David Bowie's message to businesses everywhere

"Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming" said David Bowie. It should serve as a reminder to businesses about the need to adapt.

Bowie coined the phrase when promoting his album Heroes.

During his career, he was second-to-none when it came to reinventing himself and his music in response to changing tastes - changes that he had a talent for spotting in advance.

His approach exemplified the very best of marketing - identifying or anticipating customer wants and needs, then satisfying them.

This is going to have to become the norm for all businesses as we try to recover from the economic slump caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, because customer wants and needs have changed and are likely to remain so for some time yet.

For instance, while consumers remain fearful about the risks of catching Covid-19, they're going to want to avoid places with large numbers of people in small spaces - which will impact B2C businesses that depend on customers visiting them at their premises.

Similarly, whilst B2B firms continue to have so little visibility about when the supply chains they're part of will begin to get moving again, they'll likely want to avoid spending in order to protect their cashflow.

The changes in buying behaviour we've seen so far are probably going to become even more embedded if, as some predict, there is a second wave of Coronavirus infections in the winter coupled with a recession (the Bank of England defines recession as two successive quarters of 'negative growth' which seems likely given that the economy that normally grows at 1-2% a year shrank 20.4% just in April 2020).

All of this points to a need to revisit business models and revise marketing strategies with an eye on what customers are going to demand next.

Reacting now to the shape of what's to come

In the current business context, Bowie's quote "tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming" translates to mean it will be those businesses that adapt early to what lies ahead that will enjoy the most success.

Here's how you can do that.

1. Examine your business model
2. Deep dive into your Customer Persona
3. Update your value proposition
4. Remix your marketing mix

In this article, we're just going to focus on the fourth step and that's because it's possible to remix your marketing mix in isolation, and it may make more sense to do so because you can probably attend to this quite quickly.

The marketing mix, first conceived of by E. Jerome McCarthy in the 1960s and still relevant today, consists of four core elements: Product, Price, Place and Promotion - the so-called 4Ps.

It's essential to get these building blocks right, especially in the shift from pre-pandemic business conditions to those we're in now - and that we're likely to encounter in the next 12-18 months.

To put the 4Ps into context, let's look at the example of a small, independent bar.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, its marketing mix may have looked something like this:

PRODUCT
A wide array of craft beers, cask ales and artisan gins.

PRICE
Priced to reflect the quality and uniqueness of the products sold.

PLACE
A snug, modern-looking bar with soft lighting and appealling music creating a relaxed and inviting vibe.

PROMOTION
Word-of-mouth and organic posts on social media to a mostly local audience.

But a number of things have now changed.

Many independent beer brewers cut back on manufacturing because demand dried-up during lockdown, and a lot of gin distilleries pivoted to start making alcohol-based hand sanitiser. So it could be more difficult to obtain the same wide range of high-end products, and if wholesale demand outstrips supply, they may also be more expensive.

With household incomes under pressure, people may not be able to afford the prices previously paid in this establishment.

If they continue to worry about catching Covid-19 in indoor environments, they may be unwilling to enjoy the hospitality on offer at this venue if they don't think it will be possible to social distance effectively.

And, if there are fewer customers willing to visit and pay premium prices, an already small local audience could dwindle further.

So, a business like this could consider changing its marketing mix accordingly:

PRODUCT
A limited menu of craft beers, cask ales and artisan gins supplemented by a larger range of less expensive, mass produced alternatives.

PRICE
Priced to encourage customers to spend.

PLACE
Limited indoor seating, supplemented with an outdoor table service (where possible), coupled with a 'click and collect' takeaway service and perhaps even home deliveries.

PROMOTION
Paid social media and possibly newspaper promotion to a wider audience.

Revisiting the 4Ps in a methodical manner, then adjusting them on a considered basis to reflect new and emerging trends, is something that businesses ought to do regularly anyway - but it's crucial right now.

Keeping an eye on trends to predict the future

One way of staying on trend is to keep a finger on the pulse of public attitudes, and, fortunately, this is relatively easy to do thanks to the efforts of the large UK polling companies. YouGov and Ipsos MORI, for example, both run regular public opinion surveys to find out what people are thinking about the pandemic - and the results are free to access online.

Given that people are worried about infection and transmission risks, you'll be able to get your own feel for likely sentiment by following Public Health England's reporting of the 'R number' (the number of people that an infected person spreads the disease to). If it remains below 1 and starts to lessen significantly, people are going to become more relaxed about mingling - if it goes up, so will their concerns.

If you trade B2B, a good barometer of business sentiment is the CIPS IHS Markit purchasing manager's index (PMI) that indicates the health of supply chains based on whether purchasing managers are buying more or less.

However you approach it, remember David Bowie's words: he knew that to survive as a music artist, he had to constantly adapt his look and style in order to appeal to his target audience. Your business needs to do the same.