In the past 7 weeks, since lockdown in the UK, consumer sentiment and purchasing habits have changed dramatically as we all adjust to our new circumstances. With a prolonged emergence from lock-down looking likely based on plans from Spain and France, traditional methods of delivering value are under further strain. In many respects what we are facing is the largest innovation challenge of our time; reimagining how to connect with and serve customers. This article poses some key questions that can guide firms through alternative ways to provide value to customers and societies.
Same, same but different
For a lot of firms, the primary focus right now has been on how to overcome supply chain and distribution challenges in getting existing products to existing customers. This has chiefly been accomplished by altering existing products and services so that they can be consumed either via digital channels or contactless methods. Prime examples of this are gyms shifting to online streaming, restaurants offering contactless delivery or collection and event organisers running conferences via video conferencing.
While important in helping to keep the lights on in the immediate term, solely relying on changes to distribution channels is not going to cut it in providing long-term value for customers. The key reason for this is the social and emotional fulfilment we often seek out when using or buying something. And so, by focusing purely on the functional job to be done we neglect the social and emotional value that does not translate well when switching to contactless services or digital channels. Therefore, in this next phase of recovery, we all need to think beyond switching up the distribution channel if we want to build sustaining products, services and businesses.
This is a time to be creative in how we connect and serve our customers. With this comes the opportunity to deepen relationships, address new customer groups, embrace new technology and think of entirely new ways to create value.
Switching it up
In our call to action for ‘switching it up’ we have focused on five key areas that can help us all to rethink how we identify potential opportunities for creating value in different ways during these uncertain times and beyond:
- Customer need: Are we solving the right need for the right people?
- Partnerships: Who can we collaborate with to deliver a better product or service?
- Go to market: How can our customers best access, consume and experience our products and services?
- Experience: How can we create a memorable and engaging experience around our products and services despite the mode of consumption changing?
- Higher purpose: How can we contribute to the local, national, and global response effort?
Pivoting during this crisis relies on identifying what problem you are solving and for whom. People’s situations and needs have changed dramatically over the past 7 weeks as we entered lock-down and will continue to do so in the coming months as we slowly emerge. New needs are quickly arising and old ones disappearing as this situation continues to affect our health, well-being, mobility and financial security. With this shift, you may find gaps in your products and services that were not there before or that your customer is over-served in areas as they no longer require certain functionality. Alternatively, you may find that new audiences may now be interested in your services. Not all innovations in this space need to be high-tech either as illustrated by the Women’s Funding Network below.
Questions to ask
- How have our customers situation changed and what new needs have arisen?
- How can we continue to provide value to our customer beyond our core product/service?
- Who else may be interested in what we do?
- Women’s Funding Network launched the #SignalforHelp campaign, a one-handed gesture that women, children and men can use on a video call or in-person to communicate that they feel threatened by domestic violence. The gesture lets victims find help in a safe way without leaving a digital trace.
- Whitegoods manufacturer Whirlpool has launched ChoreClub, which gives busy parents helpful, creative content that makes it easy to incorporate chores into their kids’ learn-at-home time.
- Nike announced it would make its subscription-based Nike Training Club app and its library of more than 185 workouts available free of charge for the time being, and across its social media, apps, and website, it will be offering customers tips on movement, nutrition, and more.
Seek to understand how this situation has impacted your customer life and consider what else can be done to help in this time of need.
The shift to digital over the past decade has seen a reframing of competitive boundaries as more firms look to share assets and capabilities to seize opportunities that would have once been out of reach for all parties involved. The rise of multi-sided platforms and ecosystem business models such as AirBnB and Lyft are a testament to this. We are not alone in responding to this crisis and collaborations or partnerships are a great way to access new skills, capabilities, assets, data, branding, networks and routes to market that allow you to better address your customer needs as they rapidly evolve during this time. In short, there has never been a better time or reason to collaborate than now.
Questions to ask:
- What additional capabilities do we need to truly serve the needs of our customers?
- Who else is aligned to achieving a similar vision or mission as us?
- What win-win arrangement would allow all parties to benefit from collaborating?
- Thoughtful Human is a greeting cards business that focuses on tackling difficult topics, such as cancer, grief and, more recently, quarantine and the pandemic. Thoughtful Human has partnered with BetterHelp Therapy to offer a month of free virtual therapy through phone or text.
- Apple and Google, two of the largest tech giants, have put aside their competitive differences and joined forces to build a COVID-19 contact tracing platform with the intention of sending you a notification if you were near someone who has the coronavirus.
- In Germany, McDonald’s staff have been given permission to work at Aldi stores while the fast-food chain’s restaurants are shut. Aldi has been overwhelmed by demand as grocery shopping has significantly increased during the pandemic.
Ask not what can we do ourselves, but what can we do when working with others to deliver greater benefit to everyone involved?
Go to market
Social distancing and lock-down measures have upended the way that customers access goods and services. Unpacking this challenge reveals two components:
- How do we bundle our goods and services in a way that is desirable for consumers? The notion of product bundling has been around for some time now and typically includes multi-user / multi-product bundles, mixed-product bundles or add-ons of support services.
- Which channels will provide our customers with the best access to our products and services? As purchase habits change and traditional channels are no longer available it is time to consider options and partnerships in this area.
Questions to ask:
- Who else offers a complementary or related product that could combine to form a mixed-product bundle?
- Who else has access to a similar customer group to ours that we could team up with?
- Google has updated its Maps app to highlight restaurants that are offering takeout and delivery options during the COVID-19 pandemic. The app can also be used to order food from the listed and available restaurants if they support this functionality.
- As many businesses are working fully remotely, ‘remotesnacks’ encourages businesses to care for their employees with simple snack boxes. These are packed full of popular office snacks such as popcorn, crisps, energy bars and much more.
- Support Your Locals, a Dutch initiative that aims to support local producers by building short and hyper-local supply chains. A dedicated website helps people to find a range of individual and mixed-product bundles all from local suppliers.
Get creative in think about how to package your product for customers and explore partnerships to open up new distribution channels.
To a large extent, we are starved of our usual social and emotional experience such as socialising, dining out and going to the theatre. These stimulating experiences are hard to recreate during times of social distancing but there is evidence as to how some organisations are seeking to tackle this challenge and provide meaningful, memorable and engaging experiences. While they may not be direct substitutes for the ‘real thing’ they can go a long way to providing that social and emotional value we are so lacking.
- How can we recreate the excitement that is involved in the use or consumption of our product or service?
- How can we use digital technology to drive an interactive experience around our product?
- How can we build a social following around the experiences that we promote?
- The first Harry Potter book is coming to life for readers, listeners and viewers as various celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe, Stephen Fry, and Eddie Redmayne, take it in turns to narrate the book’s 17 chapters on video. Chapters are being released each week.
- Secret Sofa is an entertainment series that allows you to create your own interactive cinema adventure. A different film is brought to life each week and at-home viewers are encouraged to dress up and assume characters from the film with support from specially written content, character backstories and interactive challenges.
- To recreate the restaurant dining experience of Pidgin, an acclaimed London-based restaurant, the team are challenging diners to plate up and set the table when ordering from their takeaway option aptly names Homing Pidgin. Diners at-home dining experience is then shared in Instagram to stoke further interest.
Leverage your network and lean on your customers imagination and resourcefulness to create exciting, engaging and shareable experiences.
There are myriad examples of firms switching up their core business to contribute to the global response effort from beverage companies producing hand sanitiser, fashion companies manufacturing masks and hotels converting spare capacity into hospital beds. In some respects, you could include free access to premium features under this banner as well. For example, The Economist’s is offering free access to Covid-19 coverage and Google’s has provided free access to “advanced” features for Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally through July 1st. It could be argued that none of these acts is truly selfish, but regardless this question is really about business ethics. With brand reputation at risk, we will all be judged as to how we responded and contributed during this global time of need.
Questions to ask
- How can our products and service be used to deliver good?
- How can we look after smaller and more fragile suppliers?
- How can we leverage our data and networks support?
- Jaguar Land Rover has deployed more than 160 vehicles globally to support emergency response organisations during the pandemic. A total of 57 vehicles, including 27 New Land Rover Defender SUVs, have been put to service with the British Red Cross to deliver medicine and food to vulnerable people across the UK who now need additional support due to social distancing rules.
- UK company Sensyne Health has launched a web-based app to encourage “good neighbours”. The aim is to improve patient care, including those of the digitally disconnected, and enables people to volunteer, from their laptop on their sofa, or at a safe distance in their neighbourhood, to help look after those most vulnerable in our society.
- Coding Dojo has launched a free initiative to connect its alumni group of coders to small business and retailers that need help with website development. Working with local coffee shops, independent retailers or other businesses, coders will take on projects such a creating a website or bolstering existing sites with features such as ‘click and collect’ or delivery.
We all have a duty to give back during this crisis period, be imaginative in how you too can contribute to helping the greater good.
As we start to emerge from lock-down, as organisations we need to do more than migrate current offerings to digital channels. Yes, this situation is accelerating digital transformation but digital is far more than just using online channels. It’s about getting the organisation to work in a different way, it’s about using data, experience design and new technology to create new products and service that you didn’t think possible. It would be a crying shame if all that came out of this crisis is that we are now using digital channels to do the same things as before.
No one knows how the future is going to unfold; therefore, this is a time to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit by putting pace and experimentation before perfection and analysis. The five areas above can be used as a prompt to help you rethink the essence of how you define value, the way you choose to deliver it and for whom. We all need to step up and step into what is the greatest innovation challenge of our time and in the words of Winston Churchill ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.