Adaptation is a survival strategy that nature has adopted successfully for the most part. As National Geographic notes, adaptation is derived from the challenges an organism faces in its environment. While a business isn’t a living organism, it does show a distinct ability to adapt in trying times. The recent Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most considerable challenges that businesses have faced in decades. The combination of uncertainty in the economy and the fear for workers’ and colleagues’ safety has created a dynamic that has forced businesses to adapt or fail.
Businesses have had to change how they operate on a fundamental level if they’re to survive. One of the most popular terms that you’ll find cropping up in the discussion of these businesses is “pivoting.” Pivoting means redefining how the business operates from the ground up. The idea isn’t a new one, as many companies have reinvented themselves over the years. When a company realizes that its products and services aren’t appealing to its core demographic anymore, it pivots to improve its revenue generation by looking at a new market. Pivoting has allowed many businesses to survive the pandemic by changing their audience, their products or even just their delivery.
But pivoting isn’t the only way to deal with the pandemic. Here are three ways that businesses have survived — and even thrived — during the pandemic.
1. They look at demand and fill a need
It’s no surprise that businesses operate on the understanding of supply and demand. The target audience has a request, and the firm seeks to fill that space with a product. The most successful companies can capitalize on their existing products even though the demand at the time may be low. In the case of the pandemic, individuals sought hand sanitizers and high-alcohol cleaning solvents to ensure that the virus didn’t remain on surfaces. One of the ways businesses dealt with this was by supplying hand sanitizer to customers who visited their establishment.
Queensland’s Bundaberg Rum realized that it could provide increased amounts of ethanol and thus capitalize on a growing market. As a result, much of its production line pivoted to hand sanitizers to meet the already growing demand. Alcohol sales dipped drastically soon afterward, as bars and hotels closed. Luckily, Bundaberg Rum shifted quickly and effectively enough so that its hand-sanitizer line picked up the slack for the lost revenue. Companies should always be looking at how they can provide value to the market and not limit themselves to just a handful of products.
2. They invest in the future
With social distancing being such a significant part of infection control in many areas, delivery applications such as UberEATS had a field day. With such a ready demand in place, this company didn’t need to refactor or pivot to something else. They had many options when it came to approaching this increased demand; they could potentially call whatever price they wanted and get it from their customers. However, the management at this company was thinking long-term.
Instead of focusing on milking the massive demand for extreme short-term gains, UberEATS went in the opposite direction. The company waived delivery fees during the pandemic in a unique show of corporate solidarity. It eventually paid off. After the initial surge of delivery dropped off as more people started eating at home, many restaurants saw the benefits of partnering with the app-based business. In looking at the bigger picture, UberEATS managed to secure business that went way beyond what it could have hoped to get if it had raised its delivery prices at the onset of the pandemic. It shows a foresight that many businesses should seek to emulate. Observe the future trends in the industry, not just the demands that currently affect the market.
3. They engage users in new channels
Because of the shelter-in-place orders that confined many people to their homes, outdoor parks and recreation areas were mostly off-limits. The tourism industry as a whole took a massive hit — one that will likely take several years to recover from. One of the hardest-hit businesses in the “new normal” instituted by these lockdowns were zoos. These establishments relied heavily on the cost of admission to keep their operating costs down. Many of their animals rely on expensive feed and medicine that the zoo needs to purchase. With such massive overhead, they needed to find a way to gather revenue and quickly.
Taronga Zoo is a perfect example of how a business, faced with these looming threats to its continued operation, can adapt and thrive. Management figured that since their core audience couldn’t come to the zoo, they would allow the zoo to go to their viewers. They developed an online resource called Taronga TV, which live-streamed many animal enclosures, allowing viewers a rare chance to see these animals without actual human intervention. Innovation and technology helped this business find a way to get their product to the people who’d appreciate it most while still ensuring everyone’s safety. Continued sponsorship from other sources allowed the zoo to maintain its tech-based zoo experience over the long-term and stave off closure.
Circumstances are impossible to predict
Two years ago, the thought that a virus would have the power to shut down entire countries would have been laughed off as an overreaction. Today, having lived through 2020, we know how real a threat like this can be to both national economies and businesses. Restrictions to control viral spread are relaxing in many locations, but it will be some time before we can resume the same sort of lifestyle we had before. Society’s recovery hinges on the vaccines that have shown up at just the right time.
Because of the difficulty in predicting the future, businesses can’t rely on things remaining constant from day to day. In fact, it’s quite likely that companies will have to evolve to meet new challenges as they arise. The Covid-19 situation has warned businesses that waiting too long to adapt and pivot can spell disaster. These businesses were able to switch gears quickly, and their resilience and innovation in the face of uncertainty contain many lessons that other companies would do well to learn.