skills that enable us to adapt to this unknown future are the skills we’ve always used – closely tracking signals from the market and driving breakthrough innovation to deliver what people need.”

Balancing innovation and risk

McDonald’s UK CEO Paul Pomroy was speaking at the recent Festival of Marketing about the company’s learning curve during the pandemic, as reported also by Marketing Week. He emphasised the importance of finding a balance between news and consistency, and admitted that McDonald’s can’t always be ground-breaking in terms of innovation, technology and trends. “Striking the right balance between innovation and risk-taking and keeping a consistent experience is difficult, particularly in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

According to the CEO, key to the company’s current approach is communication, in terms of both brand values and information about, for example, opening hours. “It’s given us a new agility and emphasis to come back where we were before. Everyone says to use a crisis to your advantage and we certainly are at the moment.”