Will digital-first remain a competitive advantage in 2021?

Ali Tassavor
Dec 20, 2020 · 2 min read

Before 2020, digital transformation was still perceived as an option (and not an imperative) for companies looking to grow their business. Once Covid hit, digital as an “option” was thrown out the window. In order to stay alive, everyone had to think like a digital-first company — and without skipping a beat. Surprisingly, many businesses were able to pull off the previously unthinkable — radically changing processes and even business models overnight.

“We’ve seen an incredible shift from the traditional brick and mortar that were just using their website as a marketing tool, essentially, to having to pivot their entire business online,” says Megan Man, VP of product design at Squarespace.

Indeed, recent data show that we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks. Banks have transitioned to remote sales and service teams and launched digital outreach to customers to make flexible payment arrangements for loans and mortgages. Grocery stores have shifted to online ordering and delivery as their primary business. Schools in many locales have pivoted to 100 percent online learning and digital classrooms. Doctors have begun delivering telemedicine, aided by more flexible regulation. Manufacturers are actively developing plans for “lights out” factories and supply chains. The list goes on.

In some more traditional, non-digital first business models, we saw executive leadership having to work digitally themselves. A large portion of c-suite executives are finally understanding firsthand the special skills, structural challenges, and organizational support needed to accelerate a transformation.

Digital-first companies, on the other hand, took home some early wins given a slight change to their day-to-day functioning. However, in 2021, don’t expect this “business-as-usual mentality” to last for long. As bigger, traditional companies divest resources from in-person business arms and reinvest in digital, expect to see a more even playing field than ever before. With internal roadblocks out of their way and a renewed consumer interest, the most innovative product teams in these companies will finally be able to guide the company forward as they re-disrupt themselves — this time on a larger scale. Unlike their start-up competitors, they’ll bring out more diversified revenue streams, too, and will be able to remain resilient against impending changes.

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