Five Essential Insights on Leading an SME in the Post-Pandemic Marketplace

The pandemic and accompanying industry and cultural shifts profoundly impacted the SME sector. Earlier this year, Level5 Strategy Managing Partner Hua Yu hosted a three-part series with SME founders and CEOs to discuss how they’ve led their businesses and what insights they have about success in the post-pandemic market. The featured CEOs include: Brandi Leifso, CEO and Founder of Evio Beauty Group, which is redefining luxury beauty to be kind, conscious and affordable, Julia Bao, founder of skincare brand BAO LABORATORY, an international brand of scientifically developed custom skincare products, and Elle AyoubZadeh, founder of luxury footwear company Zvelle.

Here, we share their five essential insights and learnings on leading an SME in the post-pandemic marketplace.


Understand the Consumer Need for Purpose

COVID-19 prompted a profound consumer behavior shift, whereas previously convenience was one of the top key drivers in buying choices. However, the massive move over to online shopping during COVID meant that customers now had more choice than ever and more time to consider the power of their spending dollars. Against a cultural and social landscape of upheaval and growing social awareness, consumers have increasingly started looking for more from the brands and products they support. Regardless of industry, sector or product, businesses need to understand that reflecting their customers social values and interests will be essential to sustaining their growth.

Nimbleness, the SME advantage

Rapid change has been the defining feature of the past 18 months. Across industries, businesses had to reimagine their workplace structures, their customer journeys and core offerings. Zvelle was able to launch V, a new shoe line to reflect the changing needs of consumers. BAO did a digital upgrade and launched a consumer loyalty program. Evio shifted from in person events to finding new digital experiential ways to connect with their customers. Each CEO emphasized that as SME’s they realized just how nimble they could be in their responses and that this competitive disadvantage over large legacy competitors is one they will continue to leverage.

Relationships Are Growth Accelerators

When reflecting on their moments of rapid growth and opportunity, networks and relationships surfaced as the common denominator. The clear lesson is that the best investments a team can make in the post-pandemic marketplace, is a commitment to deepening relationships with clients, customers and other business leaders and influencers. One of the most effective ways to approach this is to make the focus on customers and clients. Zvelle for instance, launched the #walkhowyouwant campaign to celebrate the one-of-a-kind journeys of their community and activate their support for one another.

Look Outside the Industry

It can be tempting to look within the success stories of established industry players to find answers to a business question or decision point, and this instinct is amplified during moments of change and uncertainty. Evio founder Brandi Leifso cautions against this, “…it’s important to do things differently, because what got you here is not going to get you there.”

Leverage Canadian Brands

While they serve customers globally, all three of these founders are Canadian and one common observation among them is that post-COVID, Canadian brands are hotter than ever. Across the Canadian market, an increased focus on local companies during COVID helped drive their brand and consumer profiles. BAO, which has a strong customer base in Canada, found that being a “Made In Canada” product has helped consumers connect with the purity of their ingredients.


To watch the full Level5 Strategy BusinessWomen of Influence Roundtable Series, here are the links below to their corresponding parts:

Part 1 – The Pandemic Impact On Consumer Behavior

Part 2 – Adapting and Reassessing Business Offerings

Part 3 – Building and Strengthening Connections with Consumers

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