Adaptive business and competitive advantage

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
May 12 . 2min read

You’d have to have had your head in the sand for the last few weeks to have missed the shed-load of opinion out there on what will and will not change long-term due to COVID-19. Our view is that less will change than we think (cough cruise industry, cough). But whatever your opinion, what’s clear is that nobody really knows, and the one thing that businesses can do right now - apart from be responsive - is be more adaptive. 

This isn’t new thinking. Back in 2011, the Harvard Business Review stated:

"Sustainable competitive advantage no longer arises exclusively from position, scale, and first-order capabilities in producing or delivering an offering. All those are essentially static. So where does it come from? Increasingly, managers are finding that it stems from the “second-order” organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things."

So What does this mean for marketers?

Well what is doesn't mean is throwing out decades of learned knowledge with the bathwater. We know distinctiveness works. We know differentiation works. We know fame works. We know behavioural economics works. And all of this will still work. These aren’t shibboleths so much as truths based on timeless human psychology.  

But we do need to be much more adaptive in the way we use this knowledge.  

This means getting our data houses in order (if your data isn’t organised around data-as-a-service principles, it really should be!). It means re-thinking the way we set budgets (zero-based budgeting is gaining traction because lots of businesses which have gone dark can switch budgets back on in a more granular way and test impact).

It means a greater focus on experimentation – experimentation around media channels, messaging, experience. It means re-thinking what an ‘effective’ campaign looks like - after all there is no such thing as a like for like period any more, and it’s nigh on impossible to adjust for coronavirus. 

But to do all of this, it means businesses need to get better at reallocation of resources. McKinsey research  shows that 83 per cent of senior execs recognise that strategically shifting resources is perhaps their best lever for growth, more even than M&A or operational excellence.

What is the effect of this inertia?

Well the companies that do actively reallocate resources deliver, on average, a 10 per cent return to shareholders, versus only 6 per cent for what McKinsey call a 'sluggish' reallocator. That’s a massive difference. 

So if you haven’t done it already, now could the time to put resource and budgets into new ideas and new thinking. After all, we might not know what the next few months will bring, but the chances are companies that can be more adaptive will recover fastest. 

Richard Parker

Richard Parker
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