Marketers around the world have spent the past few years negotiating ‘the new normal’, adapting their strategies and services to meet periods of global conflict and uncertainty.
For Peter Hinssen — Belgian serial entrepreneur, founder of Nexxworks, and acclaimed author — this period isn’t going anywhere. Instead, it’s time to accept, apply, and prosper in what he calls the ‘the never normal’, an era of accelerating tech developments, digital disruption, and bold innovation.
Andy Serdons, country marketing manager for Google Belgium, sat down with Peter Hinssen to discuss how embracing change, utilising data and AI, and focusing on long-term growth and disruptive innovations can help you navigate this never normal.
Andy Serdons (AS): In your book, “The Phoenix and The Unicorn”, you highlight the never normal and how companies have to be designed for change. Can you elaborate on this?
Peter Hinssen (PH): We live in a world of constant technological, ecological, biological, societal, and geopolitical change. Covid-19 brought us the ‘new normal’ but many people expected that, post-pandemic, we would return to peace and quiet. There’s more chaos and volatility than ever before, but the trick is to turn these into opportunities.
Start thinking about what’s next the moment you still have the means, the capacity, the budget, the people, and the assets to make it happen
We have to see the upside of the never normal and that means being agile and open-minded, turning these challenges into business outcomes.
In my book, I discuss ‘phoenix’ companies. These are long-running brands that follow the rules of a unicorn company - a startup that has reached the valuation of $1 billion - and keep transforming themselves to become stronger. This is essential in the never normal.
We used to build organisations that would only start thinking about what’s next when they plateau. However, the never normal moves so quickly that the moment you are plateauing, it’s too late.
You have to start thinking about what’s next – and utilise disruptive innovation – the moment you still have the means, the capacity, the budget, the people, and the assets to make it happen.
AS: Do you have any examples of brands that businesses should be looking at for inspiration in the never normal?
PH: For me, American retailer Walmart is the embodiment of the phoenix as they incorporate three essentials:
- They play the long game. Many companies don’t, which is a crucial mistake. They are so focused on tomorrow, the next quarter, and the next fiscal year that they cannot carve out opportunities to reinvent themselves to achieve long-term relevance.
- The right leadership. Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, saw first-hand through his experience of running Walmart International how the world of retail was transforming and embraced change proactively.
- Innovation is a core activity. While Walmart made initial mistakes, they realised that it’s not about buying your way into innovation and having people on the edge doing smart things, you have to make huge, fundamental changes. Disruptive innovation has come in the form of Walmart Health centres, where they deliver affordable primary and urgent care. Another example is global coffee chain Starbucks, who are redefining their future with a mission to become the number one location to charge electric vehicles.
AS: How do you think AI will change marketing in the never normal and what can marketers do to fully prepare for it?
PH: AI has enormous potential to focus on things that are business relevant and transform our productivity with data. AI-powered Performance Max is a great example. Being able to help companies understand how to pivot from a revenue to a profit focus is something that can be done with these tools.
It's not about losing control, but about adapting and embracing change.
Putting AI in the driving seat to focus on connecting the dots and converting them into tangible business results is something we haven’t seen before. I think we’re going to see an enormous opportunity in the C-suite to say that AI is something we can transform into reality today.
It's not about losing control, but about adapting and embracing change. Marketers need to become the architects of business outcomes, rather than the facilitators of transactional systems, and will require the skills to work with AI at their fingertips.
AS: Finally, what advice would you give to marketers to help them prepare for the future when there is no new normal to look towards?
PH: You need a blend of boldness and flexibility. Are you being bold enough to think about the future and, when it comes to the execution, are you flexible enough in your plans?
I’m part of a tech and innovation committee at a bank, and we look at non-financial risk and opportunities. We ask ourselves, ‘if we do not innovate, what will be the side effects?’ Having the mechanisms inside organisations to observe the future, embrace change, and translate it all into opportunities quickly is a necessity to thrive in the never normal.
Peter Hinssen was one of the keynote speakers at our recent in-person Uncover event, which featured sessions with leading experts on ways to drive profitable growth in terms of uncertainty.
Our virtual series is now available to watch on demand. Register below to hear from global marketing executive Bozoma Saint John, Danish jewellery brand Pandora, and many Google experts to start unlocking your own profitable growth today.