It is common knowledge that 2020 was a year of adversity for a majority of businesses around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about an unprecedented level of disruption in businesses across most industries.

Due to lockdowns imposed in many countries, a lot of businesses were forced to shut down for months. When they reopened, they were faced with a host of challenges. Some of them included:

  1. A struggle to fill in-person positions
  2. Managing the workforce remotely
  3. Remotely maintaining company culture
  4. Supply and demand fluctuations
  5. Inconsistent regulatory policies

Unfortunately, this forced a lot of businesses to permanently shut down in 2020. A recent Economic Impact Report by Yelp revealed that 60% of temporary business closures in 2020 due to the pandemic, are now permanent.

However, as with all things, those that did survive were made stronger than ever. The surviving organizations evolved by coming up with innovative solutions, streamlining their processes and swiftly adapting to the changing environment.

Below, we have highlighted 4 tips for how to thrive through adversity based on real life examples from companies who overcame the notorious 2020.

1. Embrace Digital Transformation

While some businesses viewed the overnight forced digitization as a hindrance, others saw it as an opportunity to adopt new technology and processes that would usually take a lot longer to implement. The pandemic has forced businesses to rethink how they do business and how they use technology. It is the responsibility of business leaders to embrace this change and act more timely with their decision making than is traditionally common.

Let’s take the example of Levi Strauss. The company had to shut down all its stores due to the lockdown. Naturally, this meant that their sales figures plunged to record lows.

To counter the problem, the company started leveraging their store locations as fulfillment centers for online orders and supported curbside pickup as well.

Additionally, Levi’s started investing in AI and data to get useful insights on when and how to run promotional campaigns. One of these such campaigns ran in May across Europe and was launched using information generated by an AI model that resulted in sales performance that was five times higher than in 2019. The rapid implementation of new processes and technology led Levi to thrive amidst a period of crisis despite the obstacles they faced.

2. Adapt or Die

One of the single most important skills to have as a business in order to survive long term is the willingness and ability to adapt and pivot. Did you know that when YouTube was first released it was designed to be a video-based dating service??

Their slogan was literally: “Tune in, hook up.”

This business model was proving to be unsuccessful, so when the founders saw the greater potential for streaming videos of all kinds, they pivoted the company into what it is today, the 2nd largest search engine in the world behind Google (who acquired the company for $65 billion).

Let’s look closer at another example, LUG, a Poland-based company that has over 30 years of experience in the lighting industry and technical facilities. COVID-19 created a major shift in demand for the lighting industry, which motivated the company to pivot to a completely new product. LUG shifted their focus to developing and manufacturing a new type of luminaire, called PurelightLUG, that uses UV-C technology to combat harmful microorganisms. Leveraging their existing knowledge and skills in the industry, the company quickly pivoted to start manufacturing the product that provided a much-needed solution to hospitals, clinics, stores, and many other public establishments.

The innovation helped the company thrive when it otherwise would have struggled. Throughout history there are countless examples of companies rising and falling based on their ability to adapt to their changing environment. We all have the ability to operate this way, but to do so we must be willing to change our company’s identity. Oftentimes this is difficult for leaders to accept, but no less true because of it.

3. Agility Action Over Analysis Paralysis

Similar to the need to adapt is the need to be agile in responding to environmental changes. The business boneyard is littered with companies who got stuck in the analysis paralysis phase and missed their window.

Maybe the most notorious example of this is back in 2000, when Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix approached the then CEO of Blockbuster, John Antioco about selling his company. Hastings offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster for only $50 million!

As we know from the lack of Blockbuster stores these days… Antioco passed on the offer which resulted in all but one of their stores closing for good while Netflix as of March, 2021, has a market cap of $230 Billion.

Now that we have established the importance of being agile with decision making, let’s look at an example of a company that recently experienced great success from making a quick call.

Boohoo, a UK-based fashion brand with a massive online presence, was quick to adapt to changes in consumer needs due to the pandemic. A Boohoo spokesperson said, “People aren’t really buying going-out items, but they are buying homewear - hoodies, joggers, tracksuit bottoms."

The brand was quick to react by focusing on designing and selling the products that they believed would have the greatest demand, including professional-looking tops, which a spokesperson said have become particularly popular for those wanting to look presentable on Zoom calls.

4. Get Creative

While some see adversity as a growth deterrent, others see it as an opportunity and as a result, thrive.

This is exactly what happened for Terraboost Media, a Chicago-based Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising agency. Soon after COVID-19 began taking over the world, the agency installed a network of over 90,000 hand-sanitizing billboards that dispense wipes and hand sanitizer along its advertisers’ messages for patrons entering malls, grocery stores, pharmacies and other public places.

As a result, the agency has had to ramp up its production to keep up with the surging demand for hand-sanitizing solutions. Terraboost Media estimates that 126 million people engage with their hand-sanitizing billboards per day, resulting in 3.7 billion monthly impressions.

This is an incredibly innovative idea for getting their client’s ads in front of consumers. Moreover, it creates a positive opinion of the companies sponsoring the kiosk billboards.