The market is becoming choppier, travel is slowing down, and businesses like Lyft, Google, and Apple are postponing their return-to-office plans. How, in the midst of so much chaos, can companies expect to be able to form and cohere to a single business strategy?
The short, unsatisfying answer is that they can’t. A business strategy composed in January was probably in need of serious revision by the time July came around. This is poised to be just as true for next year as it has been for this one: COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and uncertainties continue to abound. It’s time to call an audible on your business strategy in order to respond to current trends.
Here’s how you can do just that by evolving your business strategy:
1. Keep up with COVID.
This is the big, no-exceptions mantra that should ring out whenever it’s time to make a decision regarding business strategy. While major economies are unlikely to return to the harsh lockdowns of early 2020, the future trajectory of COVID-19 is something a lot of consumers are watching vigilantly. According to an ongoing survey conducted by Deloitte, some 51% of customers are concerned about their physical wellbeing when it comes to their activities, up from 47% a month prior.
Far too many businesses have been on the back foot when it comes to COVID-19, waiting for trends to appear before responding to them. Significant portions of your consumer base are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to COVID safety; if cases start to spike, they may be more hesitant to travel or perform business in person. Instead of working to accommodate those preferences as they arise, closely monitor your local and national situation and adjust your practices accordingly. If you’re not willing to take the steps necessary to make your customers feel safe and protected, they will find another business that is.
2. Complete your digital transformation.
Plenty of companies were transitioning to the cloud before 2020, but the events of that year just added more fuel to the fire. For most of the past year, developments like the rise of remote or hybrid working and virtual communication have been front and center of most companies’ business strategies. The reopening of the economy in 2021, however, has seen some businesses put a pause on their digital transformation for the time being — that’s a big mistake.
While the world may seem to be “returning to normal” for now, the future is all but certain to be one that happens online. Businesses need to transition to the cloud if they want to be ready for the next stage of digital commerce. For example, smart home and small business solutions provider Plume estimates that there will be 8.4 billion digital voice assistants in the world by 2024 — if your business is still married to brick-and-mortar operations, how effectively are you going to be able to respond to a consumer base whose primary method of purchase and research is digital voice assistants? The transitions that occurred in 2020 need to be accelerated, not halted, as 2022 approaches.
3. Don’t bet on rosy markets.
When the stock market plummeted in March and April of 2020, it seemed like the global economy was going to be in the dregs for some time. Little could anyone anticipate just how untrue that would end up being: the recession of 2020 ultimately lasted just 2 months, the shortest in US history. Growth since then has been on a sharply upward trend, and plenty of business leaders are getting ahead of themselves in expecting this growth to continue unabated for years to come.
Predicting the trajectory of the economy and the markets that comprise it is almost impossible, and there’s reason to be skeptical of those who forecast halcyon years ahead. Legendary Boston-based money management firm GMO recently predicted that the S&P 500 will have lost half of its inflation-adjusted value by 2028, for example. Don’t build a business strategy on a foundation of optimism alone. Create workflows and operating principles that can work in both good and bad times, and your business will be able to ride both the crests and troughs of whatever waves may come your way.
4. Meet your customers where they are.
In 2020, businesses had to be able to reach their customers at home if they wanted their attention. In 2021, customers were more eager than ever to get out of the house and head to businesses directly. Which of these routes is more likely for 2022? What about the 2020s in general? How can businesses expect to cope with the uncertainty of consumer behavior?
Sticking to your storefront may ultimately cause more trouble than it’s worth. Indeed, Bloomberg reports that the e-commerce industry could be worth over $16 billion by the year 2027, with few signs of slowing down in growth thereafter. There’s nothing wrong with returning to normal for a while in the next few quarters. However, don’t bet too much on brick-and-mortar making a long-term comeback. Make your way to the cloud; your customers will be waiting for you there.
Consider offering a hybrid option. You would be accommodating both customers who want a traditional in-person experience, and those who prefer to do things virtually. Be sure not to neglect the latter in favor of the former, though. Doing so is equivalent to adopting a business strategy far too near-sighted for long-term success.
5. Adjust to new social media practices.
Social media usage is booming across all platforms. However, that doesn’t mean you can just post-traditional content and expect higher levels of engagement than before. As users grow, social media trends and practices evolve. The posts that accrued big engagement in 2018 will probably not make the same kind of splash in 2021.
This is perhaps most true in the ever-growing world of social media influencers. Just a few years ago, they were objects of fascination or derision in most marketing departments. But, businesses dismiss them at their own peril. A Google-commissioned survey from Ipsos found that 40% of millennial YouTube subscribers say that their favorite creator understands them better than their friends — that level of trust and engagement is way more likely to get a customer’s attention than promoted tweets ever will. Don’t let a dynamic business strategy become sclerotic when it comes to social media.
6. Respond to changing employee priorities.
It’s not just consumers and markets who have had their trajectories changed by the past year. Your employees have likely undergone a few changes themselves. Quality of life is increasingly privileged over big salaries and flexible work over traditional office setups.
In fact, attempting to quickly re-transition to the way things were before may cause quite a bit of consternation among your team. A recent survey from The Morning Consult found that 39% of workers would consider quitting if their bosses forced them to give up remote work and return to the office. This isn’t just true for your current employees either. Prospective hires will also be expecting accommodations when it comes to remote and flexible working options. Businesses too set in their ways when it comes to cubicles and the 40-hour, 5-day workweek risk creating business strategies already out of date.
7. Think global, stay local.
It’s an oft-employed maxim that the world is constantly getting flattered, and not in the literal sense. It’s becoming easier all the time to communicate and do business across borders. At least, it was before COVID-19 struck. Disruptions to travel and international shipping meant that businesses once again needed to refocus their efforts on local and domestic markets.
What about 2022? Should companies bank on the reopening of borders and flourishing of international business or play it safe with nearer markets? Unsurprisingly, the answer is a bit of both.
Don’t abandon your local operations in the hopes that your business’s horizons will broaden in the near future. Instead, continue to nurture any and all existing customer relationships. And, do so while waiting for a good time to begin expansion further afield.
Make sure your business strategy reflects this by emphasizing operations you know can be sustained into the future while probing for potential opportunities down the line.
Anyone who tells you that they know what 2022 will look like is lying. The uncertainty that plagued 2020 and 2021 isn’t going anywhere, and your business strategy needs to be composed accordingly. Prepare your company against whatever may come, and expect solid growth in return.