3 Ways to Stay Competitive in an Uncertain Climate

When the going gets tough, the tough get busy adapting.

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By Rashan Dixon

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It's been a tough year for many industries, but this has also caused companies to pivot, get smarter and allow innovative ideas to emerge. New ideas are everywhere, ranging from enterprise-level strategies to simple tweaks in the way we purchase products and services.

In any crisis, the companies that come out on top look at the new landscape, see what has changed and rethink their offerings to meet the needs of the moment. Here are three examples of how to pivot, adapt and thrive in the present uncertainty.

1. Use subscription tech to level the digital playing field

When the pandemic hit, stay-at-home orders forced everything from business meetings to elementary school classes to go online virtually overnight. This shift quickly revealed not only the color of your co-workers' couches, but also the country's pervasive digital divide.

Even in the banking industry, there are digital haves and have-nots. The big national banks can afford to invest in advanced technology, which benefits their operations and their account holders. That's not always the case for America's community banks, which provide vital services to local and small businesses, especially in rural areas. Even when community banks have the resources to build out their tech, they're unlikely to bring these solutions to market as quickly as large competitors.

Creating faster access to technology is key to making sure these banks stay competitive. In August, FIS launched ClearEdge, a pre-integrated bundle of technologies for operating a highly efficient, modern bank — all via an affordable, subscription-based model. Combining payments processing, decision intelligence and regulatory-compliance technologies in one suite allows a small team to deliver like a large one, and a subscription model puts it within reach.

Banking isn't the only industry where subscription models have helped bridge the digital divide. When Adobe transformed its Creative Suite into Creative Cloud, the more flexible pricing plans enabled the company to meet the needs of individual graphic designers, photographers and other creatives.

Consider whether there are consumers whose pain points you could solve but who can't afford your product. Providing it via subscription can both level the digital playing field and grow your customer base.

Related: Why a Subscription Revenue Model Might Be the Answer for Your Business

2. Help consumers make their home their castle with 'direct-to-castle' shipping

We're all spending a lot of time at home these days. Even as workplaces across the country begin a cautious reopen, many employees' homes continue to do double duty as living and working spaces. This has led to booming sales in home furnishings, much of it online. Business Insider reports that Target tripled its online sales over last year, with its home category experiencing a 30 percent increase.

How can you pounce on this nesting trend when consumers are still making fewer and shorter trips to stores? Stay competitive by hopping on the direct-to-consumer bandwagon.

When brick-and-mortar retail ground to a near halt this spring, it changed a lot of consumer behavior. At one point it would have felt absurd to buy a mattress online without giving it a test run first. Now direct-to-consumer mattress brands like Purple and Casper have made it commonplace.

Art is the latest sector to make the shift. Whether consumers are in need of a good Zoom background or something to hang on the bare wall they can no longer ignore, Nick Ford, founder of Big Wall Décor, has them covered. Ford recognized the needs the pandemic spawned and met them in two ways.

He prints art on fabric, which then locks into metal frames. This allows him to ship a 4x6-foot piece in a small tube direct to the consumer. He uses Instagram — not just a thumbnail — to show buyers how the art will look in their home.

This simple shift has created a whole new customer base for outsized wall art. Retooling your offering for DTC delivery could do the same for you.

Related: Launching a Direct to Consumer Brand? Here Are the 8 Success Secrets.

3. Banish consumers' boredom the way they want you to

If there's one thing we've learned about a global pandemic, it's that people want to take their minds off it. Art organizations and entertainment providers tried to oblige, streaming everything from plays at the UK's National Theater to concerts by Bruce Springsteen.

Yet not all entertainment companies saw increases in sales this year. Movie chains are facing bankruptcy, and direct-to-home film releases have been hit and miss. Streaming has done well, especially Amazon's recent viewership numbers for "Borat 2." But Quibi didn't even make it a year. Clearly, concept and execution still matter.

One consistently bright spot is video game sales, which saw a year-over-year increase of 37 percent in August. This stat is especially interesting given that new consoles (Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5) are just now coming out.

Conventional consumer forecasting would tell you that gamers would wait to purchase new titles in anticipation of next-gen consoles. So, why this seemingly odd purchasing behavior?

As Gearbox founder Randy Pitchford explained to theDallas Business Journal, the growth is due in part to mobile phone gaming, which now has three times more players than console gaming. Gaming companies have also adapted to the entertainment needs of people during a pandemic. This summer proved to be just as sales-heavy as Christmas, as consumers looked for ways to stay entertained while sticking close to home.

Related: The Future of the Entertainment Industry Beyond 2020

The lessons for entertainment entrepreneurs are clear. If you want to compete in this environment, create good content (something Quibi failed to do), make it mobile-friendly and prepare for audiences to consume it on their terms.

For every company that folded during a crisis, others (Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Airbnb, et al.) were born. If you can identify — and meet — new consumer needs now, your company could experience a competitive rebirth.

Rashan Dixon

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-founder of Techincon and Senior Business Consultant for Microsoft

Rashan Dixon is a senior business systems analyst at Microsoft, entrepreneur and a writer for various business and technology publications.

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