Business lessons

Back to the future: Four business takeaways from recent vaccine collaboration efforts

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    Meg Buchanan
  • Mar 10, 2021

Here’s how businesses can head back to the future by harnessing lessons of the past.

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It’s January 2020. You head to the grocery store and see signs saying to stay six feet apart and every stranger is wearing a mask. 

You might think it was a bad dream. And yet, a little over a year later, we can’t imagine going to a grocery store tomorrow and not having that be the case. 

It’s in our DNA to be adaptable. In the eye of the storm, we can feel the pressure, the stress, the anxiety of a new experience.

And yet over time, we normalize it. We adapt to move forward. We’ve seen this in history, both good and bad, time and time again. 

For much of the pandemic, people, businesses—our whole society— have held its collective breath, waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’.  But while we were waiting, we’ve changed. Business has changed. Looking back through the lens of what we know now, we can no longer see the world as the society we once were; we see the world through the lens of who we now are. 

We must use the lessons learned from COVID-19 to power our future, not wait with baited breath to return to our past. 

For businesses, this means stepping up in several ways to push society forward. Companies no longer have the luxury of neutrality. We’ve seen this across the pandemic timeline, from shifting production to make masks and hand sanitizer, to most recently with companies collaborating and innovating to help disseminate vaccine distribution. 

In observing companies taking a creative and more hands-on approach to vaccine distribution, here are four key trends that businesses should consider and harness as we head back to the future in 2021. 

1. Relabel the wheel

Personalization has become an increasingly important tool to engage with the everyday consumer. Doing an audit of your existing products and services to see how you can relabel or refocus their purposes for a new audience has been one such successful personalization technique in pivoting and scaling business during the pandemic.  

Salesforce’s recent rollout of their ‘Vaccine Cloud’ products is a great example of this type of pivot. The tools still have a good deal in common with the products they launched last year (a platform to support companies managing remote employee safety as well as more generalized vaccine management tools to help organizations with tasks such as mass communication, appointment scheduling, and survey feedback) but with a slightly different spin. 

The updated Vaccine Cloud focuses on specific target audiences and how this particular suite of tools can support each. For example, supporting government agencies by helping them monitor data and analytics to track vaccination progress and aiding healthcare providers with managing inventory, staff training, and internal communication. 

By considering new customer channels and how to reach those types of people, you can take existing inventory or services and repackage them to continue scaling and growing your business.

2. Embrace collaboration. 

Unique collaborations are another trend we’ve seen across the pandemic as brands band together for both financial survival as well as the greater good. 

Most recently, Fedex and Microsoft have begun a partnership to solve large-scale logistics issues around tracking and disseminating the vaccine to hospitals and clinics. The platform, FedEx Surround, uses real-time data to manage and track vaccine inventory. Similar to the rebranding concept above, the platform was originally designed for businesses and is now being used to aid in vaccine distribution.

After vaccine distribution is no longer needed, Fedex and Microsoft will have established a strong partnership that aid in other large-scale logistical issues and put them in the lead to help with similar needs, in healthcare and beyond, into the future. 

While collaboration across industries has certainly existed in the past, this type of innovative partnership isn’t product-focused for merely novelty or convenience. Collaboration to solve large-scale social problems across industries have the foresight to lead into even more opportunity for both partners long-term.

3. Purpose beyond profit. 

What do both the above trends have in common? Purpose beyond profit. Sure, the goal of any business is to make money. But a collective truth that the pandemic has taught us is just how much of a global community we really are and how providing help where you can (whether as an individual or a corporation) is vital not only for our economy, but to our very survival as a species.  

In 2021, we’re entering an age of corporate social responsibility for businesses to offer their products and services in order to help support vulnerable populations and communities as well as take a stand on social issues that matter to their customers and their employees. 

And we’ve seen a lot of this trend around vaccine distribution specifically. For example, Uber’s recent commitment to providing 10 million free and discounted rides to “ensure transportation is not a barrier to getting a vaccine.” Meanwhile, Lyft has made a similar commitment  to get 60 million low-income Americans to and from COVID-19 vaccination sites. And that’s just in transportation. There are many, many more examples of this desire to help across industries around the world. 

The takeaway here is a simple one. We, businesses included, are a part of a global community. The pandemic has shown us our weaknesses and blind spots. There’s a demand both from customers and employees within companies to change the business mentality from ‘what’s our bottom line?’ to ‘how can we help make the world better?’. And ironically, ignoring this major social shift would also be to the detriment of your own business bottom line. 

4. The age of autonomy

Gone are the days where the customer had to bend to the business. The age of the autonomous consumer has arrived. From virtual waiting rooms to help patients safely wait to get vaccinated, to self-serve tools that allow customers to find accurate vaccine information they are looking for when and where they want to, the pandemic pushed digital dynamism forward 20 years and there’s no looking back. 

It’s this trend, above all others, that businesses should pay attention to. Because now that both businesses and consumers know they can adapt and even thrive under new digital processes, there’s very little chance they’ll want to return to the past. This isn’t a temporary hiccup. This is us getting a glimpse of how the future will look.

To survive the pandemic and move beyond it, businesses will have to evaluate how they interact with their customers and where they do so. They’ll have to be comfortable permanently handing their customers the reigns. They’ll need to embrace the pivots that they once thought temporary, and prepare to scale those changes long term. 

As we head back to the future, we’ll need to continue to harness the powerful lessons of the past. 

Vaccine distribution

Read more vaccine distribution-related content on The Current.

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Meg Buchanan

Meg Buchanan is a Colorado native, a Kansas Jayhawk, and a proud multi-tasking millennial. As Twilio's Content Marketing Manager, she has more than seven years of experience writing for both agencies and in-house brands on topics from healthcare to hospitality.