In marketing and business, it’s adapt or die

Robin Emiliani  /  Jul 10, 2020

Microsoft is permanently closing its retail stores. Airbnb is focusing on domestic travel. Conferences have gone virtual. And over 100,000 small businesses are pushing up daisies in the US alone.

It’s the new normal of a COVID-19 world. And the companies that can—and do—pivot are getting ahead, while many (many) others are closing their doors.

And while this all seems very new, big shifts in the way we do business are really a tale as old as time. Big changes hit the market—be they new technologies, new ways of thinking, single-industry dust-ups, or uncontrollable outside forces like pandemics—and companies are forced to make a choice:

Keep trying to do things the old way and go down with the proverbial ship or make big—sometimes scary—changes.

If there’s anything history tells us about these history-making moments, it’s that creativity and willingness to change are the secret sauce of the net winners in these situations.

Like in the late ‘90s when Netflix hit the video scene.

New ideas and technologies suddenly made streaming video a reality—one we now know would go on to take over the world, projected to earn $27,143- million this year and continue growing 4% year-after-year.

The irony? Blockbuster had the streaming technology first. But they killed it because they were too married to the old way of doing things. They were too scared to lose their $800 million in late fees. And so they tied themselves to the mast of late fees and went down with their ship as Netflix swept in to dominate the video market.

An unwillingness to change took Blockbuster into an early business grave. Embracing the pivot gave Netflix the edge.

Uber got its own edge in a similar way. They started out as a fancy-pants black car service, but when other companies started embracing rideshares, Uber saw the opportunity and made the pivot to become one of the best-known ridesharing options of its time.

They embraced the pivot and got the edge.

Now, a pandemic has forced many businesses to stare down the barrel of risky choices yet again. Businesses are looking for ways to pivot—and those that find them are best positioned to get an edge on the competition. Time will tell how each pivot choice will shake out, but two we’re watching closely are Microsoft and Airbnb.

Recognizing that their sales are mostly digital anyway, Microsoft has decided its pivot is to take the already-COVID-closed stores and permanently shutter nearly all of them (with the exception of just four locations). Employees will keep their jobs and go remote. And while the store closures will cost a pretty penny in the short-term (to the tune of $450 million), the long-term benefits of going remote may well outweigh the short-term expense.

Airbnb is making a similar pivot to embrace the new world of travel. With COVID-19 keeping many borders well and truly closed, international travel numbers are in the toilet. But domestic travel? It’s bouncing back—which means it’s time for their marketing team to focus on local options and the markets that are bouncing back quicker than others.

So, what is your business doing to pivot in the age of corona? What creative ways can you focus on the right audiences, embrace appropriate closures or changes, and stay the course for when the crisis passes?

It’s adapt or die. If you’re still figuring it out, we’d love to help.


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