INNOVATION DURING A PANDEMIC
Why you should not give up during the pandemic. Innovate.
The human race has endured many pandemics in the past, but never before have we been so well equipped to manage and understand them. The unrelenting pace at which our technologies have evolved over the past few decades has given us a toolset that is of immense value.
Whether you are a company, brand or retailer, Covid-19 has been challenging every business across the world. Digital savviness is, and will (for the foreseeable future) remain crucial as businesses adapt to consumer preferences, shaped and shifted by the pandemic.
Consumers want to shop less frequently in physical stores for items other than groceries, and the same goes for any other type of business. Whether you are selling a service or goods, consumers prefer to not go to a physical place, and would rather the goods/service come to them.
As such, businesses equipped with digital or online capabilities and strategies will be best positioned to weather and recover from the current crisis, and continue to generate income and engage with customers at a time when commerce has otherwise ground to a near-complete halt. As a business you need to take your business to the customer. This can lead to interactive apps, e-commerce booming, and other innovations.
The most common example of “bringing the business to the consumer” would be online stores, allowing people to safely isolate while still receiving essential goods. Online-ordering companies have arranged contact-free services like Uber Eats with their contact-free delivery, or the Galileo open air theatre who brought back drive-ins, Yay!
You might be thinking: “Zandrea, my business does not fall under the typical retail store business type.” That doesn’t matter. Let me inspire you by showing you how other types of companies (who seemed sure to fail) innovated and saved their business during this pandemic:
Airbnb launched “Online Experiences” led by inspiring hosts from over 30 countries, unlocking access to cultures and traditions from around the world. Hosts are already offering Online Experiences like magic lessons, cooking classes, and guided meditations through Zoom.
When hundreds of employees are working remotely and simultaneously, and complex changes must roll out in 60 different languages, it is hard to operate seamlessly. Airbnb’s tech team mapped the process and scoped in under three weeks. They made quick radical changes on the website and reached out to the stakeholders. They removed abstract layers of communication. Instead of using a Google Doc, they used collaborative interface design tools such as Figma to look at all the designs and quickly prototype and screen-share. Their real-time analysis systems monitored the behaviour of guests on the platform to new changes, and used this feedback to quickly iterate and improve the offerings.
This is a great example of innovating new solutions while maintaining the core “building connections across the world” philosophy. These online experiences are an alternate source of revenue for AirBnB and hosts and a nice hedge against major disruptions such as pandemics.
Airbnb has shown that rapid transformation to the business model can help raise hopes for a stronger comeback and survival. Despite being in one of the worst-hit industries, Airbnb leveraged its incredibly agile and tech-savvy team to redesign the products and keep the community engaged. It also taught us that speed of implementing changes using remote tools matters greatly in adverse circumstances.
Here are some other companies that thought outside of the box, in terms of how they can use the pandemic to their advantage:
Siemens opened up its Additive Manufacturing Network to anyone who needs help in medical device design, producing the relevant medical equipment.
The heavy truck manufacturer partnered with the Karolinska University Hospital. Scania not only converted trailers into mobile testing stations, but also directed around 20 highly skilled purchasing and logistics experts to locate, acquire, and deliver personal protective equipment to health care workers.
Ford is working together with the United Auto Workers, GE Healthcare, and 3M to build ventilators in Michigan, USA using F-150 seat fans, portable battery packs, and 3D printed parts.
Covid-19 disrupted the original rules of how a specific industry/company must work. It is almost logical that in the new way of living – working from home, people practicing social distancing – the digital industry will flourish.
Now is the time to innovate.
“Ok, you inspired me, now how do I start, and where do I start?”
The key is to ask yourself: What is my current offering? What does the customer need from me? How can I bring my product/service to the customer, without them having to come into my place of business? How can I adapt to the new way of living?
Think outside the box.
Then you fulfil that need. It sounds simple enough, but it’s far from easy. You might even get to a point where you want to give up, or you are already planning your exit strategy.
Wait! Don’t give up just yet!
A very wise man, Simon Sinek, has some wise words you can use as motivation. Watch the full video here.
The underlying message here is that those people you are doing this for will be there for you. They are your support. They are your motivation. And having someone you can call at any time, someone that has your back, is the reason why you cannot quit – that is the important part.
Let’s have a look at 3 innovation strategies that you can use to digitise your product or service to innovate to stay profitable. From digitally native brands to global fashion houses, below are examples of how companies have tapped into technologies to outlast the outbreak.
1. Online-Offline Integration
Allbirds, the sustainable footwear brand, has been operating with a new retail approach that seamlessly blends together offline and online sales. This integrated operational infrastructure proved to be a lifeline for the brand during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Allbirds used staff from brick-and-mortar stores to fulfill online orders.
- Allbirds also took the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate with new digital tools. The brand launched a feature that enabled Tmall shoppers to connect with store associates via video chat so they could ask questions and see product displays as if they were at a physical store. It has been a popular feature with customers and the brand is now exploring ways to preserve it even after Covid-19.
2. Leveraging Consumer Insights
Michigan-based floor care company Bissell has benefited from leveraging consumer insights to make informed business decisions. When the company launched on Tmall, information from the e-commerce platform’s analytics services helped the brand to target consumers based on search interests and related shopping behaviours as opposed to the more conventional age-and-gender approach. The robust product-recommendation algorithm allowed the brand to retain sales even in out-of-stock situations by recommending alternative products. The company was able to double its sales in just 12 hours from the previous year.
3. Digital Events and Live Streaming
American fashion house Michael Kors recently released a series of livestream sessions and short videos to introduce its new range of customisable handbags. These broadcasts were bolstered by other digital experiences, including a mobile lifestyle quiz that results in personalised handbag recommendations from the brand’s namesake designer.
Live Streaming not only connects you to the consumer, but also creates new opportunities with their audiences.
For Welden, an independent handbag label, live streaming has always featured in its business strategy in China. It used the online video tool to bolster its brand during Shanghai Fashion Week, an event that had previously been set up for more established businesses that have more on-the-ground resources.
- When the event moved entirely online this season due to Covid-19, Welden participated with a virtual runway show featuring its latest collection, which included trendy leather masks.
- Welden leveraged the success of Shanghai Fashion Week – the event’s streams totalled over 11 million views and helped generate more than $2.82 million in gross merchandise volume.
- The announcement that events such as London Fashion Week are also going online, digital events are set to become a new norm for the industry.
Brands embracing this shift are more likely than not to fare well post-virus. The pandemic has impacted retail business worldwide but also presented new opportunities and a sense of urgency for brands to build up their digital capabilities. Those prioritising their digital transformation will be nimbler and better equipped for success as the world emerges from the impact of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
The digitally-driven era in which we find ourselves may be rife with problems of its own, but it provides us with an invaluable ability to cope with a disease such as Covid-19. Whether it’s the critical services that allow people to buy medical supplies and other essentials, the tools that let us better understand the disease, or even the simple ability to connect with other people in these times of isolation, there’s no doubt that online technology has provided us with another means of survival.
Hard times create innovation. Innovation is always there, but in hard times you are pushed outside of your comfort zone and box thinking. This can mean innovating by yourself, or even collaborating with other companies.
So, how can you implement innovation, to make your business boom again?
What can you do to take your company to your consumers, instead of them having to come to you?
This is the challenge – will you pivot?
Let us help you.
Responsive is here to help you win, from strategy to implementation, we follow through.