#21interviews: It will not be business as usual

by Dave Nemeth. The biggest mistake many companies and brands have made is to think that things will simply go back to normal when there is a vaccine.

by Dave Nemeth. The biggest mistake many companies and brands have made is to think that things will simply go back to normal when there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Unfortunately, new habits have been formed, and companies need to embrace change and drastically innovate if they want to remain relevant. Most brands rushed to digital platforms in an attempt to gain exposure in the hope of staying top of mind. However, many have failed dismally at this by believing that they could do it in-house. Brands which had already established themselves through these mediums over the years changed the way they communicated; and those which spoke with a human voice and empathy, have certainly done a lot better over this difficult time. The disaster that was Black Friday, has shown just how much consumer attitudes and spending patterns have changed.

Too many retailers continued doing what they have always done and have not come up with innovative ways of enticing consumers. Too many are still simply continuing to just push products and price, and this is not working, unless it’s in the FMCG category. We are seeing some retailers looking at different forms of revenue stream with Checkers being a prime example, as they will now be putting Starbucks outlets into some of their stores. Retailers need to make drastic changes and it is no good for them to wait around to see what the international retailers do as they are also facing the same challenges and are uncertain of what to do. It is time for the big retailers to stop expecting innovation to simply happen from within their ranks and start collaborating with consultants, designers and innovation experts.

Thriving in 2020

This year it was essential to market like crazy and tell great stories. We supplemented social media posts with excellent video and animated content and found it was the perfect time to refresh websites. We increased the frequency of emails which we used as a platform for innovative storytelling, rather than as a medium to push products and services. As a company we realised we had to do things differently if we wanted to survive and got to work on virtual solutions, which included virtual exhibitions as well as virtual showrooms. This was a great move and allowed us to maintain cash flow by working with large brands and agencies. Time was also spent on developing interactive video as well as 360, interactive product photography.

Development time spent on some of these projects was months, but we are now using these mediums for our existing clients. Morale was very low amongst most of our clients and we spent a lot of time on Zoom calls, motivating them and discussing new strategies. We, unfortunately, did lose revenue as we had to accommodate our loyal customers. However, as things have transpired, the new services we are offering are attracting exciting new clients, whilst our existing clients are starting to get back on their feet again.

Our biggest challenges

Clients and consumers have become far more demanding. They expect things to happen faster and generally to receive greater value. Consumers are getting very comfortable with doing things online; from ordering goods, attending virtual exhibitions, as well as being involved in meetings utilising platforms such as Zoom, and others. This means that when things begin to open up to larger audiences, consumers will still expect to be able to have the content available online, regardless of whether or not they are attending physical functions. The models for events such as conferences, training and expos have changed forever.

It will not be business as usual in 2021; or business returning to the way we knew it before this pandemic. Certain things may normalise somewhat, but many aspects have changed forever. We will see:

  • More online activity across the board but, unfortunately, some companies will be guilty of “over digitising”. There needs to be a balance.
  • Corporates continuing to reduce office space.
  • Retail outlets getting smaller and more engaging.
  • An increase in virtual. In every area.
  • Companies embracing design thinking and innovation strategies, such as SIT (systematic inventive thinking).
  • Increased consumer intolerance and high expectations.
  • Human interaction being vital at touchpoints, where this is possible – and EMPATHY will be the keyword here.


For more insights for retail and brand leaders in the #21interviews series publishing 1-21 December 2020, ahead of 2021:

#21interviews LAUNCH: 2021 comes with a disclaimer by Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor, RetailingAfrica.com

#21interviews: Brands need to get brave says Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix

#21interviews: The power of being purpose-led will drive brand value by Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa and the Middle East, Kantar

#21interviews: Plan for growth in 2021 says Herman Botha, Group General Manager, PNA Group

#21interviews: Next year will be all about authentic visual immersion by Craig Bellingham, founder & CEO, Studio[K]irmack

#21interviews: Covid has created a brand vulnerability says Elouise Brink, senior marketing manager, Country Road, Woolworths Holdings

#21interviews: Reimagining a better world without the inequality of ‘normal’ with economist and author of the post-pandemic book, FutureNEXT, Dr Iraj Abedian, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Embrace technology at all levels says Thabani Maluleka, business development director for Rogerwilco


Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is trend forecaster and business consultant at Trend Forward, which he founded; and a design thinker, innovator, business re-designer, trend analyst, keynote speaker and writer.

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