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For many Canadians, 2016 was the winter of their discontent. It was characterized by stock market volatility, stagnation in the energy sector and corresponding anxiety around economic growth and job prospects.
All of that makes the change of season a welcome time to review, reassess and rethink what lies ahead.
While those who ascribe to conventional wisdom often cite the adage, the more things change, the more they remain the same, in the early 21st century we may have to concede that, at least in some areas, the more things change, the more they change.
The leaders of successful businesses understand the need for constant and vigilant reassessment of and adaptation to changing market forces, consumer tastes, and societal and economic shifts. They recognize that if they are unable to continually satisfy their clients and customers and implement new means of responding to customer needs or demands, a fickle market will move on to The Next Big Thing or to whatever comes along that strikes a chord.
A critical part of that process is a reconsideration of the tools available to deliver the products and services that meet client or customer needs. In Navigator’s business, one of those key tools is research. Both qualitative and quantitative research—in conjunction with our proprietary techniques—have, for many years, provided us with the means to discover the thinking behind attitudes and opinions, to explore strategies and to test and refine our hypotheses. In fact, our “research-guided” approach has been a fundamental underpinning of our response to crises, to the development of campaigns, and to the crafting and execution of high-stakes strategy.
But, things have changed.
More than ever before, digital services, technologies and capabilities provide a new means of understanding public thinking, motivations and behaviours. While it may be clichéd to point to the mastering or harnessing of digital technology (and its output in the form of social media) as critical to business success today, these technologies and their imaginative uses present practical applications and genuine opportunities.
At Navigator, we could not ignore the richness of digital data about everything from purchasing preferences to real-time assessments of breaking issues. In our on-going re-evaluation of our service offering, we recognized that a marriage between our rigorous research capability and the effective mining of social media in our digital practice would provide a rejuvenated and more powerful tool in understanding public opinion, consumer behaviour and stakeholder engagement. In this instance, change has wrought something entirely different.
Of course, the adage about change does hold in some circumstances: As we in Canada struggle with the repercussions of a world-wide oil glut and its sharply negative influence on our oil-producing provinces, we have to remind ourselves that we have been here before. The boom and bust cycle is not new. While each trough in the cycle stings in new ways—and its inevitable upturn offers only limited consolation to the many affected today—we should remind ourselves that prices will rise and the sector will recover.
The downturn affords an opportunity to reconsider, to determine strategies for recovery and to understand how circumstances that have brought us to today’s tough reality will be managed or addressed in the future.
Perhaps one of the most heartening and least likely affirmations of the adage about change is the recent news about the resurgence of the humble, hard-copy book. Many had accepted the demise of the printed text, displaced by the advance of technology that provided a wave of Kindles, Kobos and other e-readers as the definitive and improved alternative.
But, it appears that the ephemerality of words on a screen could not replace the satisfying crack of a spine or the tactile pleasure of paper. As hard-copy sales rise, maybe some things do remain the same, even in the digital age.
In this issue of Perspectives, we explore all of these changes and the importance of opportunities to rethink, regroup and re-examine. As we look ahead to summer, we hope this issue provides an opportunity to reflect on change in its many forms, the implications, and our ability to assess its permanence.