At Signal360 we pay attention when a new catchphrase gains traction in the world of innovation, and doubly so when that phrase can trace its heritage through our very own stage. Such is the case with the seemingly contradictory term, “constructive disruption,” which we first heard uttered at Signal 2019 by P&G’s own Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard. Turns out, P&G was using the term for a year prior to that event, including at the company’s investor day in 2018. And the phrase now has a star turn in Pritchard’s 2020 keynote at CES this week.

All of which raises the question: What exactly is constructive disruption?

We’ve all heard — perhaps a bit too much — about the disruption driven by the technology industry. But the externalities of disruption for disruption’s sake have come home to roost for that once high-flying sector. Not all disruption, it turns out, is positive.

As Pritchard points out in his speech, the key to constructive disruption is to rethink every aspect of the value chain, so as to achieve product superiority that drives overall market growth. “Constructive is a carefully chosen word,” Pritchard says. “It’s one thing to disrupt and destroy value…and the last decade is littered with value-destructive disruptions. But the harder task, and our job as market leaders, is to disrupt in a way that drives growth and creates value for the consumers we serve and in the markets in which we compete.”

Stealing market share for market share’s sake is a zero sum game or worse, Pritchard advises. Too many companies have competed on price so as to extract value from current marketplaces. Instead, he says, a business leader’s job is to see around corners and imagine new models that will make the market more valuable. Even if your business has a smaller percentage of that larger market, your business — and the category — will have room to grow.

This isn’t a new concept – P&G has been doing it for decades. Pritchard points out that P&G has consistently and constructively disrupted the laundry market, for example, driving up the overall size of the market five fold, while only gaining five points of share. “If we are constantly innovating, improving our consumer’s life,” he says, “Your brand grows, we grow, and the market grows — which is good for business and for society.”

That’s been the driver of P&G’s success over nearly two centuries: superior products that grow the category overall. And it’s a key reason P&G has such a large presence at CES — which Pritchard has rebranded the Consumer Experience Show. “We are looking,” Pritchard says, “for new ideas, technologies, and partners to help us get and stay in the lead by reinventing innovation and brand building to reinvent the consumer experience.”

As we kick off the ninth edition of P&G’s annual Signal event, it would be nice to report that, as event producers, we have an established playbook for how to organize a Signal event. And we do, mostly. But as with businesses everywhere, the usual playbook got thrown out the window in March this year. As the COVID pandemic hit, we had to hit the pause button, even going so far as to ask ourselves whether there even could be a Signal 2020 event – would 2020 become an asterisk in the conference’s storied history?

Since 2012, we have been bringing the best of a digital industry conference inside P&G, to both inspire and accelerate our own transition. Our model was the industry-leading Web 2.0 and Signal conferences produced by Signal host John Battelle. In six short weeks, Signal 2012 came together, with leading speakers such as Dick Costolo (then-CEO of Twitter). To our surprise and delight, the auditorium at P&G’s Cincinnati offices sold out, and Signal has grown every year since. Over the years we’ve featured a range of impressive speakers from industries and countries across the globe.

We’re often asked how we do it. Over the years, we have honed a process for producing a powerful and meaningful event for P&G attendees. Planning starts in late fall, when we gather ideas and sketch out a theme and narrative. This becomes our inspiration and organizing principle as we look far and wide for the right speakers. We explore the theme through conversations and research, and bring it to life by identifying speakers who best fit with the Signal experience and audience.

In early January, we begin to send out formal invitations to speakers, and develop the branding for the year. Then we set a plan for communication, logistics, and AV production. By May, we shift from planning into execution, when we send out the official “Save the Date” announcement. Interest to participate has increased so much over the years that for Signal 2019, we sold out within one hour after registration opened. While we like having a full house, selling out comes with its own complications.

This year, when February arrived, we had some early indications that there may be some challenges with running our normal Signal playbook. The coronavirus was no longer isolated to China, and was spreading across the globe, with some alarming reports coming out of Italy and Spain. Washington state was confronting COVID cases in some of its communities. We paused. With travel looking risky, it was not a time to ask speakers to travel to Cincinnati. What’s more, the original theme (“Leading Consumer Experience”) seemed to grow less and less relevant to today’s context. Yet people kept asking us what our plans were for Signal 2020.

By mid-April, we saw a new opportunity to re-invent Signal 2020 as a virtual event. Inspired by many stories of how others were dealing with the crisis, we wanted to create a Signal event that would show people a path forward, providing a positive catalyst to focus on what’s next. We also embraced the opportunities that a virtual event would allow us, newly untethered by place, and somewhat by time. We would not be bound to limited capacity in the auditorium. It would be easier for speakers to find time to join Signal. And we would make it a truly global event.

Our ambition is to make Signal 2020 our best one yet. A week away from the event, we are excited about the theme, the more than 35 speakers, and especially the many people (over 5,000!) who will join us live from all over the world. While the work to organize this year’s event far exceeds what we had anticipated (virtual does not mean less work, especially on a vastly abbreviated timeline!) we believe it will be a remarkable source of inspiration for all of us. No one knows what the future will hold. But we can learn how to best prepare for the challenges and possibilities ahead, Stepping Forward into them with confidence.

Stan Joosten & John Battelle,

Editors-In-Chief, Signal360 / Co-founders, Signal P&G

PS. For all Signal 360 readers who have not yet registered for you are still welcome to join us for Signal 2020 on July 15-16. You can register here.

This year has brought new challenges and new examinations of what it means to serve customers and communicate brand ideals into the world. At P&G, managers and executives across the globe have taken this to heart, bringing new ways to make business a force for good. This month at Signal 2020, you’ll hear about these inspiring, innovative approaches. Get a sneak-peek below:

Tide Dry Cleaners (US)
Tide Cleaners started bringing a mobile laundromat to communities in need during Hurricane Katrina. In the pandemic, frontline workers became a new focus of Loads of Hope. But sending trucks into communities created risk of exposure to the virus, so the team used the Tide Dry Cleaners stores to allow frontline workers to drop off their laundry in lockers and receive a free service. More than 100,000 workers have had their clothes cleaned through Tide Dry Cleaners in the last three months.

#OraRipartiDaTe (Italy)
Overnight, consumer purchase behavior changed, its impact rolling across all ranges of businesses. P&G’s consumer products team in Italy depended on coupons to get consumers in stores where they would see P&G products. With lockdowns, the team needed to cook up a new approach. In record time — less than a month, using agile development — they rolled out a cash-back program to encourage sales. Consumers could still shop, while saving 50% on P&G products.

Project Diesel (India)
In India, P&G team Project Diesel has long worked around taboos to bring menstrual products to women by literally going door to door to educate women, one at a time. With lockdowns, the Project Diesel had to find other ways to conduct education, so it accelerated a plan to take this education online and reach teenage girls with essential information, through the Internet.

Spinning Up Mask Manufacturing (China)
As a demand for masks grew across the world, a P&G division in China quickly spun up new factories to get these pandemic essentials into production. First step: Start production. Second step: Figure out standard operating procedures. The factory quickly churned out two million masks.

Production Without Disruption (Brazil)
At a P&G plant located in Manaus, a COVID hotspot, the plant’s HR leader, Beatriz Boscan, found a way to keep operations on track without disruption.

Keeping Toilet Paper on a Roll (US)
As consumers rushed to stock up on essentials, a P&G plant in Green Bay found ways to keep store shelves stocked with toilet paper while keeping its workers safe, increasing its production time to 24/7.

There have been a lot of Big Statements made about climate change initiatives over the past year. Some have said they will ban single-use plastic and focus on recyclables and compostables, while others pledged to donate to conservation organizations. Others are stepping up with promises to move to renewable energy within a few years. Corporations have been accused of making these pledges without putting action behind it, or not enough of it. Some observers say it’s more talk than action.

Such “greenwashing” doesn’t deter Clover Hogan, the 20-year-old climate change activist. “I’m stubbornly optimistic,” she says. “Businesses can move beyond greenwashing. The thing that gives me hope is that for all the ways we’ve messed up, there are so many ways to fix it.”

Hogan, who speaks about agency, mainly for young people, says change comes from leadership and storytelling. “You have to do the right thing for your bottom line but accept that you take short-term losses,” she says. “Leadership is about that long-term gain, finding what gives you hope.”

And there isn’t one-fix-fits-all. Companies are demonstrating a range of ways to address their climate impacts, from more sustainable food production to wastewater reduction by apparel companies. Hogan has worked closely with Impossible Foods, which regularly reports dramatic dips in its use of land, water and greenhouse emissions.

Hear more from Clover Hogan at Signal 2020. Register here to keep up to date on speaker and session developments!

Few pockets of the economy have gone more topsy-turvy in the pandemic than entertainment. While movie theaters have shuttered then sputtered, small screens have hit boom times. What does all this mean for the entertainment industry?

No one knows this business better than Ron Howard, who has been telling stories on both sides of the camera since he played Opie in “The Andy Griffiths Show” in the 1960s. He’s the director of “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind” and so many more, and lately he’s been setting his sights on new forms of bringing stories into the world. He’s behind the upcoming “Hillbilly Elegy” for Netflix and a pair of documentaries: “Rebuilding Paradise,” about the California wildfires, and a joint National Geographic project announced in April that will focus on humanitarian José Andrés and his food relief organization, World Central Kitchen.

Howard will kick off Signal 2020 on July 15th in a conversation about Hollywood’s response to the social turbulence of the pandemic and shifting consumer behaviors that have evolved because of technology and new distribution platforms. Register here to keep up to date on speaker and session developments!

We live in an age of data. Companies make decisions and valuations fluctuate depending on what the numbers say. It’s a hot commodity in today’s data-obsessed business culture, and technology drives it all.

But the best companies balance that obsession, says media and marketing guru Rishad Tobaccowala, who is the author of “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data.” The most successful companies balance their “company spreadsheet” with humanity.

“Being data-fixated is wrong,” says Tobaccowala. “Smart companies obviously pay attention to data, but the only way they become successful is to actually focus on how are the people doing, what’s the culture of the company?”

What does that mean? In this time of pandemic, his message of a “darker side of bright screens” resonates: Too much screen time is as bad for office workers as it is for kids. “It’s very hard to focus, it’s really hard to build relationships [over screens] and it’s hard to learn,” he says.

Just as work is changing in these times, so is consumer behavior, and Tobaccowala sees opportunity for businesses that embrace new trends. He points to unexpected partnerships between Lysol and Hilton or between Clorox and United Airlines focused on finding ways to protect hotel guests and airline passengers from COVID. “Think about this as though an asteroid has hit the company and there are new fault lines. What have been the fault lines in your business model or your thinking that have been shown over the last 90 days?” Tobaccowala bets it doesn’t just come down to the data.

Watch the interview below with John Battelle and mark your calendar for Signal 2020 on July 15-16. Register here to keep up to date on speaker and session developments!

What comes next when the present is unprecedented? This year has brought an unimaginable amount of change in a short amount of time. Consumer habits changed overnight, long-term technological trends accelerated in mere weeks, and the home became the workplace.

Even bigger societal change is afoot, with a sharp focus on racial equality in the workplace and the public square. How do leaders  adapt to this new normal? This moment calls for a commitment to corporate citizenship, a consumer-centric approach, and deeply considered communication strategies. At next week’s Signal 2020, leaders from from across industries and geographies will share their insights on these topics and more, as we all prepare to step forward into an uncertain future. Here’s a guide to what to expect:

Being a good corporate citizen means doing more, not just saying more. Singer and actress Queen Latifah will bring her perspective from Queen Collective, a joint project with P&G and Tribeca Films focused on creating more gender and racial diversity in the film industry. Youth activist Clover Hogan will bring a next-generation view on climate change, and BlackRock CMO Frank Cooper will join P&G CEO David Taylor to discuss how corporations can step up to the climate challenge.

Social platforms have played a big role in the way society connects and understands itself.  Today they find themselves in the cross-hairs of politicians, brands and consumers, all of whom are demanding the social platforms actively address brand safety, hate, and misinformation. Four leaders from this sector will talk about these issues: Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter and Square; Evan Spiegel, co-founder and CEO of SnapEmmett Shear, founder and CEO of Twitch; and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.

Leveraging media to maintain a strong brand connection with customers will be central to successfully navigating these times. Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal will address these strategies, and we’ll get the lay of the land from noted analyst Rich Greenfield of LightShed Partners.

Predicting the future is predictably difficult in these times, but futurist and Salesforce’s senior vice president of strategic planning Peter Schwartz will lay out strategies that help leaders do just that. And AI analyst and exponential technology expert Azeem Azhar will deliver insights on the impact of the most important technologies shaping that future.

The conference will open with a conversation with the director Ron Howard on the role that storytelling plays in shaping our world. Additional speakers include Ohio governor Mike DeWine and Amy Chang, EVP at Cisco (and P&G board member). The event will conclude with Jack Dorsey of Twitter.

This year also marks the first Asia Edition of Signal, with a special block of programming specially designed (and timed!) for our Asian partners and teams. Speakers include Watsons China CEO Kulvinder Biring, Kazumasa Kawabata from DNP, Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of ByteDance and others.

While Signal 2020: Stepping Forward is a virtual event this year, this new challenge also brings opportunity. More than 4,000 of you have already registered, and we expect a “full house” for more than eight hours of extraordinary presentations, interviews, and dialogue. Learn more and reserve your spot here.

For this issue of Signal360 we decided to focus on the role of technology in our current environment. Technology has always powered human resolve and ingenuity. This is no different today. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, it seems logical to find a way to automate contact tracing for public health. But as our story explains, these specific approaches are highly dependent on the culture and acceptance of the technology involved. It is a fine line between protecting citizens and the risk of surveillance.

The large tech companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have learned the hard way that tech is not always regarded as a force for good. In fact, before the COVID-19 crisis, “Big Tech” found itself at the center of a “techlash,” with escalating calls to regulate the industry, driven by privacy concerns and its increasing impact and influence on our society. The last few months have highlighted the positive impact of technology, potentially changing public opinion and discussions about regulatory actions. This has not gone unnoticed by the stock market, with tech stocks near or at all-time high levels. Check out our story, “COVID May Have Stopped The Techlash – But Contact Tracing Could Bring It Back.”

Some tech in our lives will change permanently. The continuing pandemic has accelerated several emerging technologies and technology-driven business models. The rapid growth of last-mile delivery services is a clear example. In several other areas, the impact of emerging technologies will create significant changes, too: Education, health care, retail, as well as manufacturing, are showing early signs of significant disruptions ahead. These trends have been a boon for some investors, such as Union Square Ventures, which was an early investor in several digital education businesses. Watch our interview with USV partner Rebecca Kaden here.

While technology has the power to change the world, it is still up to humans to imagine what that will look like. This was brought to life in one of the Signal 2018 highlight presentations by Emily Chang, then CMO of Starbucks China, who provided inspiring examples of how to design technology that enables human experiences.

Empathy is an essential ingredient of human experience. June is Pride month, a moment to recognize our LGBTQ friends, colleagues, and community. Just last week, P&G launched “They Will See You”, a powerful short movie that shows the importance of LGBTQ visibility in media and advertising as role models. As a complement to two previous movies, it demonstrates P&G’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The ultimate impact of how technology shapes our world depends on us, humans. As Steve Jobs said, what’s important is not a faith in technology, it is a faith in people. Enjoy our Signal360 June issue.

Stan Joosten & John Battelle

Editors-In-Chief, Signal360 / Co-founders, Signal P&G

In China’s Hubei province, where COVID hit first and hard, residents carry around QR codes that are scanned each time they attempt to enter a store, their office or take public transportation. When the scan causes their phone to flash the color green, they are permitted entry; red or yellow means they must return home and isolate for up to 14 days.

The codes contain information about a person’s health, namely, whether they are carriers of or have likely been exposed to the virus. When new information is added to the code — such as a temperature reading that is too high, or new exposure to the virus — that information is conveyed to the phones of every person who has crossed their paths and an algorithm that determines their risk turns those screens red or yellow, too, requiring them to return to isolate as well. Authorities are notified if phones move out of quarantined residents’ homes.

Welcome to contact tracing, Wuhan-style. While such surveillance may be perceived as invasive and even impossible in countries without authoritarian regimes (Russia has also released a QR code program), it is given a lot of credit for curbing the transmission of the coronavirus in Wuhan.

Many other countries around the world are now working on versions of contact tracing tuned to work for their populations, with a goal of controlling the spread of COVID. They’re considering a range of methods, from passive, contactless surveillance-state methods like those in Wuhan, to voluntary technologies and even old-fashioned phone-calling, which has been the most common and effective contact-tracing tactic over the past century. None of the strategies are new; change the words “contact tracing” to “location marketing” and even the most seemingly invasive technologies become almost commonplace. The difference is a matter of perception: consumers don’t mind their data used for a targeted ad; but many get nervous when government authority is brought to bear. At the heart of the debate are tradeoffs between privacy, data, and control that have been raging well before the pandemic (read more about COVID’s impact on the “techlash” here).

Contactless surveillance through phones and transactions 

Across Asia, contactless, tech-based forms of contact tracing are a big part of containment. In Hong Kong, residents are required to wear wristbands that ping the government when quarantined individuals leave their home, and trace others who may have been exposed to the virus. Singapore uses a bluetooth-enabled app called TraceTogether that is not mandatory, but is the only such app in the country, and the government has campaigned heavily for widespread adoption. In China, there is also no mandated app installation, but WeChat and AliPay, two of the most widely used apps in that country, have put the QR codes into their software, ensuring widespread reach.

All phones come equipped with tracking technology, and for years, people have been allowing their phones to do just that: In Foursquare’s early days, for example, users were happily allowing the company to automatically broadcast their locations to anyone else who used the app, even if they weren’t in their contacts list. And any iPhone owner is well aware that most apps are tracking their whereabouts unless the location tracking setting is turned off.

There are still other ways of using data to trace individuals without their explicit permission for COVID tracking. In South Korea, the government tracks individuals’ movements through phone networks, credit card transactions and cameras in stores and other public places, then informs the population about confirmed cases.

It may all sound ominous, but both marketers and the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement alike regularly buy location data for a variety of purposes, without violating any privacy laws. In Israel, cell phone location data is regularly used in counterterrorism; now, it’s also being used to track cases of coronavirus.

Opt-in, tech-based contact tracing

Aware of privacy concerns, many companies involved in developing contact tracing tools have looked for ways to give users control over their data and its usage. Apple and Google, for instance, have developed software focused on anonymized “exposure notification.” The technology is built to be integrated into existing mobile phone apps—one app per country—and it relies on bluetooth and “handshakes” between phones that have the software installed, sending an “exposure notification” generated when a phone comes within range of a confirmed case of COVID or has come within range of them in the past. Users opt in to share their symptoms and diagnosis, their location is never tracked and all data is anonymized. Critics say the technology will fail unless enough people opt in, and even then only if people take action when notified, such as getting tested or isolating. Last month, SwissCovid, in Switzerland, became the first app to use this technology.

Lower-tech text-messaging services have also sprouted up, such as CovidIQ, which uncovered 100,000 cases of COVID in Jacksonville, Florida, in March, as well as identifying the demographics most at risk. CovidIQ works via text messaging opt-in, sending weekly messages that ask recipients if they will answer a series of questions about how they are feeling. After responses are received, the services then sends the individual local statistics as well as information about whether they should seek testing or medical help.

Interview-based contact tracing

Since World War II, contact tracing by phone has been the most effective form of containing the spread of diseases, from syphilis to SARS and Ebola. Trained public health workers interview people, inform them of their potential risk, ask about their symptoms and make recommendations for testing, isolation or other needs they may have in quarantine. They call businesses and people who have interacted with confirmed cases, to inform and search for further people who have been exposed and infected. In this pandemic, an estimated 180,000 jobs are expected to be created by states and cities to handle this type of work.

Despite its historical successes, there are issues with this approach, too. Training and tactics around COVID have varied from state to state, even as outreach crosses state lines. Identifying the right individuals for the job is tricky, too, as the job requires a mix of empathy, persistence, and a certain amount of knowledge about everything from getting tested to the details of surviving the isolation of quarantine. Although this method of contact tracing is seen as the most effective, it doesn’t eliminate issues of privacy and data collection. What’s more, in this day of caller ID and an easy “ignore” button, people are only likely to pick up an unknown caller 6% of the time, according to Pew Research. Could that be an issue? It’s too soon to tell.

Whichever the path for contact tracing (and “exposure notification”), the virus has hit at a moment of greater public awareness of privacy and data risks. Countries with authoritarian regimes will have less of a need to take these concerns into account, but even in democracies, residents in areas harder hit by the virus may be more open to contactless tracing. Marketers who use location technologies should take note.

Remember February, 2020? Before the novel coronavirus upended our economy and our society, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple were under attack. All four companies boasted trillion-dollar market capitalizations, but public attitudes toward large technology companies were rapidly declining. A 2020 Knight Foundation study found that 77% of Americans believed major internet and technology companies had too much power. A stunning 84% did not trust social media companies to “make the right decisions” about content on their services. A majority felt it was time for politicians to regulate the tech industry, and policy makers had begun to respond with widespread antitrust investigations. This was peak “techlash” — global calls for regulation and a feisty business press endlessly out for blood.

What a difference a pandemic makes. All four are even stronger today than before the pandemic smacked global equity markets into bear territory. While stock indices have rebounded significantly, the four leading US tech leaders have outperformed broader markets handily. Is the techlash over?

Certainly, their recent performance can be traced to new consumer behaviors — as we’ve all been forced inside, we’ve turned to technology more than ever to support our work, entertainment, and communication needs in ways that many see as permanent, or semi-permanent. That translates into expected future profits — and Wall Street always rewards profit. But there’s another, more psychological driver of those up-and-to-the-right stock market charts: A shift in public sentiment. In short, Americans are starting to love their tech again. Unburdened by the threat of regulation, America’s tech companies could become even more powerful. Wall Street is recognizing that possibility.

Months of working from home has shifted public sentiment towards technology companies, as a rash of recent coverage has shown. “The tech companies have turned a corner in public opinion,” wrote leading tech columnist Casey Newton in late March. “Since late 2016 we have been focused on the problems that emerge from the size of giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon; in the past several weeks the benefits that come from that size have become more apparent.”

The leaders of tech companies know an opportunity when one presents itself. Over the past few months, the industry has set up a new pro-tech lobbying arm in Washington, and leaned into countless high-profile acts of corporate kindness related to COVID. Apple and Google, who compete ruthlessly in the mobile phone market, set down their weapons and partnered to deliver contact-tracing technology which promises to contain and possibly even quash the fearsome virus. Apple and Google’s version of contact tracing uses cell phone technology to cross-match, identify and track COVID exposure. Similar efforts have proven essential to the re-opening strategies of successful countries like Singapore, South Korea, and China.

But while most experts agree that contact tracing is an essential public health measure, tech companies must tread carefully, lest they reawaken the techlash. Contact tracing raises deeply held concerns around surveillance and data privacy, then mixes them with the American public’s long-standing ambivalence about government power. Regardless of its proven efficacy, 60% of Americans don’t believe that contact tracing works, and they’re divided on whether they’d support its widespread use. One misstep here, and tech companies could find themselves back in the penalty box, their trillion-dollar market caps a distant and wistful memory. Given this scenario, don’t be surprised if the months ahead bring plenty of news about how tech companies are funding new vaccines or helping small businesses rebuild, but precious little talk of their role in contact tracing going forward. Sometimes the future of tech can be seen in one simple metric: A company’s stock price.

For a decade, the Signal conferences have helped P&G innovate. You’ve depended on the yearly events to help you think about new opportunities, to see the world in new ways, and to hear from uniquely accomplished people. These days, we all need help thinking about what comes next. With head-spinning speed, assumptions about business models, consumer behavior, supply chains, and forecasting have been upended. When the only constant is change, speed and responsiveness become crucial winning strategies.

But with all the present uncertainties, travel is not a reasonable option. So Signal 2020 — with a theme of Stepping Forward — will be an online event this year. Mark your calendar for Wednesday, July 15 from 9.30am to 1pm ET, 9-11pm ET, and Thursday, July 16 from 9.30am-1pm ET. Register here to keep up with all the updates.

COVID-19 has marched across our work styles, home lives, education, business processes and of course our health practices. The world emerging from COVID’s upheaval will play by new rules, and demand new technologies. Below is a sampling of the tech that will be accelerated by changes related to the pandemic, as well as existing tools and services that will help to enable this new world.

Stores and shopping

Retail had begun a digital transformation well before COVID, that trend will accelerate as stores are forced to accommodate fewer customers — and fewer customers choose to enter them.

Last-mile economics

The “buy local” movement has gotten a boost during lockdown periods and data shows it is a growing priority for consumers: An Accenture survey found that 45% said local commerce was important to them. So we’ll likely see more of these technologies:

Home tech hubs for work, learning and fun

As much of the population suddenly retreated into their homes, remote work got a boost that is not likely to ebb, even as the virus risk subsides. Home-based education also surged. Social and entertainment behaviors went even more digital. With more pressure on homes to do more, expect these technologies to expand going forward:

Healthcare everywhere

COVID made it exceedingly clear that health services and tools have been largely stuck in a pre-digital age. Before the pandemic, for example, delivery of remote medical services was little more than a video call with HIPAA compliance. With increased public focus on health and medicine, digital health will see an increase in development and adoption, such as:

Industry 4.0

Economies did not screech to a halt, but consumers’ sudden panic-buying behaviors gave the supply chain a run for its money and highlighted the shortcomings of just-in-time manufacturing. A renewed focus on supply chain processes should kick some of these technologies into high gear, making it more digital and better able to react:

These technologies will get a boost from the pandemic, and stay with us for years to come, creating new opportunities for new ways of working, living, learning and staying well.

Appealing to consumers with the right message at the right time is the holy grail in advertising. It doesn’t work so well when customers don’t feel like they’re seen or heard. And the LGBTQ community has definitely not felt seen or heard by P&G in the past.

“They Will See You,” a new film about LGBTQ representation in advertising, is the third in a series from P&G that shines a spotlight on the company’s long road to inclusion of diverse populations. This film takes an honest look at some of the coded ads from P&G since the 1800s, among them, broad stereotypes that distorted and parodied, and overly subtle messaging that pushed LGBTQ lifestyles into the shadows.

“For a community that is traditionally underrepresented, visibility is everything,” says Brent Miller, global LGBTQ equality leader at Procter & Gamble.

Watch the trailer below:

The pandemic has created new opportunity for portfolio companies, particularly in some verticals. For Union Square Ventures, the venture capital firm behind Twitter, Etsy and Lending Club, online education has been that lucky vertical. The firm was an early investor in several companies doing well in the pandemic: Outschool, Duolingo, Quizlet and Skillshare. With kids out of school, parents looked for online tools to help their kids learn (or just keep them occupied in productive ways so the parents could work), creating a sudden rush of demand for these online education services.

The investments are part of USV’s current investment thesis, focused on broadening access “to knowledge, capital, and well-being by leveraging networks, platforms, and protocols.”

USV partner Rebecca Kaden spoke with John Battelle about how the firm is thinking about investments going forward.

When photojournalist Talia Frenkel toured the world for the United Nations and Red Cross, she was struck by the need for better access to feminine care products in emerging economies. She returned to the US and started This is L., a femtech company that produces organic pads and tampons for consumers and donates a corresponding number of sales to vulnerable communities.

The team built a brand, sourced raw materials and put a supply chain in place. Success led to acquisition by P&G in 2019.

“I learned from the acquisition process that it’s lengthy, it’s time-intensive and there’s always going to be bumps in the road,” says Jon Allen, Managing Director of L. Brand at P&G.

One such bump was in the business’s manufacturing strategy. “We were leveraging contract manufacturing prior to the acquisition, but the scalability of that manufacturer couldn’t support the level of growth we were seeking,” he said.

Watch this short video to learn about the company’s transition to P&G and how it thought through a new supply chain approach.

Way back before the coronavirus upended retail, stores were moving toward hybrid digital-physical businesses. Locations to stand as hubs for browsing and buying (and returning) and mobile apps and websites to offer e-commerce, loyalty programs and other forms of engagement between and during store visits. This online-to-offline strategy tracks with the way consumers move seamlessly between offline and online spaces, but it was also seen as a way to stem declining store sales amid e-commerce’s growing share of revenue.

The pandemic has accelerated a need for more digital than physical in this equation, and it’s worth taking a look at successes to date. In China, which has a more digital, mobile population than anywhere else in the world, Starbucks used digital platforms to build community around its brand that continues when customers aren’t in their stores. This strategy led to 90% engagement with its app.

At the Signal conference in 2018, Starbucks China’s Chief Marketing Officer Emily Chang shared strategies and lessons from the company’s online-to-offline strategies — or online-merge-offline, as she prefers. They are even more relevant today.

Key insights from the conversation:

The next Signal conference is coming up July 15-16! Registration opens on June 17 for Signal 2020: Winning in Any Environment. Learn more here.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO: Born a Crime is a story of resilience told with Trevor Noah’s signature comedic style. As we’ve adjusted to the changes of the past few months, I’ve enjoyed watching Noah transition his late night show to a completely virtual version on YouTube. Born a Crime gives insights into life in South Africa under apartheid and helps readers understand Noah’s path. Right now, it feels more important than ever to seek out books that show life from different perspectives.

The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon

Evan Spiegel, SnapChat Founder and CEO: Jon has taught me that remaining calm and staying positive is critical for leadership success, especially during uncertain times.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man's search for meaning book cover

Antonio Lucio, Facebook CMO: Narrating his observations of concentration camp behavior (he was captive in one), Frankl confirms that humans have choice even when stripped of everything in life. We choose the way we live and even the way we die: “It is as important to know what we want out of life as to understand what life wants of us.” We are facing uncertain times. We are where we chose to be. Now it is our time to prove our worth to life by bringing back ourselves, our families, our companies, and our communities to meaningful life from this crisis.

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

Margo Georgiadis, president and CEO: This book tells the story of the impact on the world from the Spanish Flu. We learn so much from history and the lessons are incredible – so many parallels to all we are experiencing now. It shows deeply the importance of collaboration and working across boundaries to get to solutions.

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek Murthy

Ben Silbermann, Pinterest founder and CEO: The purpose of this book was to shed light on loneliness as a public health crisis. As fate would have it, the book is being released when the topic of loneliness has never been more important, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos

Master Algorithm book cover

David Kenny, CEO and CDO, Nielsen: It is an accessible book on Artificial Intelligence, with practical and non-hyped examples. We will need AI to adapt faster to the New Normal we are moving into.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations book cover

Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global founder and CEO: One of my favorite books — one I keep on my nightstand and reach for all the time — is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, published over 1,100 years ago. It still has wisdom on every page about how to live a meaningful life in our modern age. “People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills,” he writes. “There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind… So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”

The Microban 24 team naturally was excited about its product launch in February. The sanitizing spray, bathroom cleaner, and multipurpose cleaner keeps surfaces sanitized for up to 24 hours, even after multiple touches. As with most new brands that have been under development for five years – even under the P&G umbrella – you plan to start small, build awareness, and scale in time.

Then there was the coronavirus.

The team’s attention wasn’t on “How do we get noticed in the marketplace?” but on serving a demanding consumer community. “The question for us now is, ‘How can we keep up with the demand?’” said Calvert Bobola, Microban 24 brand manager.

The pandemic also changed the product messaging, Bobola told Signal360 in the video. The team has needed to revisit the tone it uses – and how it should talk about supporting consumers during this period of time.

Watch this short video to find out what it’s like for an entrepreneurial team to be in the right place, at the right time, with a product that consumers are anxious to buy.

During a crisis, system failures stand out. But to move forward, say supply chain industry experts, it’s a good idea to identify what’s going right and to strengthen those processes.

It’s easy to see the recent strain on supply chains, from empty store shelves to shipping delays. But it’s acceptable for a system to creak; bending doesn’t mean the process is broken. Rather, a platform that works under stress should reassure businesses of better footing on the path forward.

Supply chain diversification wins over single source

When goods come from multiple sources, the supply chain can survive consumer demand spikes and plummets.

For example, the healthcare industry has been flexible in finding and developing new sources on the fly. That has included “heroic efforts from firms to ramp up production of key products, including ventilators and PPE,” says Andy Borchers, professor and Associate Dean for Research and Accreditation at Lipscomb University. “Companies like GM, Ventec, Ford, and others have rapidly redeployed facilities to meet needs.”

Similarly, healthcare organizations added hospital beds in out-of-the-norm locations. Testing capabilities expanded into unusual sites. Medical research efforts shared data and tools to work around process bottlenecks and primary source shortages. In each case, the organizers excelled at finding new suppliers when existing ones were overloaded or unavailable.

“Supply chains that relied on only one supplier encountered the most difficulty,” says Tom Reynolds, consultant and lead of the Supply Chain Practice at Egon Zehnder, a global management consulting firm. “Once that primary source was disrupted, it had a ripple effect.”

Some companies are already changing direction, says Stanley Chao, author of Selling to China and managing director for All In Consulting, a consultancy specializing in assisting SMBs with Chinese and Asian business strategies. “Companies are diversifying from China – not decoupling, as many claim – to spread the risk.”

At-the-Ready Storage won, while Just-in-Time inventory crashed and burned

Just-in-Time (JIT) solutions work only when you have plenty of time. The just-in-time inventory strategy is to receive goods only as they are needed in the production process, which means inventories (and their costs) stay low. However, businesses that urgently need to adapt during a crisis don’t have that luxury.

One example: CFR Rinkens, a global commercial cargo shipper that specializes in the containerized shipping of motor vehicles. While daily adjustments are necessary, says Joseph Giranda, its director of commercial relations, “Fortunately, we operate a vertically integrated auto supply chain.” The company is optimizing the assets it has on hand, which include managing its own warehouses, workers, container yards, and trucks. With their assets on hand, they can react faster than waiting on just-in-time vendor deliveries that were timed to normal usage patterns, not to a crisis with different user patterns that presented new obstacles.

Ship happens

Keeping a warehouse fully stocked is a marked departure from manufacturing’s long embrace of high-efficiency tactics such as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and just-in-time inventory.

But it turns out that in a crisis, lean and mean is just mean. Attempting to rapidly adapt lean concepts to adjust to the demands of a crisis also snowballed problems downstream. “Companies are second-guessing Just-in-Time inventory. These JIT companies got really burned,” says Chao. Chao recommends companies “at least find ways to hold finished goods at the tier 1 supplier or in a bonded warehouse ready to ship anytime.”

Can’t change the supply? Adjust the product

For some companies, challenges on the supply side were easily matched or exceeded by challenges on the demand side. Rather than rectify supply chain problems, they repurposed existing supplies into products in more demand, such as distilleries making hand sanitizer instead of spirits or perfume companies making disinfectants. (There’s prior history for this, too, such as one beer brewer switching to making cheese after Prohibition.)

“Many manufacturers will struggle as the goods they produce are no longer in demand, but more agile operators will shift to making different products,” says Abe Eshkenazi, CEO for the Association for Supply Chain Management.

Overlap or integrate

Companies that could integrate retail and commercial supply chains could also adjust the product to fit demand. Those that couldn’t saw their waste costs escalate.

For example, food distributors have shifted their efforts from supplying restaurants to stocking grocery retailers – with varying success. The supply streams for restaurants and grocers differ significantly, even though each consists of warehouses, inventories, work forces, and delivery fleets.

The food service distribution business dropped like a stone during the pandemic. The International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) projects the industry will lose $24 billion over the next three months from COVID-19 pandemic closures of restaurants, schools, and hotels. Some stored food has gone bad, and some was donated to feed the poor and unemployed.

The positive supply chain response: “Some has been sold to grocery chains in formats customers would not normally see,” according to a report in The Globe and Mail.

Grocers, as we all know from empty store shelves, were stumbling in the race to keep ahead of consumer demands. “They [grocers] need more product, more storage, more trucks and, most importantly, more workers. To their mutual benefit, the two distribution networks are collaborating like never before,” according to the Globe and Mail article.

To speed such major shifts through newly formed partnerships of heretofore separate supply chains, industry associations stepped in to build a bridge. The IFDA and FMI-Food Industry Association launched a match-making partnership that connects foodservice distributors with excess capacity to assist food retailers and wholesalers that require additional resources to fulfill needs at grocery stores, according to an IFDA official statement.

Despite best efforts, that strategy won’t work for every supply chain. Wherever there are significant product differences between commercial and retail product versions, or a lack of will to reconcile such differences, a relatively simple fix isn’t possible.

“The single biggest challenge has been barriers between commercial and retail supply chains. Many products with stable demand patterns and low margins have become specialized to the point that switchover isn’t easy,” explains Andy Borchers, professor and Associate Dean for Research and Accreditation at Lipscomb University.

“Supply chains need greater flexibility to switch between commercial and retail channels. Historically, demand for products like toilet paper has been very stable and changeover hasn’t been needed. When future crises arise, flexible automation will allow easier changes,” says Borchers.

This is one area in which technology advances may play a part. “Further work in digitizing the supply chain will allow for better allocation of resources,” Borchers adds. That is, they’re not visible in the supply chain in real-time; a business can only see overages and shortages as they manifest at points of delivery.

Future-proofing vetted by the virus

Despite some success stories and useful lessons, there are some market segments where the supply chain just plain failed. Some businesses need parts that come from an area that is shut down. Some manufacturing and processing plants have been unable to change the workflow to ensure worker safety. It’s hard to find a light at the end of that tunnel, particularly with expectations of a second wave of the virus.

“The factory closures and slow-downs will affect Q3/Q4 seasons due to the average lead times to procure, produce, and then ship product,” warns Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, a retail consulting firm. Retailers should brace for the subsequent impact now, such as working with suppliers to identify which products will be affected and finding alternative or additional manufacturers.

One element that benefited the supply chain was reliable connectivity – and has taught people what they can rely on in the future. “Almost everyone has remote access to their business e-mails and of course their phones. So, communications are solid,” says Stephan Logan, who owns ecommerce site Indigo Instruments, a supplier of science education products and science instruments. And while shipments were slowed, it was possible to run the operation on reduced staff to maintain social distancing. “That was vital to keeping employee morale high,” Logan adds.

“If the next emergency is a second COVID-19 wave, then we’re ready. If it’s something else entirely, we have to hope we are nimble enough to adapt,” says Logan.

For some companies, visibility, flexibility, and innovation paid off. Now’s the time to review supply chains with a careful eye towards sustainability and continuity so that the next crisis doesn’t pinch so hard in the first place.

Entrepreneur and investor David S. Kidder is CEO of consulting firm Bionic, and author of New to Big: How Companies Can Create Like Entrepreneurs, Invest Like VCs, and Install a Permanent Operating System for Growth. He specializes in unlocking new business growth using the mindsets and methodologies of venture capital.

Prior to the pandemic, Kidder spoke with us about developing a growth mindset in large organizations – both in regard to operating organizations and discovering new possibilities. Of the interior life of a leader, he said, “As founders, we have to allow the learning to happen, so our biases don’t control what’s possible.”

We need to be fast at unlearning things and un-believing things – mostly at the things we’re very good at, Kidder explained in this five-minute video. Outside forces require leaders to question the things they take for granted – because those things may no longer be true.

Those guidelines have increased resonance today, so we went back to Kidder to learn how leaders can respond by leading with empathy. “In this case, whoever cares the most wins,” he said. For business leaders, Kidder said, it’s essential to bring your humanity and vulnerability to the decisions you make.

Watch our second conversation with Kidder below to learn more.

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