Shifting the focus on recovery

5 minute read

Disruption used to mean that a new product or brand was stealing share-of-market, or an ad campaign was creating waves. Then technology started to sideline established category norms and business models quickly. Through the various waves of the pandemic, we saw unprecedented disruption at scale – leading us to shed our pre-pandemic skin and confront the deep cracks that can’t be filled in the name of getting back to normal.

Significant questions have been raised about the vulnerability of the modern world. Tara Henley, author of Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life, comments, “I think the coronavirus is putting into sharp focus the vulnerabilities in the way that modern society is organized.”1 At the same time, we simultaneously leaned on the technological conveniences that have been helping us communicate, learn, be entertained, stay fit and buy. It seemed the world went on demand overnight.

Look ahead, not in the rear-view mirror

Based on pre-pandemic category percentages of gross domestic product (GDP), McKinsey estimates that it will take five years or more for different categories and sizes of business to recover – to get back to pre-pandemic numbers. Using reference points to gauge economic and business health is helpful, but they are lag indicators – they don’t lead you anywhere new or better. We can’t get to an unknown destination looking in the rear-view mirror.

Business advice is fixated on recovery, but is that even a good goal when disruption is coming at companies from all angles? The weight of social unrest, political divides and environmental urgency are asking us for large-scale rethinks. Customer behaviours have changed or are in flux, inflation hurts buying power and company margins, trust has eroded, supply chains are interrupted with shortages and logistical challenges and employees are no longer willing to tolerate poor pay and inflexible working situations.

Shifting the focus away from recovery to responsiveness will help businesses navigate disruption productively – creating a more sustainable approach to growth. Replace the word recovery with responsive words like repair, reuse, reconfigure, reimagine, renew.

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Find a path forward

Determining the path forward will look different for every category and business. Prescribing the right approach in five easy steps or as a one-size-fits-all formula isn’t possible, but there are learnings to be gleaned about how to respond by looking at the factors that will improve short-term opportunities and longer-term adaptability.

Beware of baseline shifts

Measuring against previous reference points disrupted by the pandemic can positively or negatively exaggerate numbers, leading to faulty conclusions. For instance, although inflation is real, the story can look worse because the baseline is against pre-pandemic or pandemic reference points. Also, the indicators you track may not capture the actual realities of what’s going on because recovery won’t be evenly distributed for businesses or people.

Navigate business interruptions

Inflation, shortages, accessibility and health and safety are tangible threats to your business’ bottom line. Understanding how these factors impact your category, your brand(s) and your audience and customers will create tangible business benefits.

The New York Times never used to have a logistics column, but they do in 2021. The chain reaction of COVID-19, logistics and manufacturing shortages is impacting the value chain – creating stock and delivery fulfillment issues. As we move into the 2021 holiday season, keep an eye on the consumer issues and opportunities that are showing up because PwC research suggests there is pent-up demand among Canadian consumers. The study2 also highlights that:

  • Home delivery is still the most popular fulfillment option, but alternative options like curbside pickup are gaining ground because they can be less expensive and, in some cases, more convenient.
  • Canadians plan to spend approximately half their holiday shopping time in physical stores and in environments that entertain. So, it’s as much about the experience as it is getting gifts.
  • Canadian consumers feel a patriotic pull when they open their wallets. 62 per cent say they want to show loyalty to Canadian retailers and brands.

Businesses can respond by changing how they source, manage and communicate inventory to temper expectations and enhance desire. They can also:

  • Align online and physical channel experiences.
  • Offer fulfillment options and drive affordability through pricing and payment installments.
  • Play up Canadian production and local shopping.
  • Prioritize customer service.

Right now, as PwC has expressed, “it’s about bringing your products closer to consumers faster.”

Skip recovery

Looking at the bigger picture, the best and brightest global brands can tell us a lot about what skipping recovery looks like. The Interbrand Best Global Brands 2021 report found that top risers in the rankings shared strong performance on three brand strength factors: direction, agility and participation. The report3 sums these up as:


Setting a clear path and ensuring that the entire organization knows where they are going and are working towards the same ambition.

Direction helps brands move with agility.


Moving fast, bringing new products and services to market and, where necessary, pivoting to address changing customer needs.

Agility helps brands turn direction into opportunity.


Bringing people on a journey with the brand and making them part of the movement to create an engaging brand world.

Participation solidifies opportunity through relevance and engagement.

Direction, agility and participation are three key themes we've seen driving brand growth over the past year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the constantly evolving business landscape, employee buy-in, adapting to change and a strong customer base have helped certain brands to thrive.

Charles Trevail,

Global CEO,


Respond rather than recover

On the ground, we saw small and resourceful brands responding to stay alive. We witnessed it daily – the hustle and adaptability of small and local brands that stepped up in the name of survival. In doing so, they showed us that with every interaction, you could turn survival into betterment. They too leaned on agility and participation, putting empathy front and centre. These brands:

  • Put their focus on community and participation
  • Increased communication and prioritized the customer experience
  • Adapted their business models to improve accessibility and meet customer needs

Big or small, global or local, small acts or game-changing moves, the brands that prove successful and valuable to people are turning disruption into a wave to ride forward by putting human experience first.

Use marketing strategy to navigate disruption

Marketing and customer experience are critical to how you connect with your audience and respond to disruption. Think about how your marketing efforts can help you communicate direction, improve participation or be more responsive.

Marketing also plays a crucial role in building trust – and trust has proven to be a strong lever for growth during immense disruption. The potential for trust lives inside everything you say and do and what people experience. Think of how you can earn trust and how marketing communications can increase trust – integrating with customer experience factors like accessibility, customer service and fulfillment.

Another way to unlock growth in the face of disruption is through greater integration – an important factor in leveraging the full potential of direction, participation and agility. Integration helps you connect, build your brand ecosystem for value creation, use data and technology responsively and remove internal silos that inhibit a coherent direction.

Marketing offers a meaningful way to shift the focus from recovery to new opportunity. Using marketing to navigate disruption will require a renewed focus on understanding the people you are marketing to and making them part of your brand. You need to move in the same direction, together. This is what marketing is – or at least what it should be about.

1 B. Bethune. “The unsustainability of modern life and how COVID-19 may be exposing cracks in our society,” Maclean’s, April 17, 2020.
2 PwC. “The demand-fuelled retail recovery,” 2021.
3 Interbrand. “Best Global Brands 2021,” 2021.

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