Published on in Digital Transformation

If there’s one thing we’ve learned of late, it’s that using the past to predict the future is futile. Everything has changed, and while many of us would love to hit the pause button and take some time to figure out our next move, we know that moment of stillness will never come.

So, we must keep moving – faster than ever – and adapt in-flight. We need to execute rapid decisions and tackle immense disruption on every level, all while keeping the people we do it for –consumers, citizens, and employees – top of mind.

Yet people are changing too – there have been enormous shifts in the way we all live and work, consume goods and services, spend our hard-earned cash and engage with brands, government and society.

I always really enjoy creating new themes for Fujitsu’s Executive Discussion Evening series. Inspired by conversations with customers, world events and tuning-in to the mood of the moment, I concentrate on creating topics that will allow our guests to step outside the day-job to think about the future, based on the events of the present. It’s such a privilege to hear the conversations develop as we explore different perspectives.

Deciding on the subject for March 2021 therefore presented me with a neat little challenge; to avoid the trap of ‘pandemic-talk’ (we’ve all had plenty of that), whilst remaining relevant and topical. So I settled on ‘disruption and differentiation – standing out to stay ahead’ and discovered there was so much mileage in this particular subject that we hosted a further conversation, captured as a podcast.

Here are some of my key take-outs from conversations on this very subject with international business and opinion leaders.

Buyer behaviour has changed irrevocably

The way we live, work, engage with brands and consume products and services has changed forever, (further accelerated by the pandemic). The balance of factors in purchasing decisions is shifting such that softer (emotional) considerations balance out more feature-driven (rational) decision-making. Social purpose, community, sustainability and accessibility have found their way to the buyer’s checklist, whether in a B2B or a B2C context.

In some ways, the pandemic has shrunk our universe, as we all have stopped travelling, stayed home, lived online and connected with our local communities.

As a marketer, this fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure. It means the brand, the products and services, values and experience are inextricably linked, which demands razor-sharp focus on the holistic value proposition and the way it is communicated, sold and delivered.

Simple but effective wins

It’s clear we have a tough time ahead – with the ever-increasing commoditisation of products and crowding of markets, differentiation has become something of a holy grail.

When we reflect on the brands that have succeeded in recent times, those that spring to mind generally have a simple – yet very effective – offering. Easy to understand, easy to consume and comfortable to purchase. We all know who the consumer go-tos have been during the pandemic (need I name names…?) and in general, they are the ones who are consistent, accessible and straightforward. After all, no one wants to work hard to spend their money.

At a business-business level, we know that buyers are consumed by the challenges of serving their own customers, so they also need simple, effective solutions, delivered consistently by organisations they can trust. They need to know who they can count on; that too is an emotional consideration, (often unspoken), but in challenging times there’s a lot to be said for reliability.

And given that emotion and experience now play a much bigger role in decision-making, we expect to be left in an almost euphoric state once the purchase is complete. In theory, buyer’s regret should be a thing of the past.

…and what about disruption?

Disruption has always been a thing and it always will be. Pre-pandemic our conversations about disruption focused heavily on technology, with ‘digital’ offering up the potential to engage differently with customers and sell through different models.

A word of caution; being truly digital isn’t about moving existing products and services online and changing the language; in other words it isn’t simply a ‘lift and shift’ from the traditional to the virtual. Offerings need to be completely redesigned for the digital world and deliver something better, simpler and more intelligent than their analogue predecessors.

Now, the pandemic has become the disruptor, and has catalysed change to every product, service and brand. So, disruption-talk is now less about technology as the disruptive force and more about reimagining the customer journey, with the starting point being those contextual shifts that drive different buying behaviour.

The root causes of disruption are varied, and will continue to fluctuate over time; the key is to pre-empt them and adapt in-flight. For this, we need to change our attitude to risk and take the occasional ‘emotional’ decision, which can be challenging when we’ve been rationally-driven for so long.

No going back?

In our brave new post-pandemic world, we have an opportunity to take the best of life pre-pandemic, mix in the lessons of the pandemic and sprinkle with the shifts in human behaviour for good measure to come up with a recipe for a smarter, more authentic, more balanced way of living and working as we emerge.

I realise that makes it sound as if I’m envisaging a nirvana-esque vision of the perfect equilibrium in all aspects of our lives and you’re probably thinking it’s unachievable. But why not aim high? Since we have been afforded such a golden opportunity for positive change, shouldn’t we be aiming for the best of both worlds?

One thing’s for sure; there’s no going back.

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Some of my favourite sound-bites: disruption and differentiation  

For good measure, here are some of my favourite sound bites from our ‘disruption and differentiation’ conversations, which bring to life the challenges – and opportunities – recent events have created:

Jason Bates – Founder, Starling and Monzo Bank: ‘Digitised and digital are not the same thing. There is a shift from commodity products to intelligent services. Becoming digital is a massive undertaking that’s not for the faint-hearted.’

Marina Bellini – Chief Information and Digital Officer, BAT: ‘How are we going to continue to be adaptive post-crisis? During the crisis we have been taking decisions based on limited information and moving on. We are doing things we don’t ‘normally’ do…how can we keep this capacity when we’re not in a crisis? How do we ensure that we don’t go back to being slow moving companies?’

Thimon de Jong – Founder, Whetston and trends expert: ‘In a crisis people are open to change because the future is uncertain, but are reluctant to take risks. The pandemic is like a big global lab test and it brings great insights into how consumers, workers and citizens are changing. The challenge now is how we use that insight.’

Tim White – Corporate Executive Officer, Fujitsu: ‘We were heading down a global path and in many ways we have reverted and developed a love of the local. ‘Glocalisation’ means we can work globally but also retain a responsibility to respect the local community as well. Being a purpose-driven organisation sets you up for success because you demonstrate that you have in contributing to society.’

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Emma Chatwin (linkedin.com)

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