It’s sometimes hard not to freak out. But it’s time to get down to business, literally.
Nobody knows when all this will be over, and there isn’t anybody out there who can say confidently what kind of state we will return to, based on how much has changed in the meantime through social distancing measures and non-essential business closures.
But believe it or not, now is a critical time for business leadership and plan implementation. Here’s why.
In a matter of days, we essentially shut down the economy in major ways. Speed was prioritized over process. A crisis will do that. But what is often left unconsidered is how that crisis quickly turns into process. It’s the adaptation (which is often reactionary) that now becomes institutionalized as the new way of doing things.
That’s exactly what the current state is right now: the crisis adaptations have become our current business processes. Over time, these processes will continue to normalize.
The truth is that no one knows how long this will last and what life will be like on the other side. So aside from gazing at your crystal ball (or your belly button), what’s the best way for professionals to plan for emergence?
This isn’t a time for predictions, so let’s start by focusing on what we know.
Some clear trends have rapidly evolved over the past several weeks, changes that have really been developing over the past few years. It’s important to recognize that it is the COVID-19 crisis that is speeding up that change, not causing the change itself. Each of the following trends is accompanied by a takeaway or action your business can begin to implement immediately:
The pivot to digital
Digital is hardly new, but just about every business out there — rooted in digital or not — has had to look at ways of extending into the digital space for relevance and even survival. Rapid digital transformation has pushed many organizations here, and that’s not going to let up once the crisis is “over.”
What does this look like? Restaurants that remain open for takeout pivots them from a physical destination to a distribution centre. Restaurant websites that were almost useless previously (as Google provided the location or phone number, the most likely reasons for a user to search), are now critical.
For other businesses, remote work and WFH environments require new tools and platforms. The explosion of Zoom meetings (how’s that for a brand stamp, just like Kleenex or Scotch tape), conferencing, and collaboration tools not only enables the current state of business but likely also the long-term business value as hybrid remote and physical spaces integrate as emergence arrives.
The takeaway: Invest consideration in your digital spaces, whether you’re an advertising agency, a bakery, or a financial firm. This is where your company culture (and clients) now lives, and will likely have to return to in the future.
The decisions made now regarding digital environments don’t need to be limited to only short term stop-gap solutions but can provide long-term business evolution benefits. Digital and remote work is where the world is moving and can still operate in a socially distanced reality — kind of like being pandemic-proof.
Subscription models are everywhere: Netflix, Amazon Prime. And they are all focused on a direct-to-consumer model. I have even seen local flower shops launch “flower clubs” where customers sign up for a monthly fee and receive regular deliveries of fresh flowers. There are subscription-based skincare products, comic books… the possibilities are endless.
It may take some creative thinking to determine how your business can adopt a subscription model, but perhaps this unavoidable innovation becomes a vital part of the evolution of your business. Instead of starting with “That won’t work for us,” try to reframe that thinking along the lines of “How could that benefit us?.” It may be a way of adapting your current product or service, or perhaps an entirely new line of business.
The takeaway: Identify how your offering could translate into a subscription model, or explore new business opportunities worth incorporating into your offering. This used to be a “what if” consideration, but with the forced changes around us, now is the time to play offence, not defence in terms of innovation.
Building owned audiences
An owned audience is one in which the brand has control over the direct messaging to the end-user or consumer. Owned assets are your website, email campaigns, and SMS, for example. Owning your digital space should be a strategic priority right now as digital transformation continues. Relying on distributed audience platforms, like social media, still has value, but those platforms are simply not yours. Those audiences belong to Facebook or Twitter, not you. It’s time to deepen the digital footprint and gain more direct control over your digital space and messaging.
Owned audiences and direct-to-consumer models are critical investments right now — not costs.
The takeaway: Consider ways to convert existing social audiences into owned audience segments through offers or contests. Rethink your approach to email marketing as a value source. It’s time to scrap the notion of a newsletter — hint: they don’t care. Give your customer something they need, or something that has a direct benefit. Then, build messaging and content development around maintaining owned audiences as a priority channel moving forward.
There are a ton of possibilities within these three categories. Some of these may seem challenging, there may be a lot of unknowns, and that is exactly why you need to get moving on these options immediately.
The one good thing about a crisis is that it will end. And when we move into emergence, the first movers will benefit from pre-planning. They will be ready to help educate, guide, and collaborate with their customers and clients in a new, digital, direct-to-consumer landscape.