The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the greatest global economic disruption since World War II, causing unprecedented interference to industries such as aviation, tourism, entertainment, retail and many others. While the crisis may pose as a rupture point for businesses, it also serves as a catalyst for change.
Here are 5 key learnings from the pandemic that businesses can draw upon to quickly adapt, reorient to the new normal and navigate towards future growth.
1. Digitalisation and e-commerce are survival basics
Businesses should understand that having a genuine digital strategy in place is as critical as it has ever been. Digitalisation is more than just making use of and applying technology. It consists of leveraging technology to establish a foundation that improves business processes, enabling businesses to activate quick responses in dynamic situations, be it crises or opportunities.
This is evident from museums such as the Louvre and MoMA which have seamlessly transitioned to offering virtual tours online to combat the lack of footfall. Another excellent example is Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan. Faced with the shuttering of half of its stores, the company converted its beauty advisers into online influencers that engaged customers via WeChat to promote online sales.
Closer to home, the use of live streaming on Facebook for traditional businesses such as butchers, fishmongers and vegetable sellers in Singapore’s Tekka wet market is a clear demonstration of traditional businesses taking advantage of digitalisation to stay afloat.
2. Adaptability stems from agile thinking and preparation
As crises like the COVID-19 pandemic are unpredictable, businesses have to be on the front foot. They have to be equipped with the capability and infrastructure to react strategically and offer innovative solutions.
Businesses can reshuffle production lines to cater to new needs. Luxury goods firm LVMH was an early adopter of responsive production, moving to produce hand sanitisers for hospitals. Athletics brand New Balance also redirected a significant portion of its US team to focus on face mask development, manufacturing and delivery.
Additionally, rather than putting employees on furloughs or laying them off, businesses can reallocate labour to new and critical activities like recovery planning. For instance, ComfortDelGro launched a food delivery service through its taxi fleet to meet rising demands due to the circuit breaker situation to sustain the livelihood of their drivers.
The pandemic also gave rise to new business opportunities for companies to quickly launch out-of-box solutions to tap on such evolving growth avenues. Banks and insurance companies in Singapore, like AIA and Prudential, have started including free coronavirus-related coverage in their products. Such moves not only serve the needs of the customers, they also improve brand loyalty.
3. Social nuances and overtones matter
During crises, it is vital for companies to take note of nuances and overtones, social or political, and avoid them in their brand and marketing communications. PR and advertising faux-pas will cost dearly with massive spread and backlash amongst today’s global online community, ultimately affecting brand perception.
KFC in the UK is a prime example for running their usual ‘finger-lickin’ good’ ads. Depicting people indulgently licking their fingers to classical Chopin piano music, criticisms arose and the company had to suspend these ads and focused on producing socially-nuanced ones promoting ‘contactless’ delivery.
Likewise, running ads that leverage the crisis can be equally problematic. For brands without preexisting solid foundations and conveniently refashion their values to jump on the bandwagon, it is extremely difficult to come across as believable and may be construed as exploitative. A more credible branding effort would be genuine CSR approaches such as the manufacturing of essential products and offering of support to frontline workers and patients – that go a longer way in building brand reputation.
4. Localise your supply chains
The global coronavirus spread caused rapid shutdown of global and regional borders. This has severely disrupted the long-established supply chains of many businesses, who suddenly found themselves lacking the necessary imported resources to continue operations. The crisis has served as a wake-up call to re-examine their supply chains critically to ensure future business continuity.
A shorter supply chain, with a ‘local-first’ approach, is one way of going at it. Diversifying manufacturing out of China is another strategy that many countries and companies will consider. Companies should also invest in mapping out their supply networks to obtain better supply chain visibility. This enables them to have crucial information in the face of potential disruptions and react early. Additionally, more often than not, supply chain disruption is not included in supplier performance metrics, and that is something businesses should now look into implementing.
5. New opportunities abound in a post-coronavirus world
As companies are scrambling to survive, a slew of new opportunities are simultaneously emerging across various industries.
One obvious example is telemedicine. Singapore is already seeing a number of companies offering remote consultations with doctors, such as MyDoc. The advantage of receiving a diagnosis without having to go to a hospital and sit in waiting rooms is quite the draw.
Online entertainment platforms like Netflix are also showing great growth potential as more people consume content at home. This has led to many media companies and performers offering entertainment such as live-streamed shows and concerts.
Furthermore, collaboration technologies such as Zoom Cloud Meetings are here to stay. They are not only viable alternatives to taking business trips, but serve as excellent tools for various industries.
A greater impetus has arisen for institutions to extend a blended education to students to do both face-to-face as well as online learning. During the pandemic, it is clear that online learning has to take place with digital tools in place to make it happen. In the longer term, as student enrolment is expected to fall owing to the pandemic, institutions would need to look at building up their digital resources and assets as well as infrastructure to offer virtual classes, student discussions and more. Additionally, it even might require them to relook their programme requirements and mode of delivery to make education work in this new environment.
As the COVID-19 outbreak has shown, businesses have to be agile to adapt and adopt new strategies to make the most out of the evolving situation, in order to be prepared for a brave new world. One with a landscape irreversibly shaped by the pandemic.
 Inexhibit (Mar 2020) Museums worldwide react to COVID lockdown by offering virtual visits (and much more)
 Alibaba Cloud (Mar 2020) How Did Alibaba Help Retailer Lin Qingxuan Cope with the Coronavirus Outbreak?
 The New Paper (May 2020) Tekka Online Market’s first Facebook live stream a big hit
 Allure (Mar 2020) LVMH Is Making Free Hand Sanitizer to Help French Hospitals Fight Coronavirus
 High Snobiety (Apr 2020) New Balance Is Producing Face Mask Prototypes in Its US Factory
 Channel News Asia (Apr 2020) ComfortDelGro launches food delivery service using taxis
 AIA (2020) Free COVID-19 Special Coverage Standing By Our Promise To You
 Ad Age (Mar 2020) 7 brands' ads unfortunately timed to the coronavirus pandemic
 Nme (Mar 2020) The show must go online: inside the rise of virtual gigs during the coronavirus crisis
Fobes (Apr 2020) The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Unleashed A Revolution In Education: From Now On, Blended Learning Will Be The Benchmark