How to plan for business recovery post-COVID-19

by Louise Burgers. As a third of the world sits in lockdown to try mitigate the effects of this lethal coronavirus pandemic, brands and businesses need to start thinking about how to navigate the new normal in culture and business.

by Louise Burgers. Our world changed virtually overnight this past month. As a third of the world sits in lockdown to try mitigate the effects of this lethal coronavirus pandemic, research houses and futurists are scrambling to give us all some kind of plan to hold onto so that we can start thinking about how to navigate the new normal in culture and business.

This week, local experts from global research giant Kantar shared the significant shifts that business and brands can expect for channels, consumers, brands, media and organisations to help business navigate our current and post-pandemic world. Kantar describes it as a “watershed moment” in human history that will change consumer behaviour and affect every single sphere of life – from the products we consume; to how we shop, work and socialise, including our attitudes to life.

Ivan Moroke, CEO, Kantar South Africa Insights Division, introduced the Kantar webinar on Tuesday, 31 March: “We’re living in radically disrupted and overwhelming times. The only certainty we have is uncertainty. How do you take care of people’s wellbeing when that wellbeing includes their economic wellbeing?” asked Moroke.

Moroke said COVID-19 had been a human equaliser and that all aspects of our lives have changed, regardless of race, gender, geography, and where even income was no longer a protection. When we come out on the other side, there will be a new normal for life, business and brands. The coronavirus will create some fundamental shifts. The big question is how we respond as brands and businesses, most importantly, for the recovery ahead. One thing is certain, we will come out on the other side, Moroke emphasised.

In the two-hour presentation with its full insights team – conducted by webinar in this new normal of doing business under #lockdown – Kantar unpacked six key shifts likely to shape our immediate responses and new realities. Big changes that are likely in both South Africa and further afield in its mission to assist brands in navigating a path to growth within and beyond the crisis. These are:

1. From modern bricks and mortar to an accelerated omnichannel.
2. From wanting it all to a renewed respect for the essentials.
3. From an era of self to an era of shared humanity.
4. From brands that are meaningful to me to brands with societal impact for us.
5. From media as usual to at-home escape and digital enablers.
6. From reactive organisations to anticipative organisations.


Lynne Gordon, managing partner, Kantar Insights, was first up to provide context. She admitted that the future felt very uncertain for us all. “We are navigating uncharted waters. We are all asking, will growth recover? Will this kind of crisis happen again? Our future team has built various scenarios – for consumers this is not a short-term change. After this, life will not go back to normal,” Gordon explained.

In the short-term, consumers were experiencing changes in social distancing, changes at home with remote working, entertainment and shopping. In the longer term, the impact on consumers will be far more severe, with disruption to culture and the human condition, which will include reduced spending, lifestyle adaptation and downscaling. “It is very important for us as brands and business to respond to that change,” Gordon added.

For business, the impact today ranges from organisational changes to wild swings in demand, such as a remote workforce, an increased shift to ecommerce, demand shocks, competitor shifts and reorganisation. Business processes will have to be changed significantly as business needs to be prepared for the changes that lie ahead, said Gordon. “As tough as the reality feels today, the world will recover. We are already seeing data from China, that shows the FMCG market is already recovering four weeks after they are coming out of isolation. The big question for us as businesses is how then do we respond?”

Gordon said Kantar recommended that it was critical that business responded by considering the holistic impact of this virus, by creating action plans that not only cover the crisis today, but included a plan for recovery in a world that will not return to normal. This is key. Business must plan for a different world and help their employees and staff navigate the change as well.

“We are seeing a lot of businesses wonder about the one dimensionality of this: what should I do for my comms; what should I do for my media; should I have an ecommerce plan? All of those are important, but what is critical is to view your response holistically. There will be impacts for organisational effectiveness, channel and shopper changes; key consumer shifts; changes in category dynamics; and a focus on brand purpose. Businesses need to bring together cross-functional teams to plan as a business rather than allowing our functional silos to plan separately. It is also important not to plan for today only, but also for recovery. To think about what we will do for recovery, when demand returns. It is important to be thinking about what this means for the future for consumers, business, categories and organisations.”

She urged brands to really think about ‘Horizon 1’: Act now – how do I respond with agility right now to secure my organisation, brands and business? That requires you look at the following, Gordon advised:

  • Channel and shopper: Prioritise supply and spend, creating return on investment (ROI) against channels most effective in a time of COVID-19.
  • Category: Understanding category demand to respond effectively today.
  • Consumer: Responding to changing behaviours, needs and attitudes of your consumer today.
  • Brand purpose: Shaping your brand voice and communications appropriately for a COVID-19 world.
  • Organisational effectiveness: Implementing appropriate shifts and practices to adapt to be effective in a COVID-19 organisation.

“What we would really encourage you to do, is think about ‘Horizon 2’ as well: how do you plan for the recovery stage; and will your business be ready?” Gordon asked. “The world after the shutdown, will be different than the world before. And as the world recovers in the next quarter, is your business ready for recovery?”

Key takeouts

The key takeouts from the six different presentations by the Kantar team in its lengthy and valuable online session with brands and business, covered everything from consumer behaviour to media trends.

1. From modern bricks and mortar to an accelerated omnichannel: There will be an accelerated adoption of online retail, with 84% of shoppers in China reporting that they tried at least one new online service during lockdown. Grocery retailers have quickly amplified online channels. The leapfrog to ecommerce is accelerating and impacting all categories. Brands need to consider what they can do to support retailers on this journey

2. From wanting it all to a renewed respect for the essentials: There will be a significant shift in category management. During the outbreak, categories that have all but ceased activity, with zero spend from consumers, are: gym, wealth management, out of home, entertainment, travel, luxury, hairdressers, beauty salons, cosmetics, appliances, electronics, medical cosmology, restaurants, alcohol, and clothing. Categories that have increased use/spend include telco, social media, nutritional supplements, medical insurance, finance management, medical prevention, household, food and beverage, medicines, epidemic prevention. Unchanged is the category of personal care. The future, post-lockdown world will see new forms of self-actualising emerge and a shift away from luxury goods and a reprioritising of health, security and sustenance – from spiritual to meaning.

3. From an era of self to an era of shared humanity: Kantar predicts a pivotal shift to humanity and empathy and a resurgence in values like ubuntu; cooperation; generosity; simplicity and community, as consumers seek connectedness. Brands need to help humans connect and share and feel part of something that matters.

4. From brands that are meaningful to me to brands with societal impact for us: Brands need to act now to resolve societal tensions and encourage new behaviour. Meaningful action taken now will unlock future growth; and brands that create societal impact will enter the recovery period stronger than ever.

5. From media as usual to at-home escape and digital enablers: Consumers under lockdown are focusing on home-entertainment and television ratings are up. Expect television and radio engagement to increase during this period. It is important for brands not to go completely “dark” during this time; and maintain overall brand communication awareness in order to create brand resilience in tough times. Brands also need to plan for recovery when other mediums will experience a resurgence, like out of home, cinema and brand activations.

6. From reactive organisations to anticipative organisations: The future is uncertain, but brands can plan for it. Companies that will prevail are those that are more responsive to change and the brands which can pivot their business in the current scenario, like fashion brands leaving haute couture on hold and making masks and protective scrubs for medical personal; the local alcohol industry donating pure alcohol for hand sanitiser and Mercedes Formula 1 making ventilators. “Brands that adapt to shifting customer journeys and remove friction in the experience in a post-COVID-19 world will drive loyalty and market share.

*Retailing Africa will be delving deeper into some of the six pillars for brands and business to navigate growth and recovery, with follow up articles every day this week.



Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.

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