We are in year two of the biggest pandemic in living memory. It took just a few weeks for lockdowns and other restrictions to change our lives beyond recognition.
What do we learn from this? Well, we know we can’t make assumptions about how the world works, what direction we’re traveling in, or indeed about customers and their behaviors. Things can change fast, and a global scale. We know that 83% of consumers say their shopping behavior has completely changed this year. Traditional Brick & Mortar sales dropped by 6% in 2020, while Click & Mortar shot up 90%. Change always comes, but it’s been accelerated by COVID-19, and we’re dealing with it in a world of 0% GDP growth.
Viewing our world and its systems through this lens of unexpected twists is so common, it even gets its own acronym: VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). Change is expected. Our world is not a static data set. The last 10 years have seen predictable changes follow well-marked trends, and once the pandemic is over, we’ll see yet more.
Even before the pandemic hit, high street retail employment fell in more than three-quarters of local authorities between 2015 and 2018. The number of bank branches in the UK roughly halved from 1986 to 2014. Website sales from businesses with 10 or more employees grew from £111 billion to £333 billion between 2009 and 2018.
The world didn’t change entirely once lockdowns came into force. Major trends like these escalated rapidly, sometimes haphazardly. But we can see that they were happening already. And while disruption can lead to opportunity, it’s usually a matter of timing — miss your moment, and you’ve lost your chance.
Trends are written in the data. The challenge is in connecting the data points fast enough to seize the opportunities they present. When the unexpected happens — and it does — how quickly are you making informed decisions around your business? Getting ahead of change is a matter of speed as well as data. The winners of tomorrow need to anticipate and outpace ongoing change, not react to it.
While some events can’t be anticipated with accuracy, like COVID-19, they do have some degree of probability. The September 2019 report from the WHO Global Preparedness Monitoring Board spelled out, “There is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy.”
The WHO’s overestimation — deaths recently passed the 3 million mark — of the human casualties of a pandemic such as COVID-19 remind us that change is inevitable, but making a call on the details is challenging.
This is no less true of consumer responses to change. Clearly, business intelligence based on market prediction is required. Our world is complex, full of data overload: we can’t rely on instinct, obvious patterns or habit, to get ahead of change. Humans do not have the capacity to absorb, analyze and deploy all the information available. Only technology, working at speed, has the power to resolve the noise into a clear message for us.
There’s an art to decision-making. Humans use ‘gut feel’, perhaps more than we think. We understand our brand and our business, so going with our instinct is where we begin. But this art can always be enhanced by the science of in-depth data about your customer. Your decisions need to be powered by data science — knowledge, at speed.
This requires trust in the data you’re using, as decisions in times of crisis often involve major shifts. The businesses that are weathering the current difficult situation have made bold changes, not minor adjustments. Navigating the way ahead whether it's next week, next year and beyond — means businesses must quickly rethink what they do, who they are, and where they fit into this changed and still-changing world.
When unexpected crises occur, how you respond must be rooted in the data. Your data, therefore, has to be unimpeachable, intelligible, and in the moment.
Dealing with that challenge by delivering knowledge at speed, is GfK’s passion. We have invested significantly, using leading developers and data scientists since 2019 to create our platform. Co-developed with our clients, gfknewron is capable of distinguishing the patterns and signals that are often clouded by the noise of data activity. This delivers the sharper, faster insights that businesses need.
The rapid assimilation, organization and analysis of data can’t be left to human insights alone. Using AI is a powerful way to identify the signals you need, and model projections that predict the future of your brand under many scenarios. gfknewron has been designed to achieve this. It delivers AI-powered market, brand and consumer intelligence, connected with your sales and consumer data, offering predictive recommendations to help you stay ahead of change and plan for the future.
This is the ability to outpace change. To get ahead of events—no matter how surprising, the unexpected is only a challenge when you cannot predict the speed at which it is approaching, and in what combination events are likely to occur. It’s true that seismic shifts require big decisions — but in the future, you will not be taking them alone.
If you missed it, catch my presentation about the dramatic shift from offline to online retail in the past year and how brands can seize it as an opportunity.
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