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Digital Strategy in the Covid-19 Era

How to use digital strategy to transition your business

One thing is clear in these unpredictable times; for organizations to thrive in the Covid-19 world, they will need to up their digital strategy and digital experience game. Not just a better e-commerce website. Not just a streaming service. Not just digital marketing. Not just sexy Zoom backgrounds. Not just productive and collaborative remote work. In order to thrive in the Covid world, even when the pandemic is behind us, companies of all sizes will require a comprehensive digital strategy.

The upheaval we have experienced has resulted in three scenarios for businesses of all sizes:

· Covid beneficiaries (aka, ‘the lucky ones’) – e-commerce, streaming players, online learning, supermarkets, e-Health, E-Ed, etc.

· Covid impacted – those whose businesses that took a hit when the lockdowns hit, but with strategic changes, particularly applying digital technologies, will live to fight another day

· Covid Armageddon – no matter how much customers love them, hospitality, sport, tourism, airlines, restaurants, and live entertainment have been annihilated, some temporarily, some permanently.

In order to thrive in the Covid world, even when pandemic behind us, companies in all industries will need to adapt or die. Here are some examples of how quickly the world is changing.

  • eMarketer estimates that retail online U.S. food and beverage sales will grow 23.4% to over $32 billion by 2021 
  • U.S. online grocery sales hit a record $7.2 billion in June, up from just $4 billion in March, and that was up from just $1.2 billion in August 2019 (Brick Meets Click and Mercatus)
  • E-commerce penetration over the last 3-months has doubled the increases from the previous 10 years (McKinsey, see above)
  • Zoom surpassed 300 million daily users in April, which appears to be their apex, while Microsoft Teams reached 75 million 
  • Disney+ passed 60.5m subscribers, reaching their 5-year streaming goal in the first eight months of service
  • Netflix isn’t doing too bad either, adding over 10 million subscribers in the latest quarter
  • Nike's digital sales increased online sales by 75% in its latest quarter
  • Even before the pandemic, Uber Eats had grown bigger than the company’s ride-hail business (Uber earnings call)
  • A YouTube producer earns about $5000 for a million views (Forbes)
  • 1 Billion people use Instagram every month

Below is my Digital Strategy Frameword which will assist you in identifying and prioritizing a company’s new digital initiatives. The X-axis is based on fundamental economic modeling, demand on the left, and supply on the right. The Y-axis has a modest degree of change at the top and extreme degree of change at the bottom. In working through this model, some companies will conclude that they aren’t at risk of disruption, while others see a clear and present danger. This perspective alone leads to important strategic decisions.

Unpacking the Framework

Deconstructing Demand

Disney+ passed 60.5m subscribers, reaching 5-year streaming goal in the first eight months of service


The top left of our hexagon is Deconstructing Demand. In the analog world, there was a mismatch between products and markets. For example, once upon a time, newspapers came with all the sections; news, sports, local, business, lifestyle, etc., with crossword puzzles and sudoku in-between. The production model in those days (and a disregard for cutting down trees) made this business model work.

That is no longer the case. Consumers can buy exactly what we want, piecemeal.

The original iTunes was an excellent example of Product-Market alignment. In the DVD world, you had to buy the whole $12 album. iTunes enabled us to download single songs for $1, legally, for the first time. Online streaming services from around the world now can parcel out programming content in accordance with interests, such as Sports. Now you can buy ESPN+ and Sky Sports, and Gamepass for the sports leagues of your choice. You can now buy Disney plus for $7 per month or include ESPN and Hulu for $13/month. There is no longer a reason to buy the full suite of satellite/cable services if you don’t want them. By better matching products and market needs, prices fall, and demand increases. Disney has signed up over 60 million subscribers worldwide in under a year.

New Market Innovation

Even before the pandemic, Uber Eats had grown bigger than the company’s ride-hail business


In the middle of the supply-demand paradigm is New Market Innovation, and so the results of such initiatives impact both supply and demand to a fair degree. The most illustrative example of this is ride-sharing, as pioneered by Uber. Before Uber, the product-market match for taxis was very poor, whereas there wasn’t normally a taxi when you need one, while taxis were often sitting idle waiting for a call. Uber changed all that, making a new market in the process and increasing both supply and demand for lifts around town. Importantly, Uber didn't invent GPS, Smartphones, online purchases, or Apps. They simply used the new tools of the time to create a hugely valuable service.

Uber has since used its Digital Ecosystem Platform by offering Uber Pool, which is very popular with students and Millennials. They have launched a New Value Proposition in Uber Eats (which I loved until I learned that they eat 30% of the restaurant’s revenue), and sell location and user data. They now offer a fixed monthly delivery fee subscription or Uber Eats. By making a new market, Uber and many others around the world have increased both supply and demand for their products.

Unleashing Supply

A YouTube producer earns about $5000 for a million views

The Internet makes unlocking supply possible. Prior to the lockdown, a great example was Airbnb. Every spare room, holiday home, and cottage became a hotel, even if operating based on increased seasonal or event-based demand. Airbnb drastically increased the supply of hotel rooms available in most places around the world. Airbnb has a particularly dramatic impact during surges in visitors, such as Paris in summer and the annual Salesforce Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, which attracted 180,000 registrations last year. However, under containment measures that has strangled the tourism industry, Airbnb has tried to take on long-term rentals. Yes, Airbnb wants to become your landlord. the outcome of this strategic change remains unknown, but they have reported strong summer damand in the US from domestic travelers that don't want to stay in hotels.

Another example is the amount of entertainment that is being generated to fill demand from Netflix, YouTube, and the growing number of streaming services. The emerging distributed entertainment distribution model has led to a booming supply of movies, shows, and reality programming. This has created a flourishing supply of creative talent including fledging directors, starving actors, niche entertainers, and minor reality stars, and YouTube celebrities, both major and niche.

New Value Propositions

Nike's digital sales increased online sales by 75% in its latest quarter

Disney+ passed 60.5m subscribers, reaching 5-year streaming goal in the first eight months of service

For me, innovating new products and value propositions is by far the most fun of all the strategies contained in this framework. The innovation cycle is so fast now that few can stay on top for long. The aforementioned fitness trackers have been led by at least four companies in the last 10 years, and hundreds of startups in this space have failed, including former sector leader Jawbone.

Checkers Sixty60 has gone where no South African retailer has gone before - 60-minute home delivery of groceries. This is a game-changer, and their vision is giving them a huge competitive advantage in the Covid era. Online ordering and home delivery, especially on such a short timeline, require complex digital systems to execute properly. The in-app ordering, inventory control, checkout, delivery, and fraud prevention are all new processes for a bricks-and-mortar retailer. Sixty60 has rolled out to nearly 90 stores as of this writing, up from just seven prior to the lockdown. In one retail analyst's words, they are 'eating the lunch' of their competitors, increasing marketshare substantially in the process.

What can you do to grow a manufacturing business in the digital age? You can enrich your product with digital information services. Fitbit and their now-leading rival, Garmin, and the fashion accessory, iWatch, provide fitness and health information that is captured on your mobile devices. The hardware is irrelevant; the value comes from the information that people can use to track fitness, diet, sleep, and more. It was perhaps Nike that pioneered digital services paired with their running shoes. Now everybody is getting in on the game.

Digital Communities

1 Billion people use Instagram every month


Apple launched iTunes, the first platform for legal music purchases, back in 2001. They innovated digital delivery (Unleashing Supply, Digital Technologies), sold single song purchases rather than buying entire albums (Product-Market Matching), and a recommendation engine called Genius (Digital Technologies) to fulfill their promise of a Digital Ecosystem Platform that has expanded to entertainment and apps.

Google pioneered its search platform as a media business. All the major social media players are media titans these days, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent and many others are disrupting retail and fintech, and not to be forgotten, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music to get access to most songs on earth on-demand.

While these multi-billion-dollar Goliath may make it seem impossible to get in on the platform game, it is very possible. Think of your industry – is anybody providing the digital ecosystem? Citymapper is a platform for getting around London and other major cities. I was recently involved in a project to provide a tourism ecosystem for a provincial tourism agency that looks at Tourism as a job creation and economic development tool as well as a promotional platform. If you think in terms of how you can build an ecosystem around your industry, product category, or geographic location, the possibilities are nearly endless.

Digital Technologies

Zoom surpassed 300 million daily users in April


Amazon is the holy grail of automating and digitizing e-commerce business models. In a way, Amazon’s core retail business hasn’t changed much since it’s inception when they took orders for books and nothing else online and distributed by courier. They invented the first useful recommendation engine, which could be called ‘AI’, also pushing up demand. They ultimately created buying power, pushing down their costs. Today, you can buy most of what you need from Amazon, new or used, as well as streaming services and cloud hosting, all impacting each segment of this Digital Strategy Framework.

Nowadays, there are countless digital tools that can be utilized to improve your business, including AI, robotics, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Digital Platforms, and more. Every deployment must be well-thought-out and deliberate and align with the overall business objectives.

Next Steps

We believe in a scientific approach to digital strategy, where gut-feel and HIPPOs (highest paid person’s opinions) are replaced with carefully planned experimentation to test a specific hypothesis and collect customer insights that inform decisions. The result is determining whether you require moderate or extreme change, then identifying and testing products, experiences, and value propositions that fit into the different sectors of the Digital Strategy hexagon.

Our process begins with unpacking our Digital Strategy framework in a half-day workshop, which aims to identify up to three potential digital initiatives to explore. We then enter a Design Sprint, an innovation acceleration methodology that builds prototypes and market tests the prototypes in 3–5 days. The initiatives that show promise then enter the Lean Startup product accelerator process, which builds and launches digital products and experiences into the market. Depending on the company and complexity, digital initiatives can go live in a matter of a few weeks. Imagine!


By Greg Serandos

Sausalito Marketing Advisors


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