Operating in the current COVID-19 crisis is analogous to periods in history when economic turbulence, disparities in supply & demand and constrained market access challenged the entire notion of free enterprise. How does a brand or product remain desirable when consumers are reprioritising what they deem to be essential or of greatest value to them? And even when there is demand, restrictions on movement and obstacles with supply chains can make it near impossible for a business to operate at optimum.
What compounds the issue for brands is the unknown timeline for restrictions and containment measures. Even if countries flatten their curves and lockdowns are discontinued, COVID-19 containment may still warrant localised lockdowns within epicenters. There is a significant likelihood of continued social distancing, whether government imposed or voluntary. A number of businesses have already had to close completely based on restrictions, while others have had an easier transition to telecommuting and remote working. No brand or business however has remained unaffected. How does a business limit physical contact and the social interactive element of its operations while still maintaining a viable monetization model?
With a revolving door on lockdowns and curfews and no apparent end date in sight, one thing is very clear, this is not an ephemeral shock to markets and there’s no waiting it out. In order to survive, brands will need to adapt and evolve. They’ll need to innovate and revamp their operational models and create new forms of value that will drive demand and brand appeal even within the context of a market that has shifted focus and priorities. The situation calls for critical thinking and strategic solutions. To get the ball rolling here are a few survival tactics you can deploy:
1. Reevaluate The Role Of Money During The Crisis: Find a lifeline and take advantage of free financial and operational support.
Don’t abandon all you’ve worked so hard for due to a lack of cash during the crisis. Look at your business and your brand more holistically and reassess the role of money relative to the brand’s functionality and utility. Not everything your business needs to survive will come in the form of cash. Focus more on resources, value and stakeholder relationships. Tap into support systems that can address interim issues with cashflow. This will buy you the time you need to refocus your brand and operational functions so you can remain viable. In fact, many governments across the globe have rolled out financial support packages for businesses and more initiatives are likely to follow. Banks and financial institutions have also amended policies to offer businesses debt management and extended credit support to deal with interim cash flow challenges. Now is also the best time to explore grant funding and equity investment. Facebook is currently offering $100 million in grants and ad credits to small businesses around the globe. Google announced that it will unlock premium features on various online tools and platforms. All very helpful especially if you’re considering taking aspects of your operations virtual during a lockdown.
2. Keep Your Business Open However You Can: Demonstrate to your customer base you’re still operational in some form or fashion.
Whether it’s a virtual version of your business or you have to serve a completely different market like governments, development agencies and NGOs, determine who’s still buying and in a position to access your offerings. Your brand may also retain a degree of poignancy and sentimentality with your customer base. Why not find ways to remain front-of-mind. The key is maintaining your share of voice and mindspace during the lockdown period. Consumers still have psychological needs and not purely physical needs, so establish how your business can leverage current resources and offer different types of value.
3. Focus On Future Revenue: Offer brand value today in return for increased sales tomorrow.
Maybe you’ve shifted to a humanitarian focus and sales have taken a backseat. Or maybe your customers made that determination for you. Either way, make it a point to continue transacting business even if its future orders and timelines. Don’t take the commerce completely out of your operation, try to keep the relevance of your core business central, even if you’re adapting and diversifying to address current demand and consumer expectations. Branding 101 is about focusing on creating value first and foremost. Continue cultivating relationships now that will bring you sales once normalcy, demand and confidence reverts.
4. A Brand New World: Explore & experiment with new formats to replace physical interaction.
In lockdown mode public gatherings have been banned by most governments. Many businesses took a decision to cancel events, promotions and brand activations. In a number of cases however these events have switched to live streaming and virtual experiences. An online interface, however basic (Facebook live, Google Hangouts) allows your brand experience to still have some measure of tangibility. Strategize on how you can innovate the format because differentiating your online brand and live video presentations will become increasingly difficult for you to keep distinct. This will especially be the case when more of your competitors and big brands do the same. Maybe employ an integrated omni-channel experience utilizing a broadcast medium like radio, which you can synergize with your digital platforms. There are ways to create value for consumers while addressing product and service delivery via this type of channel mix. It can be educationally driven with self empowerment tips. This is very relevant considering that most consumers have been forced to become DIYers to deal with household maintenance and equipment repairs during the lockdown. Even using a microwave to cook has become a new desire for many consumers. There’s a whole new economy emerging as a result of this trend and chefs and restaurants should look to capitalise on repurposing their recipes for home cooking and branding packaged ingredients for delivery.
5. Get Ready To Adapt: Don’t be afraid to switch things up for the sake of survival.
Reassess your brand and your business model to determine how you can realign more directly with COVID-19 related issues. Give thought to activities, events, happenings, topics and stories that are trending and that can point you to current consumer and business needs. Agile brands that can recalibrate and reconfigure will have an excellent opportunity to connect with new markets and revenue opportunities, building emotionally strong and enduring relationships.
In addition to agility, you will also need to apply some critical thinking and ask yourself two important questions:
- Can I quickly build some credibility, leadership and authority in the product or service area I will pivot to? Ensure that whatever angle you adopt feels like a natural, logical fit for your brand.
- Is it fit for the purpose and appropriate given the context? The reality is the situation we face is primarily a public health crisis and your market offer must be well aligned with the concerns, expectations and aspirations of your target audience.
Market demand for your product and services will return and it’s critical that you’re in a position to be ahead of the competition when it does. Now is the best time to audit your brand and validate its purpose, philosophy, stakeholder relevance and value proposition. Ensure you have a solid framework to engage all your key constituents not only after but during the crisis.
COVID-19 is presenting challenges for businesses both large and small all over the planet. Keep reminding yourself however that the crisis is temporary and don’t be hasty to make decisions of a permanent nature that may put you out of business unnecessarily. What’s important now is to become more connected than ever to your community of supporters, employees, customers, partners, shareholders and advisors (from a distance of course). Focus on creating more value for them and the public at large as we navigate through these uncharted waters.
Stay positive, stay healthy and keep your brand building efforts alive!