Survivor, Hider, Thriver: What will it take to succeed during the New Era In Experience?

Adobe collaborated with the London School of Economics (LSE) to better understand our future digital world.

Adobe x LSE New Era In Digital Experience

Over the last 12 months, our professional lives have changed irreversibly. As brands, as business leaders, and as colleagues, we have entered a New Era In Experience that continues to rock the foundations of our corporate structures and reshape our approach to serving customers. We’ve overcome far-reaching challenges seeing resilience and empathy in our teams who’ve gone to great lengths to support one another and their local communities. Their willingness to adapt is inspiring.

The changes we have seen this past year, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, have raised important questions about what it will take companies to succeed in this New Era. To find out, we collaborated with the London School of Economics (LSE) to better understand what the future holds for our customers and how they can differentiate themselves, while adapting to a digital world.

Digital investments are paying off

While our New Era in Experience research reveals some harsh realities about the past 12 months, it also points to a considerable proportion of companies that managed to adapt quickly and are now beginning to thrive. These “thrivers” make up 25% of the businesses in Europe, proving that investment in new digital technologies and working practices has paid off in three of the world’s most competitive markets.

That said, most businesses fall into two other categories, as defined by LSE research: “Hiders” and “Survivors”. Roughly 40% of brands are Hiders, keeping their heads down and reducing their IT spend to a bare minimum just to get by. The final 35% of respondents are what we call Survivors, companies that had made drastic spending cuts in response to the pandemic, hoping that the changes wrought by COVID-19 would be temporary.

It’s only natural to take a cautious approach in times of uncertainty, but as we have seen repeatedly, it is the businesses and leaders who lean into change that invariably come out on top.

What makes thrivers thrive?

Working closely with Dr Alexander Grous, a lecturer and researcher in LSE’s faculty of media and communications, we uncovered four traits common to organisations that have fared best during the COVID-19 pandemic. Crucially, these traits were not developed overnight – the LSE has been looking into how businesses respond to digital transformation for over 10 years.

Thriver trait #1) Hands-on leaders who are open to change: Thriving in the New Era requires a more open and transparent breed of leadership. Today’s business leader is accountable to their people, embraces change, and welcomes the opportunity to learn and evolve with their company.

“For an example of progressive leadership in action, look no further than Asprey executive chairman, John Rigas, who made the bold move in May of last year to take 100% of Asprey’s business online. Reflecting on his decision, Rigas went as far as to say that his organisation would not have survived had he not taken that step. Today, Asprey’s digital-first customer journey allows it to connect its clientele with artisan craftspeople around the world in a personalised way that still rings true to its premium brand.”

Bold decision-making at Asprey

Thriver trait #2) An organisational culture built around trust: Never before have employees been so autonomous or empowered to shape their working environment, and that’s a good thing. As employers, it’s our responsibility to nurture this shift, entrusting teams with the flexibility and technologies they need to work productively from anywhere.

Thriver trait #3) Rapid decision-making: Among the countless lessons we’ve learned this past year, one of the biggest takeaways is that the world can change overnight, and with it, everything we know about running a business and serving customers. The key to success is to adapt quickly and make rapid decisions, fueled by a real-time approach to data and insight.

Thriver trait #4) A dedication to continuous learning and upskilling: Every piece of the brand-customer puzzle is evolving at breakneck speed, from the channels people use to make purchases to the way companies deliver their products and services. It has never been more important to evolve along with these changing expectations and, more accurately, to evolve in harmony as a business with the core aim of better meeting customers’ needs.

Take Boots, one of the UK’s oldest pharmacies. When the pandemic hit, Boots accelerated its plans to introduce a new online pharmacy and beauty service, not just to improve its digital sales but also to simplify repeat prescriptions and virtual consultations for its customers. To paraphrase Boots CIO, Rich Corbridge, the company’s mission is to deliver extraordinary experiences that enrich its customers’ lives. What’s more, the move has helped Boots to engage shoppers who had never previously used its digital channels.

Boots dispenses a new kind of experience

Facing the New Era head-on

A company’s success has always been defined by its ability to deliver exceptional customer experiences. The difference today is that these experiences have shifted to digital channels in dramatic fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t create the gaps between thrivers, survivors and hiders, but it has certainly made them more apparent for businesses and their customers alike.

There is no going back. This is unchartered territory for many companies, but it is also an opportunity for us to reset and reach customers in new, unexpected ways. That’s as true for a 170 year-old pharmacy as it is for a luxury retailer, or a telecoms brand, or a major software vendor like Adobe. The only constant today is change, and as leaders we must embrace the traits required to help our organisations thrive in this New Era in Experience.

To learn more, please download the report here.