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Navigating the Perfect Storm while Engaging with the Emerging Face of the “New Consumer”

Navigating the Perfect Storm while Engaging with the Emerging Face of the “New Consumer”

First-of-its-kind paper highlights transformation in areas such as consumer behavior, business models, leadership styles and talent implications

As India starts to unlock while it battles rapidly rising infections, natural calamities, apessimistic economic outlook and social heartburn, Russell Reynolds Associates, a leading leadership advisory and search firm took the opportunity to speak with some of the leading consumer sector CEOs in India from respected companies including Britannia, Hindustan Unilever, L’Oréal, Marico, METRO Cash & Carry India, WalmartandWhirlpoolto understand their insights on the consumer behavior transformations being witnessed.

All these conversations were distilled and compiled into a “first-of-its-kind” paper, which highlighted some significant lessons from the ongoing crisis, both from a consumer behavior and business model implications standpoint and also from a leadership style and talent implications standpoint. Key highlights include:

  • Temporary and permanent consumer behavior changes and how they will influence the way companies reach out to their customers—the visible shift toward value centricity, health, and hygiene consciousness, as well as trusted brands and the DIY culture and digital customer intimacy.
  • Evolution of business models triggered by an ecosystem in flux—multiple hybrid models of reaching out to consumers, in addition to accelerated digital transformation. Cost-consciousness mindset and product portfolio realignment are other key business model implications.
  • Rise of corporate citizenship—communities wrestling to balance the health and economic aspects and the different ways in which companies have fulfilled their social responsibilities and put their people first.
  • Consequences visible in the talent landscape—increased focus on nimbleness and adaptability. Traditional hierarchical structures have been sidelined to make way for inclusive and purpose-led leadership. Succession planning is back in the spotlight.
  • Leadership traits in demand—in addition to the premium on bravery, authenticity, empathy, entrepreneurship, ability to reinvent and optimism, there are some new offbeat traits like the ability to engage with government and the balance between offense and defense that will likely find a permanent place in leadership job descriptions going forward.

 Pankaj Arora, a senior member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Consumer sector and also a member of the firm’s CEO & Board Services Practice and co-author of the paper, shared: “This crisis has transformed the world and challenged all the rules that we have lived by until now. Now is the perfect opportunity to pause and pivot in a non-linear manner around recognizing the evolution in consumer behavior, business models and leadership behaviors and styles and to take adequate steps to do a course correction and, accordingly, realign and adapt ourselves to the current situation.” 

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In a nutshell, this has indeed been a perfect storm, one that has shaken the pattern of our lives and has impacted every aspect of it—social, economic, and health. For corporations as well, it is a perfect storm, one that is impacting every aspect of their business—consumers who are behaving very differently and have become hard to reach through traditional means; supply chains which have been disrupted due to shutdowns, labor shortages and economic strains; a workforce which is fighting its own battle for maintaining health, attending to matters at home and handling job insecurity; and business models which are being put to the test.

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