We spoke to leading academics from Birkbeck, University of London about why now is the best time to embrace innovation and how the post-Covid economy may in fact be a ‘land of opportunities’.
The last year has been an extraordinary period of change and upheaval. As of March 2021, 11.4 million jobs across 1.3 million different employers were furloughed in the UK. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have affected every part of our lives, from how and where we work, to how we shop, socialise and even access medical care. Even now, as restrictions begin to lift, life pre-Covid feels like a distant memory.
Many marketers will naturally be asking themselves, ‘What now?’ How do we navigate the new normal? And what lasting effects will the past 18 months have on future marketing strategies?
The University of London offers a fully online MSc in Marketing, with academic direction from member institution, Birkbeck, University of London. The flexible programme gives marketers the opportunity to develop and hone their skills, working around their job and family commitments to advance their career.
We spoke to some of the Birkbeck academics who lead the programme about how managing risk has never been a more important skill for marketers to develop.
Dr Manto Gotsi, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management, is the Programme Director for the MSc in Marketing. She said: “This is an important paradox. Typically in good times businesses can be a bit more adventurous, exploratory and try new things. Instead of being complacent and just exploiting what they do well business leaders are more willing to be proactive, innovating and exciting their customers. But when a crisis hits, the natural tendency is for companies to take a step back and focus on what they know they do well. They just want to preserve their bottom line, save jobs, retain customers and so forth. But actually, times of crisis are when you need innovation the most – it’s very hard to survive unless you do.”
To put it simply, the businesses that will survive are the ones who don’t take their eyes off the innovation ball. Doing what you know you do best will not help you to excel. You need the risk and the innovation in order to thrive.
There are few sectors who have continued a completely business-as-usual model in the last year. From large and small retailers moving to e-commerce, to restaurants offering cook-at-home recipe boxes, most industries have had to adapt and overcome to ensure they survived lockdowns and Covid-safe restrictions. And those that didn’t paid a heavy price. Fast fashion retailer, Primark, had no online sales and predicts it lost around £1.6 billion due to the pandemic. Other high-street shops, including Topshop and Debenhams, met their demise altogether.
Dr Gotsi continued: “To put it simply, the businesses that will survive are the ones who don’t take their eyes off the innovation ball. Doing what you know you do best will not help you to excel. You need the risk and the innovation in order to thrive.”
Dr Olivier Sibai is a Lecturer in the School of Management and teaches on the Digital Marketing and Brand Management modules of the master’s programme. He said: “I think you need to ask, why would you become risk averse right now? This is a land of opportunities and I’ve been amazed to see how companies have responded to the pandemic. Even sectors that were reluctant to digitalise, like Higher Education, have been forced to adapt the way they deliver services and at Birkbeck we will continue with blended learning even after Covid-19. Reframing a crisis as an opportunity is an important way of enhancing and changing your services.”
While many foretold doom and gloom for ‘on-the-go’ food retailers, Pret A Manger has demonstrated a commitment to innovate in order to survive the shift to more home-working, which is likely to last for many of us. As well as launching a £20 monthly coffee subscription they have partnered with supermarket giant, Tesco, and with the Motor Fuel Company to open concessions in-store and at petrol stations across the UK.
If a business is traditionally risk averse, or has become so during the pandemic, it’s a cultural issue and it needs to be addressed through persuasion.
However, while marketers may be keen to innovate, taking the board with you can often be the biggest challenge. So what are their top tips?
Dr Sibai advises you to be adaptable. He said “If a business is traditionally risk averse, or has become so during the pandemic, it’s a cultural issue and it needs to be addressed through persuasion. Make your strategies agile so you can adapt them as needed and be ready to change tactics in response to data.”
Dr Gotsi added: “All boards, whether of large multinationals or small family firms, are driven by numbers. It’s the marketing department’s role to constantly feedback with data and results. During times of crisis you don’t have the luxury of time to observe trends – things change too quickly. Agile marketing departments are good at looking at what’s happening, reporting back and changing their strategies and services accordingly.
“The other thing I would say is that you should be experimenting, doing quick trials and learning lessons rapidly. Long-term planning at a time when things are changing on a weekly basis isn’t always possible but quick testing will help give you the data you need to persuade your board.”
Find out how you can sharpen your risk management skills, improve your strategic marketing and learn the very latest in digital and social media marketing with the online MSc in Marketing from University of London and Birkbeck.