How to Innovate in a Crisis

4 areas where business leaders need to focus

Over recent years, environmental, social and economic agendas have ramped up in terms of global reach. But in the last six months alone we've witnessed events causing permanent changes to the way that people live and work. Conversations around humanity's survival and the sort of humans we want to—no, should—be have forced business leaders to consider their role and impact in driving social change. Helping them forge the right path is what we've been dedicated to over the past few months.

On reflection, in the wake of this change, companies and brands provided some of the most visible messages in regard to driving social impact. While we have yet to fully see and understand the impact of the pandemic and what changes will be implemented regarding social unrest, brands' focus on social impact should not, and arguably will not, disappear when the first wave of the pandemic subsides. 

CEOs will have to act upon the needs of employees and customers faster than ever. And that can mean assuming new, unfamiliar identities. After all, every business is a health business now, where individuals' health and safety are top priority. Additionally, the increasing commitment of people to ethically consume—whether it's through choosing sustainably sourced products, shopping locally or shopping less—will become more prevalent. The socially conscious consumer is here to stay, and brands need to respond accordingly.

Based on what we've seen, certain companies can change and adapt quickly. With the pandemic leveling off but still impacting many aspects of society, everyone is going through a reset.

In our view, to navigate the "never normal" and emerge stronger, there are four themes where leaders must concentrate their attention: 

Make purpose your north star.

Brand purpose is not a new conversation, as consumers have been increasingly choosing brands aligning with their values and beliefs for the past few years. New Accenture research found that 52 percent of consumers buy from brands that put purpose before profit and do the right thing by their customers and employees. But purpose is more relevant now than ever. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that companies can rise to the occasion in crises to put people ahead of profit.

Recognize uncertainty and address it.

The Maslow hierarchy of needs demonstrates how individuals and societies' necessities develop from basic needs, such as food and shelter, to love and belonging, to esteem and ultimately self-actualization. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a major setback for many people who quickly moved from the assured self-actualization stage back to the basics as anxiety around food, health and personal safety struck.

In this pandemic, many C-suite leaders have prioritized employees' health and safety, rightfully so as employees felt their basic needs threatened. C-suite executives are also increasingly expected to address issues that may impact employees' mental health and sense of inclusion. In a crisis, our hierarchy of needs shifts quickly, and brands must be listening and prepared to address these changes rapidly and effectively. Employees and consumers are at the heart of every brand—so brands need to listen to and act on the concerns of these stakeholders.

Make sure your brand fits into the new picture.

Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we observed a change in consumer behavior as people began to shift away from material things to define themselves. The pandemic has drastically accelerated consumers' already changing shopping habits. With many retail stores closed due to the pandemic, we have noticed consumers are more socially and environmentally conscious—buying local goods, limiting waste and even shopping less. 

The trend toward a more conscientious consumer base is important for brands to recognize for long-term planning and strategy. An organization must scrutinize their products or services start-to-finish to assess whether purpose clearly drives the offerings and what they may need to change in order to align with a more conscious consumer.

Forge new relationships through your brand.

Beyond the current uncertainty, brands must continue to empathize with their employees and consumers. The values brands commit to in their mission statements must be used to guide the organization's decisions each day. For example, the Business Roundtable, which established a Covid-19 Task Force in early March before the pandemic caused widespread U.S.-based shutdown, also responded with a statement regarding the creation of a Special Committee to advance racial equity and justice solutions. From treatment of employees to sustainable sourcing, a brand should be all about fostering and maintaining strong, trusting relationships. 

Both the Covid-19 pandemic and the social unrest the U.S. is currently facing have empowered people to make their voices heard on pressing societal and political issues. Brands' responses or silence on these events are being closely evaluated, informing an increasingly cause-driven consumer base on future interactions with brands. Brands that remain passive in response to any major geopolitical change will have trouble navigating a successful future.

Profile picture for user Mark Curtis and Bill Theofilou
Mark Curtis and Bill Theofilou
Mark Curtis is head of innovation at Accenture Interactive. Bill Theofilou is global growth and corporate strategy lead at Accenture Strategy.

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