How Brands Can Move from Forced to Focused Evolution in 2021

By Greg Ricciardi, President, CEO and Founder of 20nine 

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the countless manifestations of cultural and economic turmoil our society witnessed last year, 2020 knocked companies back on their heels. It’s been a feet-to-the-fire moment for many businesses and brands. Survival for the past 10 months has been about resilience and responsiveness in the face of sudden and sweeping change. Could your brand and your business evolve quickly enough to warrant a place in the new reality? If so, you’re still standing—albeit perhaps on unsure footing.

Going into 2021, it’s time for brands to reset and reclaim control of their destinies. 2020’s stop-gap solutions and quick pivots might have kept the lights on. But did they position your business for the long-term road ahead—one where your business is no longer just scrambling to survive but strategizing to win big and thrive in the new norm? Now is the time for critical evaluations and course corrections that will help future-proof your organization for the uncertain times to come. In other words, it’s time to channel last year’s forced evolution into focused evolution.

How Focused Evolution Will Unfold

Enabling your brand’s focused evolution means caring less about the product you sell and how you sell it and more about the value you’re delivering to people’s lives. Take healthcare, for example. In the pandemic, the reality of doctor visits changed overnight, but the purpose of healthcare companies—to protect and support the health and wellbeing of their clients—didn’t change. Instead, healthcare companies were forced to evolve their models for the new reality of telemedicine. It was hard work, and systems had to be rushed into implementation. But in the end, new innovations and tools were born that help connect patients to healthcare providers. As healthcare companies transition from forced to focused evolution this year, these tools should not vanish. They should become an integral part of how these companies better deliver on their purpose going forward.

We saw a similar story unfold among clinical trial companies, which were already in the process of developing virtual trial models. COVID-19 accelerated that process dramatically in the quest for a vaccine, and the model has proved extraordinarily effective. Going forward, the clinical trial space will be forever changed in how it fulfills its purpose, all because its players were forced to evolve and then focused their efforts for the future. They, along with many of us, realized that the pandemic didn’t create change; it accelerated it and forced people to come to terms with it more quickly.

While it might come as no surprise that a global pandemic has altered the course of the healthcare industry for the long haul, the magnitude of transformations within other industries is no less substantial. Consider the devastating hospitality industry. Within its ranks, some saw doom. Others turned inward, toward their core purpose, and found a path forward. For example, Red Roof Inn recognized that its purpose wasn’t simply to provide beds to weary travelers. It was to provide a place of comfort and safety to those who need it. The pandemic forced Red Roof Inn to evolve its model, but its purpose-focused that evolution around offering day rates on rooms to those looking for quiet, comfortable escapes from home offices. Harnessed properly, that’s a model that can open new opportunities for the long term, particularly as many companies question their return to traditional office space.

Similar examples abound in other industries, from commercial food suppliers that are now pivoting to direct-to-household deliveries to traditional fitness brands that are climbing on board the at-home virtual workout train. Those that were forced to rethink their customer relationships in the pandemic now have the opportunity to focus this energy on a more-sustainable, purpose-driven future.

Where to Focus Your Attention

While no two evolutions will be exactly alike, we’ve discovered a few places to begin the process based on our conversations with clients, partners and colleagues:

Focus on adapting the scope of what you do: Take a closer look at the value you create for your clients. Is there a higher-order value or service that you can provide to clients that you couldn’t before COVID?

Focus on solving an existing problem: Having adapted your business during COVID, are you now in a better position now to solve a problem that clients have struggled with for a while? Have you become more agile and adept at what it takes to solve it?

Focus on solving a new problem: COVID has created a whole host of new challenges that brands and businesses need to solve quickly. Do you have insights into these problems or a set of relevant skills that could help businesses solve these problems quickly?

Focusing on self-disrupting your business: Truth be told, not all businesses languished during the pandemic. Some businesses were uniquely positioned to benefit mightily from the windfall (think home construction or renovation businesses). Just because you may have flourished doesn’t mean this moment-in-time boom will sustain itself. Now is a perfect time to disrupt your business by repositioning it in the marketplace or investing in the future-proofing of your brand.

These days, a company’s success has less to do with its products and services and far more to do with its core ideology—its mission, vision and values. Focusing a company’s evolution is all about understanding the relationship a brand has with its customers and how recent changes in consumer behavior affect that relationship. By combining purpose with creativity, brands have the opportunity to reimagine their futures and emerge stronger than ever in 2021.