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Disruption and differentiation in a post-pandemic world
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Disruption and differentiation in a post-pandemic world

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Sam Forsdick — March 2021

As countries cautiously begin to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, businesses will have to re-engage with a changed world. Speaking on a podcast hosted by Fujitsu, BAT’s director of digital and innovation Marina Bellini, social psychologist Thimon de Jong and Fujitsu SVP and head of global delivery Tim White shared their perspectives on the challenge of differentiating in a disrupted world.

• Listen to Fujitsu's Dear Director podcast here

With the vaccination rollout progressing in many regions across the globe, organizations are beginning to look forward with more optimism. However, the pandemic has caused many fundamental changes to the way we work‚ and a return to the way things were prior to January 2020 looks unlikely.

So, what predictions can we make by exploring responses to previous crises and what lessons should organizations carry forward after what has been an extremely challenging period?

When attempting to prepare for society re-opening, social psychologist, founder of think tank Whetston and business strategist Thimon de Jong believes that we can learn lessons from the past. “During crisis situations, people take fewer risks and spend less money, because the future is uncertain,” said de Jong, on Fujitsu’s recent Dear Director podcast and virtual Executive Discussion Evening. “But when society opens up again, these trends reverse, and we’ll see compensation behavior.”

““de Jong”
Thimon de Jong, social psychologist and founder of Whetston think tank

This is likely to result in a spending boom as well as increased risk-taking from individuals in both their personal and professional lives. “It's not going to be a decade of madness,” de Jong continues, “and depending on where you live in the world, this transformation period could last six to 12 months.”

Such predictions have led many companies to consider how they can continue to be responsive and agile in the post-crisis period. Marina Bellini, director of digital and information at BAT, explained why large organizations need to retain an ability to make quick decisions based on limited information — as has often been the case during the pandemic. “If every decision we make needs to go up and down the ranks and requires a lot of information analysis, you just get paralysis. Paralysis doesn’t work for companies that are trying to transform to better serve consumers and society.”
A new ‘glocal’ model

During Covid-19 lockdowns and regional restrictions, the supportive role of neighborhood stores and services has been elevated. “The global is not going away, as we can see the big ecommerce firms are thriving, but the pandemic has created a greater appreciation for the local community,” said de Jong.This is an altered aspect of consumer behavior that will continue as countries exit lockdown restrictions.

Tim White, corporate executive officer, SVP and head of global delivery at Fujitsu, concurred: “We’ve now introduced this love of the local and there is a greater sense of responsibility for the local community as well. But, there is still an expectation that the service is delivered in a global way.”

These dual expectations have added new meaning to the term “glocal” — and it is a change that Bellini is seeing at BAT too. “In the past, we may have thought of all consumers as [acting] the same, but in reality they are very different. And we need to serve them differently.”

““Marina”
Marina Bellini, director of digital and information at BAT

While BAT may have previously expected to see more similarities between markets that are geographically close, recent product launches across the 180 markets in which it operates have thrown up far fewer commonalities. Instead, Bellini is noticing similarities between consumers in places as far apart as Japan and Chile. "The holy grail of globalization versus localization means it's a bigger challenge to identify customer groups because the previous synergies don't exist.” she said.

“I think we need to be prepared for a bigger level of sophistication on how we serve our customers. Certain global trends are getting stronger, but we are also going to see new levels of hyper-personalization because that’s what individuals will ask for.”
Setting your purpose

Despite the growing importance of the local neighborhood, the three thought-leaders agreed that universal standards need to be maintained around aspects such as sustainability and the social purpose of organizations.

“Being purpose-driven sets you up for success,” White said. “Because it demonstrates that you have a role to play in wider society.” This sense of social purpose is becoming increasingly important both internally and for external operations. “People are looking to deal with organizations that have a sense of purpose and contribute to society in a meaningful way,” he said, reflecting on Fujitsu’s purpose: “To make the world more sustainable by building trust in society through innovation.”

““Tim”
Tim White, Corporate Executive Officer, Senior Vice President, Head of Global Delivery Group at Fujitsu
Explaining how this feeds into Fujitsu’s commercial partnerships, White added: “It is our responsibility to look after our customers’ resilience and stability. Looking after their stability gives them the ability to drive into more innovative areas — and that’s a really critical business area for us.”

This purpose could prove key to helping organizations to navigate this difficult period. As Bellini said: “We need to be very clear about the purpose we’re trying to deliver, with everything we do. The next six to 12 months is going to be bumpy, so having a purpose or north star will help to guide you through this journey.”

 

First published March 2021

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