Industry leaders share their 2020 learnings


5 min read

Posted by Alina Sidbrant on January 26, 2021

Industry leaders share their 2020 learnings

What was 2020 like for your business? Challenging or easy? Did it go fast or was stretching slowly? Did your company try something new or focused on getting all your plans set prior to the pandemic completed?

Asking the same questions from Ireland’s largest companies, including Dublin Airport, Central Bank of Ireland, VHI, Three, Morgan McKinley, Samsung Electronics, Matheson, Ibec, Goodbody and KPMG, we learned about some shared challenges and learnings they have had last year.

In the article we want to share the common themes they experienced in 2020. In parallel to this article, we recently published a report called “10 opinions for 2020”, where you can read more about how has 2020 been for each company, what are their digital goals for 2021 and which companies inspire them in terms of their digital achievement.


Old customers, new needs, new customers

The first and the biggest change every business noticed was, that with the world moving “online,” the needs of their customers changed significantly. Which is why the companies we talked to focused on leveraging their customer knowledge when trying to predict and serve their needs in the months of pandemic. Sarah Moriarty, the Head of Brand at Goodbody, was not an exception: “Really knowing your customer and anticipating their needs is a core part of our business model in delivering wealth management services. How do you form relationships and recreate high-touch connections virtually?”

Not only was it old customers obtaining new needs, but 2020 was a year that brought in “new” customers to companies’ digital channels. Paul Prior, the Head of Digital at Three, shared: “The biggest challenge in 2020 was being able to respond quickly enough to the segments of users that would never have considered Digital as their primary channel. Quite quickly everyone was an expert on Digital because it was the only channel available to them.”

Switch from digital and physical to digital only

Switching to working from home, which in Ireland came in mid-March 2020, brought 2 key aspects for businesses to deal with. Firstly, they needed to align and coordinate communication inside their digital content management teams to ensure business continuity. Ronan Smith, the Content and Insights Manager at Central Bank of Ireland: “Like many other organisations, we had to adapt our planned digital and content strategy for fast-changing circumstances. And, like people across the globe, we were embedding new ways of working, juggling home and family responsibilities, and initiating and implementing changes remotely – which was new for me, my team and colleagues across the Central Bank. I’m really proud of the collaboration, innovation and hard work that has taken place across the Central Bank to deliver on our mission in serving the public interest.”

Secondly, with digital being the only channel to communicate with their customers through, their websites and portals now had to become an effective sales channel. Eamonn Grant, the Head of Online at Samsung Electronics, in his interview with us notes: “Adapting was the biggest challenge and at the same time, the biggest learning for us in 2020. In the space of 3 weeks in March, online went from a small percentage of sales to a big percentage, with no real understanding of where it would go from there. Since then, we have been continuously changing to get to where we now find ourselves. It has been a challenge but also a huge opportunity; remote working meant I went from flying internationally every week to working by the seaside in Wexford for the first lockdown. This should have been a massive challenge, but it really wasn’t. It took time to figure out our new dynamics but figure it out we did - and got really good at it really quickly.”

Old goals: pivot or perseverance?

Another common challenge the businesses were facing – what to do with the 2020 goals set before the virus has intervened. Every company had to make their choice – to keep them in their entirety, to adjust them slightly, or to pivot and sail into new digital horizons.

Cathal McCarthy, the Head of Digital Marketing at Morgan McKinley outlined: “Our biggest challenge in 2020 was to stay on course with our digital transformation goals despite the recruitment market changing so suddenly. Written on the wall of our office is a well-known mantra ‘If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal.’ With this in mind, we did adapt our 2020 plans to the global pandemic by launching an ‘Adapt Your Business’ digital content hub to help our clients to adapt to remote working with their teams. However, we also maintained and accelerated our original goal for 2020 which was to complete our largest digital project to date: to consolidate seven of our localised country websites around the world into one global website. Our global team collaborated closely, while all working remotely, to achieve this goal in August 2020 and we are now looking forward to launching new initiatives for our clients, candidates and contractors on our global website in 2021.”

Unprecedented content demands

The biggest challenge, amplified and accelerated by Covid-19, as outlined by David Deighan, the Head of Communications at KPMG Ireland, was the age-old issue of prioritising content and messaging and deciding what was the most beneficial to the end user. When the pandemic broke, almost every business organisation went into overdrive trying to reassure their clients and customers; firstly, of continuity and secondly of their commercial relevance.

Through our conversations with all the participating companies, we have learnt that most could relate to the challenge described by David. Many had to adapt their planned digital and content strategies for fast-changing circumstances. Firstly, businesses had to raise awareness of their newly added to the web services, and supply customers with Covid-19 related information and updates.

Vivienne Maguire, the Head of Digital at Ibec, shared: “There was lots of engagement with this content and high demand for replays from our webinars. To meet this requirement, we created a dedicated Playback section of the Ibec website which lists all the webinars which have been recorded (totaling more than 20000 webinars). Members can easily search for relevant content, replay the videos and access the service 24 hours a day.”

2020 seems to have truly been an uneasy year for all: big and small businesses. Our interviews show, however, that regardless if the challenges Ireland’s largest companies faced were similar or different, all of them saw 2020 as an opportunity to test their limits, found new ways to be there for their customers and invested in new initiatives, to achieve business success.


We would be happy to discuss the digital challenges and goals for your business to initiate a joint project and achieve them together, contact us today.

About the Author

Alina Sidbrant
Alina Sidbrant

Alina is Marketing Innovation Lead at Arekibo. She is passionate about corporate entrepreneurship and strategy.