Lancashire Times
Weekend Edition
4:00 AM 17th July 2021

Saturday Essay: How Do Brands Maintain a Competitive Edge Post-Pandemic and Brexit? And Who's in Charge to Lead the Charge?

Justin Small, CEO of Future Strategy Club – a network of the UK’s tier 1 creative, strategic and forward-thinking talent discusses as the ferocity of innovation intensifies, brands are looking to deliver tomorrow, today – so to win and retain customers, change has become an imperative.

Image by Gerd Altmann
Image by Gerd Altmann
For over a decade, ‘strategy’ has been a business buzzword. CEOs tackle large-scale strategic initiatives to reach their company’s goals and support growth objectives. Managers outline strategic actions in the management of employees, and CFOs engage in the process by providing vital financial leadership to grow firms. A strategy drives major corporations and SMEs alike to create a vision and direction for the whole organisation - from establishing priorities, and identifying trends and opportunities in the future, to creating a competitive edge.

The main goal of business strategy is to achieve this competitive edge. Serving as the leverage a business has over its competitors, a sustainable competitive edge allows brands to achieve superior margins, thrive and create meaning.

Today's winning brands are not playing it safe, using their edge to keep ahead of the competition. World-famous examples of these are Apple, Alphabet Inc, Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla, to name a few. The business model of Apple - the first company with a Trillion Dollar market cap - is one of the world’s strongest.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk
Image by Michal Jarmoluk
Its current model thrives on stability and innovation, using several sustainable sources of competitive advantage to keep growing stronger. From developing innovative products and delivering a high-quality service, to maintaining a premium price policy. Apple has kept these at their core since 1976, which in return, has made them the largest technology company by revenue, Forbes recently revealed.

Alphabet Inc.'s Google dominates the search market, capturing around 81% of all general search queries on our desktop and 94% on our mobile, a report by The House Judiciary recently revealed. To maintain Google's advantage over competitors, the firm has a powerful technological infrastructure, innovative services and a high market share. Its technology is the company’s most critical strength, and they have spent millions to develop an algorithm that is much faster than their main competitor - Microsoft's search engine, Bing - to ensure users an easy way to access information in 0.06 to 0.12 seconds. This is their competitive edge.

Yet over the course of the last 5 years - from the impact of Brexit to COVID-19 - the private sector and every growth engine supporting the UK economy has been significantly impacted. The nation's toolkit for growth and scale has never before taken such a hit, and in its recovery phase, it is critical that brands do not lose their competitive edge - with the path to economic growth and success now lying in brands driving innovation.

We are currently in the middle of economic uncertainty, environmental Armageddon and geopolitical change - it is the biggest change of a brand's life. As such, no longer is the idea of transformation or innovation a project, it is a continuous process that a company must do. Now is the time for brands to step up to the plate, taking a view of what they want to do - this will drive their survival. A brand that has shown this is Nike, who in 2018 made Colin Kaepernick, an American football player and civil rights activist, the face of its new global advertising campaign. The brand took a huge risk in developing this campaign, and in turn, their valuation has gone up by 6 billion since launching this campaign.

Now is a time of advocacy or obscurity for brands – yet as the current uncertainty causes anxiety around nearly every aspect of our life, customers have naturally become distrusting of the physical space - with data by Deloitte revealing that only 49% of consumers feel safe going into a shop. As such, after a prolonged period of being confined at home, consumers have become more reliant than ever on media and brand content, with data by YouGov Plc. revealing that 35% of Brits paid more attention than usual to how companies behaved during the lockdown period. Further to this, their data also reveals that 80% of Brits now say that they will be less likely to purchase products or services from companies that they feel have been insensitive or taken advantage of the situation.

Brands today must behave in new ways to satisfy new needs. Assistance from those unphased by the acute challenges in how we are doing business today is now necessary - with data by Future Strategy Club revealing that 33% of businesses owners and employees in the UK agree that to thrive post-pandemic, significant changes within a business must be made with the advice and guidance of outside expertise.

Image by Gerd Altmann
Image by Gerd Altmann
As demand flows back into the economy, the most impactful of minds are needed within brands to keep head and shoulders above the line of survival and growth. Yet after the lockdown period provided a forced career hiatus for our most talented creatives, 57% of Brits now do not want to return to their previous 9-5 construct, data by Future Strategy Club reveals.

Future Strategy Club has been collating this very talent, from Gareth Tennant, the former Head of Intelligence at the Royal Marines, Hector Arthur, former Digital Director of The Times or Karl Weaver and former CEO of the Data Practice at Publicis. Creating a hybrid team of thinkers who are unphased by the acute challenges in how we are doing business today is essential and at the core of what FSC do.

Freelance counsel can ignite change by holding the hands of business leaders who are struggling to maintain a competitive edge, providing guidance and support over the next period of growth, in which the stage they are competing on is heightened. As we emerge from Covid-19, some solutions will follow a straight line to success, while many others must chart a course through complexity. As such, we collaborate rather than pontificate, listen carefully and challenge appropriately, find consensus and limit contention - this is how we feel brands can maintain a competitive edge post-pandemic and Brexit.

Justin Small
Justin Small
Justin Small is the CEO of The Future Strategy Club; an agency born from drawing on the talent of freelancers to establish a new, "members club" for growing companies to cherry pick the best talent for them. The FSC has around 300 Members, containing some of the highest-calibre business minds in the UK, including the former Digital Director at The Times and the former Head of Intelligence at the Royal Marines.
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