#10Q: What is your NEXT and how to get there

Futurist Bronwyn Williams answers questions from business owners on what to do NEXT - how to reimagine their businesses, supply chains, and customer experience under lockdown.

What are the biggest challenges that business owners are facing? Flux trends founder and trend specialist Dion Chang and futurist Bronwyn Williams hosted and facilitated a mini-masterclass to assist business owners to emerge from the inertia and uncertainty of lockdown and this pandemic; and restart business and the economy. Chang said it would be a long haul to the end of the year; and that the pandemic and restrictions to safeguard our health could continue for another six to eight months.

“What we are trying to advise is a reimagining of your business model and of your supply chain,” said Chang, urging businesses to think of new opportunities for their changed customer or seek out new supply chains. He gave examples in Part 1 of our NEXT business strategy series, NEXT: Survivor SA 2020 – Making a plan for lockdown limbo. In Part 2, we reported back on how to provide user experience (UX) under lockdown and safeguard business financial futures, in NEXT: Safeguarding your business until you can trade. Williams, a futurist, economist and business trends analyst and partner at Flux Trends, answered questions sent in by business owners during the Flux Trends masterclass last week, with regards to marketing and promoting their brands, products and services, and the pitfalls to look out for, during uncertain times.


1. How does one authentically market one’s business right now without seeming heartless?

With marketing right now, every problem is an opportunity to connect with your customers over. In this very South African example, Spar put together displays of pineapples, yeast and sugar in store when people started brewing their own ‘beverages’, when lockdown prohibited the movement or sale of alcohol. This is a great example of moving with the market. You have to be very fast on the uptake with this.

2. Should businesses be spending money on marketing right now?

Focus on solving problems and meeting your consumer’s need in a creative way. When you have a tighter creative brief, it can serve as a catalyst for creativity. Low tech marketing doesn’t always require big budgets, it just requires initiative and meeting that consumer need – where they want it. It really is about going back to basics. A sense of humour also helps.

3. How do we connect with consumers when there is no access to some marketing channels, such as outdoor or events?

It comes back to reaching your customers where they are. It comes back to the trends we are tracking: kind capitalism; and businesses connecting with their customers on more than a transactory basis. That needs to filter down to your social media presence and the way you are doing your communications with your customers. If you are simply selling all the time, you won’t be very interesting. No one wants a relationship with someone who is always pushing to get something from you. Relationships have to be reciprocal.

4. Everyone is fighting for visibility online – how does one stand out?

Once again it comes down to the gap in the market; spotting the opportunity and riding the news. That is where you get your free word-of-mouth, your free exposure. That is how social media marketing works: being there at the right time and riding the wave when it is available.

5. How do we create trust and consumer engagement online when customers don’t reach out often?

Tap into the current zeitgeist; all those challenges that every consumer is facing at the moment. You don’t have to market your product; you can perform some other service or give advice that consumers need right now under lockdown.

6. What are the dangers for brands during times of crisis?

Consumers are very aware in times like this of crass capitalisation on tragedy. So, you don’t want to be a brand that is piggybacking, or woke-watching, or greenwashing, or jumping onto the bandwagon of a ‘tag’ and ‘hashtagging causes’ to your brand. That doesn’t ring true.

7. What are consumers looking for?

People are looking for authenticity; they are looking for brands that will solve problems, solve their needs, and to connect with people like human beings. That is really easy to forget, that at the end of the day, you are selling to warm blooded human beings and the margin for any business is in the magic and in the messy human interaction. That is where profit margins lie. So, follow human beings and connect with people on a personal level.

8. What are the creative ways we can engage with our customers?

On this empathetic marketing trend, the Workshop 17 business at the V&A Waterfront is very good at working with their customers. What they did for their co-working tenants, who were not going into their premises under lockdown, was offer healthy food preparation classes online and meditation classes online. They looked after their customers, even when their customers weren’t there.

9. What are some of the pitfalls for business?

Business needs to diversity marketing risk when doing business in the online sphere. This is a warning, particularly for small businesses. More and more of our online interactions are taking place on platform-based businesses or marketplaces you do not own. You need to understand that these are not your platforms and what platforms give, platforms can take away. It is a lot of risk. Use these platforms as tools; but what if they are banned in your country or they change their T&Cs and your business model is gone? You need to own the relationships with your end user and get as close to your customer as possible. Don’t ‘automate’ that relationship away.

10. So, what does business need to do NEXT?

The bad news is that there is a lot of it. There is a reckoning due from an economic perspective. Like always, at Flux we like to look at things differently; and the more problems there are, the more opportunities there are to solve those problems. This is where businesses are made –  in difficult times. The bigger the constraints we have, the more creative we can be; and the bigger the need to explore new ideas and new business models, particularly those that are about multiplying value, rather than dividing value. There is an opportunity for ‘builder businesses’, than just platform collecting-type businesses. In South Africa, we do really have to batten down those hatches; we are looking at a longer, sharper shock than the rest of the world will have. But South Africans are good at making plans and dealing with crises. It is all about how we approach things: ask yourself what need you are fulfilling; and what business problem you can solve?


*NEXT is a news section that looks at innovation in business strategy and brand strategy for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic; crisis management; and the tools needed to do so. In Part 1 of this mini-masterclass report back, we looked at what business could do to survive lockdown limbo – and thrive – with insights from the Flux Trends Masterclass, hosted by founder and trend specialist Dion Chang. In Part 2, Flux highlighted the importance of empathetic marketing and focusing on user experience than profits; and surviving until your business can thrive again in safeguarding your business until you can trade profitably.

In an interview ahead of the Flux Masterclass, Dion Chang, spoke about how resilience is the most important quality any CEO or business owner can have right now. They need to be able to do anything and everything necessary to save their businesses during pandemic panic; trying out new strategies, testing, collaborating and testing again.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Monday and Thursday • Subscribe here

– Take advantage of Retailing Africa’s ‘Pay-what-you-can’ business support package • Read more