Strategists have a moment in time when the need and the appetite for exponential change have converged. According to Facebook’s Benny Thomas, the evolution to new models and ways of business needs capable guides, ready to reinvent around three principles: resilience, relationships and responsibility.
“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” – Rahm Emmanuel
In the blink of an eye last year, the iron rules, precedents and traditions that made up our daily existence simply melted away. These rules were as basic as where we work, eat or sleep, and how much we saw our children every day. Society is nothing but these established practices and the values they represent and the way we responded when they disappeared gives businesses a rare window to question marketing assumptions and reset relationships with stakeholders.
With all the tentpoles of civilization in disarray, we simply exchanged our jeans for yoga pants, reached out to friends, family and strangers for support and opened up our homes and messy internal lives to the world on Zoom. We didn’t ask for it but we got a rare, perhaps unprecedented global social deprivation experiment. And we started to remember what was important. Birdsong and whales at play in the bay reminded us of the planet we must fight to preserve, while physical distancing strengthened social bonds and reinforced the vital importance of human connection. But old habits beckon when crises subside. Let’s not forget what we learned, or ignore the forces unleashed by this strange separation. Let’s embrace the opportunities and the expectations of the post-COVID era. There’s a lot to lose if we don’t.
What we might lose: Trust and innovation
Studies conducted during the crisis showed a strengthening of strong ties, the bonds that link us to our friends and family and close colleagues, and a weakening of ‘weak’ ties. Weak ties are anything but. They are the outcome of shared values, practices and ethical systems. When weak ties diminish, trust declines, with outcomes that we see at play in the world right now.
In the corporate world, weak ties build more than trust and cohesion: chance encounters and serendipitous discoveries are the kindling for innovation. That’s less likely to happen on those hyper-scheduled, agenda-driven video meets. It may take a while for the innovation pipeline from previous years to run dry but dry out it will, unless companies act decisively.
What we might gain: New relationships
Millions of people are opting to stick with the online habits they adopted recently, giving brands the opportunity to build new bonds that can drive future business growth. New bonds on new terms, driven more than ever before by the choices people make.
Our mission, should we choose to accept
It’s time to break with old ways that no longer work and are harmful to society at large. Brands and corporate leaders shape the public discourse today, to a greater extent than ever before in history. Strategists have a moment in time when the need and the appetite for exponential change have converged. The evolution to new models and ways of business needs capable guides, ready to reinvent around three principles: resilience, relationships and responsibility.
- Build for resilience: Look for the fault-lines and dependencies built into your business model and ask how it can be made more robust and responsive to changes in the external environment. Which cherished conventions must you abandon in order to build a house that lives through the next storm and the one after? How can you build a learning organization?
- Build closer relationships: As the online ecosystem shifts inevitably towards the choices of people, businesses must prioritize building relationships of mutual value. These must be relationships that go beyond the transactional, to make meaningful differences to their brand communities, and relationships that define brands and sustain businesses in bad times.
- Build responsibly: From finance to sport to cars, the world is no longer willing to accept performance at any price. It’s time to help your organization embrace triple-bottomline ESG thinking that values people and planet as much as profit. The markets have begun rewarding those who reinvent according to this new model of conscious capitalism. As marketers, we have the opportunity to lead the way.
Future of Strategy 2021
Benny Thomas' piece appeared originally in WARC's Future of Strategy 2021 report, which you can read here.