In a class at the Asian Institute of Management during one of its executive development programs I sat in rapt attention as an expatriate faculty was talking about how packaging, pricing and positioning can do wonders for a product.
More than a 100 years ago, in the American marketplace, the professor cited, of all the energy drinks and off the shelf kind of booster brews there were three that were most popular-Coke, Pepsi and Moxie. Of the three, the official state beverage of Maine had the largest share of market and share of voice in the region. Flavored with gentian root extract, it claimed to have no chemical and no poison in it. Up until the depression era, it outsold all other beverages many times over. Post the 1920s the other two colas began to grow and have become the global giants that we now know. Moxie, in contrast to the meaning of its name, took no gumptious steps to innovate and continued to be available in random drug stores until Coke acquired it in 2018.
Our business challenges nowadays, at the core level, are not very different from the depression era circumstances. The universal state of mind is in a similar quandary as it was 100 years ago. Most businesses are afraid, anxious, and agitated. Some are taking bold steps, flipping around and working at coming out on top while many are in a save-my-skin, wait-and-watch kind of limbo. We may have bounced out a bit from the fear of the virus but we have not bounced away from the ambiguity and anxiousness over our tomorrows.
It is time to innovate with shrewd, spirited initiative, and resourcefulness. It is time to flip, or even fail, forward with gumption. From the scores of conversations, I have had with business heads and experts who have facilitated bold and potentially successful moves in the last few months.
Put on all weather, all-terrain shoes: The playing has not normalized yet. Each country, every country is writing new rules of play. Every economy, at the micro and the macro level, is in crazy flux. We do not know how badly the national treasuries are affected. If the country’s cash flow takes a hit, they are bound to borrow, pay interests or raise collection from private businesses. Exchange rates and bilateral trade are being moderated. Should the balance be difficult to manage the load will have to borne by all of us. Thus, come up with ideas that will adapt easily and quickly to a changing playground.
Tighten your own shoelaces to the maximum: I know it sounds crazy but in the midst of the pandemic one of the most successful and popular fast foods in the Philippines shut down more than 200 outlets. Thankfully, one of their core values was ‘frugality’ and now, in rebound, they have begun to reopen stores all over again and have decided to bring their historically popular ‘Champ’ back onto their menu. Agreed that your businesses may have handled costs and profits very smartly in the past but this is the time to stay obsessively in control of that resource called cash. All initiatives will have to daring in concept, large on scale but extremely measly on the budget. A management consulting company I know has invested in remote, rural locations and have added wellness and farming training services to their repertoire. The plan is low budget with huge projections.
Toughen up for the long haul: Turnarounds now will not just be great plan of action. They will not even be a long sprint but the journey will be through water, over land and maybe on a bicycle. It will be one demanding triathlon that will allow no breaks and offer no mercy for a long time. Put in those daily crunches and pushups and stay hydrated. Have your teams commit to the same discipline.
All across the world, the delivery services had an upturn. The two-wheeler traffic in the Philippines has more than tripled and the people behind it are putting twice as many hours even though they are positively affected. I had a chat with one of the delivery boys and he claimed that they put in 10 to 12 hours a day through rain or shine because they are not what the future holds. And, I am thinking all of us on the rebound need to do just that.
In summary, to trudge ahead with gumption and innovation wear tough shoes, tighten your laces, and be ready to dig in your heels for a long trudge ahead. For sure, years from now your gumptious and innovative organization will be able to buy out the one without the moxie to innovate.
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