Learn from Dubai's Salt: survival in business depends on adaptability

Changing in unpredictable times is the only way to thrive

Burger joint Salt is an example of an adaptable business. Its limited edition black buns - a microtrend last year - are a prime example of staying responsive to what customers want. Courtesy of Salt
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When it comes to business growth and marketing trends, we live in an era of unpredictability. Take the Arabian Gulf as an example. Many of our elderly who are 70 years or older, have lived through periods of when electricity was scarce, and so was food. My elder relatives tell me how they never imagined their lives would develop at this rapid pace. In the span of their lifetimes, they have witnessed unimaginable changes to their lifestyle. The UAE has surpassed many of the developed world nations across so many sectors in as little as 47 years.

Numerous articles and thought leaders have said we are living in one of the best periods that humanity has witnessed, leading to a quality of life that leaders of the past could only dream of. Online businesses such as Airbnb, Lyft and Uber have all introduced a new meaning to hospitality and transportation services, ultimately altering the beliefs many business leaders have about business growth and market leadership.

Mobile devices and applications are leading an industry shake-up as they create new markets and alter the ways users interact with a company. Social media influencers have become valuable marketing channels, competing with leading publications as an alternative to publish advertisements and promotions.

But setting these blessings aside, globalisation, transparency, ever-changing business practices and technological advances have put chief executives and entrepreneurs in an uneasy situation.

The traditional approaches to strategy and growth forecasts generally assumed a relatively predictable future. Traditionally, the goal of setting strategies was to develop a business that has a unique competitive advantage and a smart market positioning. But with all these new levels of market uncertainties, business owners are starting to ask: how can we set strategies when we can’t apply traditional forecasting? When change happens at a rapid pace, how can our five-year plans stay relevant?

The answer to these questions all boils down to one thing: adaptability. Instead of focusing on being good at one thing, companies must now focus on adapting to different situations, and learning new ways of doing things. The companies that will survive and always lead the way are those that are responsive to change.

Salt, a food and beverage concept by Emirati Amal Al Marri and Saudi Arabian Deem Al Bassam, is a textbook example of a UAE success story in adaptability. In a time when clients in the UAE are always looking for the next new thing, these entrepreneurs have managed to stay relevant and trendy for years with their clever marketing campaigns, creative pop-up locations and new menu items. The concept, which started with serving burgers from a food truck on Dubai's Kite Beach in 2014, has expanded to restaurants across the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

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American company Xerox on the other hand, is an example of a business that failed because they didn’t adapt, or innovate. What some may not know is that Xerox did not only produce photocopying machines, but it was also the first to invent the personal computer. The chief executive at the time thought the future was in copy machines and did not innovate the business or go digital.

Blockbuster, the video-rental company was at its peak in the early 2000s. Unlike Netflix, they did not deliver video rentals to their customers and thought that having a physical store was enough to keep them loyal and pleased, especially since they were leading their industry at the time. In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, and Netflix has become an industry leader instead.

Adaptability is the key competitive advantage that your business must have. Choose who you lend your ears to. Monitor the market closely. Listen to your networks. Watch for what your competitors are doing and how they are changing (or not). Keep up to date with the latest technology trends, and see how they impact your industry, or what you can incorporate to develop your business and reach new clients. Always look for market feedback and see how your customers feel about the ideas you have. And always, always, be prepared to improve, change or develop. Your company's survival may just depend on it.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.