This is an abridged version of the keynote I gave at LEAP 2022 in Riyadh.
Organisations find themselves in a rapidly evolving environment. Geopolitical disruption notwithstanding, in a market like Saudi Arabia a combination of rapid economic liberalisation, ambitious government megaprojects, and long-awaited sociocultural changes is reshaping the enterprise landscape. Compounding this are new consumer habits and attitudes mediated by technology, as demonstrated in the chart below.
While one might expect organisations to embrace these ecommerce opportunities with an open mind, we often see the opposite. Market pressures conspire to limit executives' sense of perspective, leading to organisational tunnel vision. In their desire to fuel continuous growth, customer empathy goes out the window. After all, it is far easier to focus on how you scale your business than consider what a holistic commercial evolution would entail.
The mistake that these organisations make is that the nature of the challenges they are looking to solve require a fundamentally different approach.After all, you do not win a marathon by simply sprinting for longer – it requires different technique then when running a 100m. With that in mind, how can a business succeed in the long run given the changing environment? This is particularly pertinent for retailers with a large store footprint.
Look Differently: Organisations' day-to-day situational awareness is no longer enough. Being able to clearly assess how the landscape is changing – looking beyond the now – is essential. For example, instead of polling your customers, analyse the population pyramids for those markets, and deep dive into what new habits, behaviours, and expectations are heading your way. Do not rely of the your existing filters and segments as this can cloud your vision.
Listen Differently: How are we doing? Like a person standing in the middle of a party, trying to pick out their friends' voices, retailers are constantly trying to find feedback signals. Customer surveys are one of their primary tools. However, these limited data sets often give a skewed picture. In particular, aggregate feedback is often devoid of situational or cultural context. Enriching such data is critical if you wish to make sound decisions.
Think Differently: Maltese psychologist Edward de Bono spoke of how people get stuck in their rivers of thinking. Similarly, organisations can become so attached to products, campaigns, and physical stores, that pivoting to keep up with the customer becomes very difficult. Breaking out and embracing customer lifetime value in all of its forms across all channels is important if you care about the long-terms success of your business.
Speak Differently: Particularly in a region such as the Middle East and a complex market such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it is not enough to translate your website copy and expect success. Partnering with local talents and creating content that is truly relevant to your audience is crucial. Like in any relationship, it is difficult to establish trust and community if you do not take the time to truly understand and authentically relate to the market.
Act Differently: Few reports get as much airtime in leadership meetings as those relating to the latest trends. Yet anyone doing retrospective analysis finds that many supposed trends peter out and do not make a meaningful difference over time. Therefore instead of a myriad of projects jumping on the newest bandwagon, it is prudent to focus efforts on building capabilities that will help you address true customer needs, such as improving the last mile.
As in any race, there are those who would seek shortcuts to success. However, failing to put in the hours to find the right talent and build the right culture guarantees failure. Similarly, it is important not to fall into the surrogation trap, believing that growth is good simply because it is growth. It is not enough for a business to make money – it needs to be sustainable. At the end of the day, you should run your own race, and not someone else's.
Markets across the GCC are rapidly changing both economically and socioculturally. This is putting pressure on organisations used to following a familiar retail playbook for decades. Yet by using data to look and listen differently, by updating their decision-making frameworks, and by creating sustainable value in an authentic manner, organisations can build successful ecommerce businesses and win in the long run.
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