Be it in shopping malls or online stores, we are always surrounded by large numbers of brands. Among them, we choose the products of those brands which we like or are attracted to. But have we ever considered how hard it is for these brands to sustain in the market where trends can change in a single day, customers may turn their backs for better products without batting an eye? Maybe or not. But the fact is such a volatile, uncertain market, brands need to engrave their footing, make profit and advance.
THE VOLATILE LANDSCAPE
The 21st century has presented many variables to the business environment. Political unrest, social instability, rapid technological advancements, etc. have jeopardized the survival of businesses. Exodus, scandals, inequality in income, rumors, political distrust are affecting the businesses in the worst ways possible.
Despite such volatile situations, businesses need to run, make a profit and grow. At this juncture, a question arises – How? The answer is adaptability. Critical thinking is one way to achieve that. Business decisions can’t be made on first-order consequences. Executives need to look at the bigger picture. They have to consider second- and third-order consequences, go through the pros and cons, and then make a decision. The next step is customer satisfaction. People are emotionally-driven and so the businesses need to deal with their expectations accordingly. Especially, they have to be aware of the social and political changes that influence their game plan.
GUIDE TO SURVIVAL
There is a saying, “In the framework of a strong long-term strategy, disruptive periods of even two to three years are just cycles.” That’s the strategy brands must follow. They have to look beyond seasonal approaches and implement long-term plans that will help the business sustain in a volatile environment. However, in the face of volatility, even the best forecasts can be wrong. Then what is to be done? They have to follow five practical steps. Firstly, they need to be flexible enough to meet the expectations of the customers. They need to satisfy the customers – the heart of the business – in the face of volatility, currency fluctuations and so on. Secondly, brands will have to speed up their supply chain. They have to monitor risk, manage inventory and be efficient. They have to look for more online investment opportunities rather than brick-and-mortar stores to accelerate their operations. Thirdly, they have to expand and diversify their products based on geographical positions to seize that area’s market. For example, hamburgers are not accepted in Muslim based countries. So, brands like KFC rather than selling that should sell chicken burgers which is extremely popular in this area. Fourthly, they need cash flow and efficient cost management. If there is cash in hand, volatile situations can be dealt with effectively. Besides, keeping the fixed cost less and other costs flexible can help brands strive in such situations. Lastly, organization models need to be agile so that resources can be deployed and digitalized more rapidly. We need to remember the time of crisis and volatility may present high risk but they are also the best opportunities for brands that want to make a name for themselves.
Businesses are never immune to uncertainty. Even Fortune 500 companies survive only 40-50 years on average. The number is 12.5 years if we include small and medium companies. Hence, talking about a long-term strategy sounds like a pipe dream when short term survival is considered lucky. Still we cannot give up on making a famous brand or successful business. To cope with such unexpected, rapid changes, businesses must build resilience. For this, some strategies are necessary. Firstly, they can ensure the business which will save against unsystematic risk. This is a defensive approach. Next, they have to diversify and decentralize. By doing this, they can take advantage of geographical situations and deal with sudden disruptions. The other strategy is dematerialization which will lessen dependency on resources and will focus on renewable energy. Thus, we can segregate economic growth from environmental effects. The last approach they can take is giving the people a purpose. Such a purpose will give them hope and belief that this business can do it. However, resilience is an ability, not a strategy. It has to be developed to be effective and fruitful in the long run.
THE VUCA WORLD
Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity – the acronym is VUCA. The digital world is the mirror this term. Customers are confused, and the market is unstable. Conservative approaches are not enough to survive in the long term. Brands at such a time need to be explicit, stable yet flexible. Even in volatile situations a consistent message is needed. Then they need a hard-hitting pitch, a strong message, a promise to meet their expectations. A product may be complicated but to market it, brands need to make it understandable. For example, Apple marketed the iPod saying it can contain 1000 songs rather than how many gigabytes of storage was available. Also, the messages and marketing have to be precise, yet flexible so that the main argument can be conveyed with maximum coverage. There are marketing automation solutions to reach such coverage effectively. The key hack is to take advantage of VUCA and playing the game smartly.
BRAND MARKETING IN VUCA
The VUCA environment has increased the responsibility and risk of the brands. In such situations the brands that will stick to their values will be rewarded. Brands will have to deal with social issues like hunger to satisfy the customers. They need to adapt to a circular economy which will ensure cyclical use of resources. They have to use their brand the way people will benefit. Customers are indeed less loyal in volatile situations. But they remain loyal if the brand keeps its promise, its value in the long run. To have such loyal customers, brands, rather than over-promoting themselves, should be consistent and stay true to their values.
Bangladesh is at its developing stage. Globalization has made the world a smaller place and so the VUCA environment is becoming vibrant here. The trends are changing, digitization is happening. It may seem too much but it’s not. Rather it is the beginning of great opportunities for entrepreneurs who have nothing to lose and the world to gain. To survive in these situations, businesses need visions, resilience, values. Add all these and we will see a Bangladesh thriving and kicking in the ever-volatile business environment.