We’re living in VUCA times - volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. A period of instability and acceleration where change happens at the speed of culture - seven years of transformation in seven weeks. It’s exhilarating and scary because, as a business, you either adapt to what the future holds or you die.
In the last three years, what consumers expect from their brands has evolved, what clients want from their agencies has changed and what our industry needs to do to remain relevant has shifted. All of this was happening before the global pandemic.
Because of Covid-19, our economy has become K-shaped with clear winners and clear losers. It’s a brutal place to be. Like the economy, a brand’s fortunes can also be K-shaped. You’re either on the skyward trajectory speeding towards Amazon, or you’re on the steep slope plummeting towards Debenhams. You’re either a brand that people get behind or one they leave behind.
The same is true for organisations. If you aren’t changing, you’re already in decline. There is no in-between, we are all on one path or the other. That makes it an incredible time to do what we do. We help brands become unbeatable and adaptive. Brands that are heading in the right direction with velocity. We do this by inventing the future of marketing.
Our sense of the impact felt during 2020 and what an effective response to that looks like was evidenced during a roundtable we ran as part of DataIQ’s “Leading change with data” event in early November. A group of senior end-user practitioners of data and analytics sat down with us to discuss the data, marketing and business strategies they are pursuing to keep their brands on an upwards trajectory.
Here are five key trends that emerged from that conversation:
1. Understand the critical threats
Even before Covid-19, the bundle of issues that contribute to the sense of VUCA were considerable. Many markets face an existential threat from digital disruptors and fast-evolving customer behaviour. Digital transformation is necessary - and at pace - to respond. Most of the organisations we heard from had been able to accelerate these projects at previously unimaginable and impossible speed. Alongside that, they went into the crisis with much of the data not where it is needed in the business or critical indicators missing from that data. A lot of that foundational work has now been done.
In reviewing where to maintain or focus investment, companies have had to be very hard-nosed. For many, especially in fast fashion, travel and leisure, or hospitality, that has meant ultra short-term cash generation and cost-cutting. For data and analytics, DataIQ’s research suggests that value-adding activities, such as analytics and insight or business intelligence, have been put on the back burner - 43% and 38% of organisations said these have been impacted, compared to 24% seeing an impact on data architecture and 28% each for data engineering and data operations.
2. All disruptions present opportunities
This ability to push forward long-planned digital transformations that had previously had a horizon line of two to three years out is proof of what one brand at the table said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Business leaders have turned to their data teams to support them with critical insight and data to understand fast-moving market conditions.
The effect has been a rapid increase in core data literacy - decision-makers have a better view now of what data is held by their organisation, what it is capable of supporting, and how to interpret the insights they are being given by new Covid-19 dashboards. This has created an appetite for more once the economy emerges from current conditions. Data leaders who jump on this opportunity will be those who have been having a good crisis.
3. Building a new data culture
Data literacy in one part of the new data culture that our roundtable identified as emerging as part of the new operating conditions. Key to this has been the ability to build trust in data - where decision-makers were previously sceptical about the numbers they were seeing or the quality of what was on offer, that foundational work means the data office has become a single source of truth for senior executives.
One leading-edge approach we heard was to embed this into a data bill of rights for everybody in the organisation. This charter describes the data and tools they can expect to access within their role, allowing them to focus on the strategic decisions and value-creating activities they need to pursue, rather than chasing after resources.
4. This time, let’s really get customer-centric
The hit to many households from their loss of income during the Covid-19 crisis has seen customers turning to brands for support and service in entirely new ways. Brands who moved first and fast to recognise this issue are benefitting from enhanced trust and commitment that can be developed further once economic recovery begins.
Ensuring this happens does involve some strategic rethinking, as we heard, with brands moving from next best action models based on what is right for the business to modelling, tracking and responding to the customer’s next action, putting in front of them appropriate offers, services and solutions that reflect their needs and resources. This shift from personalised marketing to strategic relationship-building is a major reset that digital transformation makes possible.
5. Keep data close to the goals of the business
While organisations have been moving at speed just to understand their customers and markets in the midst of the crisis, they also need to be clear about where value is being created. Having built strong foundations, data needs to focus on supporting lines of business and stakeholders who are pursing new opportunities.
More than anything, everybody at the roundtable recognised the value of being agile enough to respond to profoundly altered conditions. This lesson has been learned from top to bottom of business and will see agile analytics and data delivery at pace fixed firmly within the corporate culture and its marketing approach in 2021.
Chris Buckley is SVP, business development and marketing at Code Worldwide