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One Thing COVID-19 Has Taught Us

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Data matters. 

Data matters to policy planners that are working on strategies to flatten the curve while reopening the economy.

Data matters to pharmaceutical companies that are furiously working on vaccines and drugs for COVID-19 treatment, while striving to better understand where to best put their resources and capabilities to use, and what opportunities there are to advance development as fast as possible.

Data matters to consumer goods and food and beverage manufacturers who want to know how to respond to rapidly changing consumer needs, whether to develop new products, reformulate old products or adapt their marketing and messaging on existing products.

Data matters to consumers that pay close attention to the media to stay abreast of the number of new cases and unfortunate and untimely deaths, locations of outbreaks and economic news.

Bottom line: Data matters.

Data matters in a world where digital transformation has taken hold faster in the last two months than any time period before. Many of us have seen the meme circulating online about how COVID-19 led the company's digital transformation as opposed to the CEO or the CTO.  It might have provoked a chuckle, but the truth is we have all experienced the seismic change that COVID-19 has brought to our lives in one way or another.

Being at home has stretched everyone technologically; to put it in perspective, COVID-19-related care will account for 900 million telehealth visits this year, compared to 200 million general care and flu related telehealth visits, and 80 million mental health telehealth visits. 

On the education front, 1.2 billion children worldwide have been affected by the pandemic; the Chinese government subsequently ordered 250M full-time students to resume their lessons online. 

At work, digital transformation means accelerating cloud computing, accommodating remote workforces and remote interactions with customers and vendors in a secure way. And it means better data management to be able to come out stronger on the other side. 

But data alone is not enough. While the term “data is the new oil” was coined in 2006, its inventor, Clive Humby, also was careful to say that it must be refined, broken down, in order for it to have value. 

The emphasis on data and its importance to the future of business can be seen in the way budgets are being handled. While IT budgets overall are expected to decline this year as a result of COVID-19, a recent survey finds 46% of IT leaders targeting investments in data and analytics to deliver more enhanced customer insights and feedback. This jives well with the well-established fact that data-driven companies are more successful than their peers. How successful? According to McKinsey, they outperform their peers by 85% in sales and more than 25% in gross margin. This case study is a good example of how a beverage brand used data analytics to build a $1 billion brand. 

So how can data help us prepare for the future?

Here are some ways:

  1. Identify white space opportunities. I wrote at the beginning of this crisis about opportunities and companies that were born in past crises, and I firmly believe that this is the case with this crisis as well. Truly understanding consumer needs and matching those up against the market landscape – what products are on the market, what claims are being made, where innovation is coming from – can significantly reduce the risk in making new investments, a key consideration these days.

  2. Monitor changing consumer needs. There were many trends in place before the pandemic hit, for example, vegan, CBD and others are sticking, and other trends that are more questionable on their long-lasting impact. There are new trends emerging, like the emphasis on frozen foods and vegetables and a focus on immune health. A lot of anecdotal information exists around these changes, but there is a difference in making a decision based on opinion and a decision based on evidence. Companies can look at their own internal data to understand how they are being impacted, but to determine how to adapt, analyzing external data is needed. 

  3. Identify new treatments and opportunities for collaboration. The COVID-19 Playbook that Signals Analytics released at no-cost is helping pharmaceuticals and biotechs sift through the fast-growing body of literature that is emerging around COVID-19. Consider that in December, there were about 50 research papers being published a week on coronavirus and by last week, more than 1400 were released. The volumes are enormous.  

  4. Predict the next wave. An interesting project analyzing patient discussions and physician forums, news sites and FDA announcements around EVALI demonstrated that COVID-19 surfaced many similar symptoms, meaning early warning signals were there. By applying this approach more broadly, it is possible to detect outbreaks before they are noticed by official channels. Similarly, a company called Data.World, who I got to know on a recent AIPAC tech venture community call I presented on, is tying together massive public health data sources to assist policy makers and urban planners map out reopening plans and contingencies. 

I am sure there are many others. We are in a new world, a world that will require agility and resilience beyond the pandemic. Analyzing data properly will guide us, showing us that indeed, data does matter.

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Chris Thatcher
5W Public Relations

chthatcher@5wpr.com 646-430-5161
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