Crisis & Consumer-Driven Innovation

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Welcome to #3 in the branding series, "It's time to take stock and rethink your brand."

What Will You Do To Survive and Prosper During The Covid-19 and Beyond?

Regardless of this present crisis, we must take an innovative stance and embrace change--- because just like Sam Cook says in "A Change Is Gonna Come."

As we cope with these disruptive hard times, it helps to focus on the silver lining and how innovation for brands and businesses can benefit on many levels, not just the bottom line.

We all need to take a step back and see how we can have a greater impact on the people we touch, communities, and the world around us, now and the future.

This article provides examples of the different strategies and actions people have taken to better serve their customers, their employees, and revenue sustainability.

Note: This is not your typical blog; it's more of a mini-book, and a resource and a collection of ideas on how to innovate and pivot during times of crisis and forced change.

This article offers over 100 examples of how companies have innovated, adapted, survived, and thrived. This spans ideas on innovation and resilience in leadership, branding, marketing, product and services, technology, and the impact on employees. This is not a comprehensive overview of innovation in all disciplines but rather a snapshot around the disciplines related to marketing and branding.

The Silver Lining of Crisis

During a crisis, there are several forces that naturally create an atmosphere of innovation and change. Larry Clark of Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning says there are four key shifts:

  1. "There can be a unifying energy present in the workforce. As an example, the Apollo 13 mission to the moon that was upended by an explosion on board forced NASA engineers to improvise to save the crew."

  2. "We are forced to see things differently" by putting a spotlight on vulnerabilities that were earlier hidden or just ignored. A client shared if it weren't for COVID, he would not have let an employee go. He said that teamwork and comradery were just too important now, and the employee did not care to work collaboratively with the team.

  3. Organizational structures come under the spotlight. "For example, the COVID-19 crisis has upended the way that grocery chains manage inventory, a process that has been refined over many years to maximize profitability..."

  4. A crisis forces a "bias of action." We must do something to survive attitude.

Maximizing these shifts can make the difference between failure and success.

Many executives agree that changes brought about by crisis can be an opportunity for growth.

The McKinsey" Innovation Through Crisis Survey" of April 2020 (below) reveals that nearly three out of four executives agree that changes brought about by COVID 19 will be a big opportunity for growth, with variation across industries.

History suggests that investing in innovation during a crisis pays off

A Fast Company's "World's 50 Most Innovative Companies" study (below) shows that since 2007companies that invested in innovation through the crisis outperformed their peers during the recovery.

The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity many leaders don't feel equipped to maximize.

Change is difficult, regardless of the circumstances.

The April 2020 McKinsey Innovation Study (below) shows only 21% of the leaders have the expertise, resources, and commitments to pursue new growth successfully, yet 90% feel that the COVID-19 crisis will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years.

The Leadership & the Innovation Solution

Leadership needs to adopt a mindset & follow-through with action

Choose a mindset of innovation and readiness for change, and promote a culture of collaboration, imagination, and bold decisions. Accept the fact that things are changing, permanently or not. The sooner you get real and confirm the reality of the situation and make the difficult decisions, the less painful things will be in the long run.

Leaders who act with speed and confidence turn disruption into an opportunity.

Other key leadership innovation-driven actions include:

  • Exercise your Emotional Quotient (EQ), especially during times of crisis. Lead with clarity, compassion, and empathy; make them part of your culture.

  • From the large corporation to the solopreneur, it is important to both find inspiration and lead with inspiration, and embrace a common purpose does just that (see Branding.) Apply an "all for one, one for all "attitude.

  • Change your mindset and your attitude about reaching out and ask other business leaders and your peer group for help. Make the tough phone calls; reach out like you never have before. Don't sit on your throne and rely on the past.

  • Conversely, if you are benefiting from a crisis, plan for what will happen and how to be successful after your "watershed moment" is over.

  • Reorganize around your strengths: Every company has a set of assets — people, intellectual property, technology, capital that it can best leverage to create greater value and increase income. For example, if you're a consultancy, then leverage your people.

  • Identify what crises-driven changes you should preserve and further develop.

  • Build adaptability and resilience to your strategy and operations.

Develop an Innovation Plan

A plan-of-action levels heads and emotions, and rallies a team around a goal. Your Innovation Plan actions should consider:

  1. Aspire to be a leader-innovator.

  2. Establish a culture of innovation, creativity, and forward-thinking.

  3. Create a plan that is scalable, defensible, and sustainable.

  4. Secure insights and ideas from customers, employees, stakeholders, and customers, other industries, business models, and other time-periods.

  5. Establish a process, and adopt an ongoing iterative approach to improve efficiency and reduce risk.

  6. Make the tough decisions.

  7. Test and refine.

  8. Train and mobilize your personnel.

  9. Communicate, implement, and accelerate.

  10. Continue to innovate.

Review Your Strategy & Business Model

Does your business model need to change, or at least be more flexible? Should you have changed it a while ago? Look for efficiencies that lead to long-term growth. Look to the "right" technologies for now and the future. Is it time to engage third parties, to manage the flow of operations, consider staffing requirements?

For Example:

Manufacturing companies that produce auto parts can use that same technology to produce respiratory ventilators. The key to flexibility is connecting and automating operations where possible. The result will be an increase in efficiency and a decrease in downtime.

96% of businesses have changed their go-to-market model since the pandemic hit, with the overwhelming majority turning to multiple forms of digital engagement with customers. -McKinsey's B2B Decision-Maker Pulse survey

Branding & Innovations

Review or rethink your GPS and simplify your brand strategy with thoughtful answers to these big questions:

Have a plan. If you don't have a Brand Strategy, develop one. If you have one, now is the time to update it with new insights and new ideas.

  • Who are we and who do we choose to be, and what do we stand for?

  • Who are our customers, and how can we best take care of them?

  • How can we do it better or differently?

  • How can we best take care of those who take care of our customers?

  • What are our best predictions for the future?

Choose to be a brand that positively impacts society

  • See Laurie Rinker's Blog on Purpose-Driven Branding

  • Purpose-driven brands have more clarity and create loyalty with all stakeholders.

  • During a crisis, when fear runs rampant, people trust purpose-driven brands even more.

  • A Millward Brown study found a direct relationship between a brand's ability to serve a higher purpose and its financial performance.

  • That study also shares that purpose-driven brands have a greater ability to transform.

  • Become a Certified B Corporation brand to demonstrate your purpose and greater impact. Join the like of Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, allbirds, Ben & Jerrys, Danone, Hootsuite, and 3,500 + other global, forward-thinking impact leaders.

  • In tough times, many companies jump in and do good deeds and repurpose for the short term. However, if it is not part of the brand DNA or if it is just a temporary measure, it can backfire. If you are not authentically on-brand, people will be more distrustful than ever before.

Purpose-Driven Examples:

  • LEGO prioritizes the critical needs of children during the coronavirus crisis. LEGO, a partner of the World Economic Forum, has launched two initiatives to support children around the world during the COVID-19 crisis - from those in refugee camps and war-torn countries to children quarantined in urban areas. The LEGO Foundation will donate $50 million US to ensure children, continue to have access to learning through play as well as essential supplies and education

  • BP has committed to becoming a" net-zero" company by 2050, and the company's CEO Bernard Looney reminded the audience that tackling climate change is an essential imperative which requires imagination from all stakeholders.

  • A McKinsey CEO Study on leadership finds, "Customers care more about sustainability now more than ever. European consumers want fashion firms to act responsibly by considering their social and environmental impact."

Understand Your Customer & Their Changing Needs

It's critical you seek new customer insights and changing customer expectations. Consider how your customer behaviors and mindset and values have and will shift? People have formed new behaviors that align with the new realities and their new order of values and needs – shelter, food, health, income, safety, family – all which have a profound impact on brands and markets. Will the elements that customers value shift irrevocably?

  • When seeking new customer insights, direct conversations with your most valuable customers this will build trust.

  • Keeping customers close, but it's especially important during the time of crisis when job security is low, and spenders are holding on tighter to their wallets. Anticipate any change in your customers' needs and wants, and then communicate empathetically by offering clear advice to distressed customers.

  • In defining the signals of change, you may adjust your go-to-market and distribution models based on new behaviors, including the possibility of an accelerated move to digital channels.

Review Your Target Segments

It's a good time to rethink your customer segments. Along with value and needs, crises tend to reshape spending patterns, which may change your target segments: How will the next generation of customers that fuel your growth be different than your core customers before the pandemic? Are your customers still the right customers? Is it time to move on? Or, is it time to dig in and take your services and products to the next level?

If your primary customers are still a priority, continue to focus on your present customers as they are your best bet for staying profitable in the months to come. Now is the time to focus on delivering excellent service and products.

Rethink Your Customer Journey & Planned Brand Experiences

Rethink your Customer's Journey and the Brand Experience in light of the Corona-19 world and the future. Ensure you're creating strong and engaging customer brand experiences that deliver positive memories and associations.

Try to determine and reduce any friction spots, find new touchpoints, accelerate the shift to digital channels, and provide for new safety requirements.

For example:

  • Airlines are rapidly reinventing the passenger experience with contactless journeys focused on traveler health and safety to make customers feel comfortable flying again.

  • Hospitals now must find a way to thoughtfully deal with the COVID-19 situation from admissions to discharge with their emergency rooms, testing, visitors, surgeries, and the entire flow of patients while still operating effectively with the healing touch.

  • An automobile manufacturer now handles functions traditionally performed by dealers, such as trade-ins, financing, servicing, and home delivery of cars.

Marketing Innovations

Your Messages

Be relevant, be proactive, be timely, and be on-brand. Consider reviewing all your communications for tone, timelessness, relevancy, and trends. Review all of your advertising, email marketing, social media posts, and any other planned marketing efforts. If necessary, change the media mix. If you don't do this, you risk sharing something that your customers might view as insensitive or inappropriate.

  • Rethink your messages with emotional engagement by connecting with people by how they are thinking and feeling during this period.

  • Your messages should be authentic, transparent, and honest.

  • Update them on your situation. Make It a Storytelling Moment; be creative in your approach as long as it on brand.

  • Share the good news about the things your business is doing to help. It never hurts to share the good news. For instance, Ford announced that it plans to make 50,000 ventilators within 100 days to aid efforts in fighting the Coronavirus. CVS and Walgreens waived prescription delivery fees to its pharmacy customers.

  • Do all you can to help, and invite your customers to contribute as well.

  • Don't forget to make a record of all outgoing communications to ensure consistency.

  • Be available where your clients can easily access you, your messages, and get help. Address some of the most commonly asked questions about how your business is handling the situation.

  • Provide digital updates: on your website, social media, email or newsletters and flyers, and wherever your customers are active.

For Example:

  • "Nike is committed to using the power of sport to support employees, communities, and athletes all over the world impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19). At Nike, we believe that if you have a body, you are an athlete." Here's what they did to help—Nike created a campaign, encouraging people to "play inside, "If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance." The campaign was also reposted by Nike's brand ambassadors, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Nike also paid off their community support by pledging $15 million US + towards COVID-19 response efforts.

Other Marketing Considerations

Geo-Target and get local. Marketers must figure out how to localize their outreach with targeted brand management, marketing programs, and messages. Global brands need to constantly reassess their relevance against consumers' local culture and track their relative acceptance alongside local players.

Pricing & Profits: Consider and apply promotions and discounts judiciously but don't erode your brand position if you are a premium brand. Steve Wunker, in Forbes, says, "Delight customers with "Costovation," an innovation that cuts costs while exceeding customer expectations." For those of us who aren't Amazon cutting costs while keeping customers interested is critical right now. Staring down indefinite store closures and a whole lot of future food waste.

Marketing Innovation Examples:

  • Vegetarian fast-food chain Clover repurposed the ingredients it normally uses to make hot sandwiches into boxes of assorted fruits, vegetables, and other supplies. Customers went home with a load of healthy options for their families, and Clover turned its waste into a product of its own."

  • Abbott, Biomerica, and other medical manufacturers are developing tests that can detect if someone has COVID-19, with shorter wait times and a cost of as little as $10.

  • Some fitness companies, including Nike and Peloton, are offering their subscribed apps for free to consumers. Free attracts new customers, who potentially will be more open to paying for the brands" services and offerings once the free trial is over.

  • LinkedIn is offering free courses to help people with various professional needs, including job seeking tips, work-from-home advice, and ways to deal with stress and time management.

  • Ceri Rich-Odeh, President of San Francisco's Transworld Schools, shared due to COVID-19-19 and recent immigration regulations, uncertain global and US economic and political issues, they underwent a major change. They needed to break their dependency on F1 student visas and were forced to deal with the COVID19 forced school closure. The solution was to take the school online. They undertook some major changes and retrained instructors, secured accreditation for online ESL, sourced B2B partnerships with schools and universities worldwide, and created a new business combining properties to make smaller, more accessible programs.

Customer Service

Review how you deliver customer service to ensure you're operating as sensitively and thoughtfully as you can. Demonstrate to your customers they are your priority. Are there new technologies or applications you can apply for better customer service?

For Example:

  • Rick Lewis, the thoughtful owner of local San Rafael, Gold Rush Jewelers, got a call from a customer needing a watch battery replaced. watch battery replaced. Closed for Covid, Instead of referring them to another business, the owner personally both picked up and delivered watches from the customers home, safely in his corvette with his wife no less.

  • Dedicated Connecticut pharmacist Manan Dave has been working long hours during the pandemic. After clocking out at the pharmacy, on his own time, he delivers medicine to customers who can't leave their homes and brings hand sanitizer and other medical supplies to local nursing homes and assisted living communities.

  • Video can be employed to create more of a human touch. A customer who contacts a call center might feel special to have the option of a video call with a real person who's also working from home. A video can show that the company cares, and it's willing to invest the time in you. This experience also shows that the company is taking care of its employees by enabling them to keep working — and to keep getting paid —from home.

Monitor Customer Feedback

Track the perceptions of what people say, think, and feel in these changing and consumer preferences via your listening posts, sales representatives, social media, feedback sides like Yelp.

One of the surest signs of a bad or declining relationship is the absence of complaints from the customer. Remember, no one is ever really that satisfied. When customers don't complain, things fester, and when they finally erupt, it's often too late.

Brands, Products & Services

Matching customer needs with your goods and services is the magic of any brand and business. During this COVID period, many brands listened to their customers and innovated. For Example:

  • A Houston point-of-sale company, formerly called Revention, reacted quickly to the COVID-19 situation. Within weeks of the economy shut down, they had not only added multiple new features to their product, allowing clients to adapt to mobile and curbside ordering on the fly, but also repositioned themselves in the market with a rebrand, changing their name to Hunger Rush.

  • Multiple brands took their Industrial packaged toilet paper and repackaged it for consumer use. (This added to the shortage of toilet paper in the early COVID-19 months.)

  • Quicken Loans is focused on educating its customers about their available options, including forbearance, loan modification, and refinancing, as they think about mortgage payments.

  • Audible recognized that priority shift early and adjusted offerings to reflect the most urgent needs of the moment. Recently, the company announced the launch of Audible stories, which allows anyone anywhere to listen to over 200 children's stories for free. As a bonus, parents can feel good about how their kids are spending their time. (An audiobo