Lessons from the Lab

Rewiring your brand for innovation during COVID-19.

Tess Robinson

The times they are a-changin’ am I right?

At Smack Bang, we’ve entered our 5th week working from home as the story of 2020 continues to unfold in ways none of us could have ever imagined.

Right now, it’s unclear how long this period of unpredicted turmoil might last. The duration of our isolation and the severity of the subsequent financial fallout seems hinged on the race for a vaccine. And whilst many economists suggest that we’re at the start of a recession that could go on for years, many of us are already looking toward the next chapter.

Thankfully, looking ahead is hard-wired into the human condition. It’s what’s kept our species thriving thus far. In my opinion, looking ahead with optimism, hope and a thirst for transformation is, quite literally, all we can do right now. I’m choosing to remain positive whilst mining for opportunities, recognising the silver linings and seeking out the bright spots. This is undoubtedly where my head is at. After all, blue sky thinking just so happens to be my specialty.

As Covid-19 descends on more and more communities around the world, Bob Dylan’s lyrics seem ever more pertinent;

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth saving

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone

The so-called ‘waters’ of 2020 sure have grown, but so too, has our resilience and natural inclination for innovation. We’re seeing brands across categories pivot and reframe to move with, not against the tides. Those of us who practise agility and creative expansion will no doubt be swimming, and those who don’t? As Dylan precludes, will sadly be sinking like stones.

As history has proven true on numerous occasions, a crisis is the ultimate innovation accelerator.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the conception of some of the world’s most impressive innovations: Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Pinterest and Venmo. Spoiler alert: The 2008-10 World Financial Crisis gave birth to a fair dose of creativity.

But let’s not forget that innovation applies to all facets of business. In fact, today it’s not enough alone to purely innovate your product or service. What is required is that you innovate across your brand, your customer experience, your fulfilment, your systems, your team. When we look at some of the most successful brands right now – like Glossier, Away, and Warby Parker, for instance, these guys didn’t develop radically original products; they simply innovated the sphere that surrounds the product to offer a more valuable brand experience to their customer.

If you’re staring at your product or service wondering how on earth to ‘pivot’ during this time, try thinking laterally and consider instead, innovating the sphere that surrounds it.

Innovate your customer experience

According to a 2019 Salesforce customer research piece, 84% of customers claimed that a company’s experience is as important as its products. This trend is projected to reach a 100% parity between experience and product quality by 2023.

So how do we as brand builders create an unparalleled customer experience? We start by giving consumers what they may not even yet realise they want. Of course, this concept is entirely applicable to ‘normal’ times, but even more relevant to a time of crisis. Brands must consider how their product or service fits into their consumers’ lives during this time. We must seek to understand what consumers are struggling with—how this crisis is affecting them on a daily basis. Learn how they think, feel, and behave towards your brand through the filter of this crisis. This isn’t easy, but if you can decode these drivers, you’ll be better positioned to create long-term customers. Start by talking to your existing audience. Read their comments about you and your products on the web. Most of all, truly listen to what your customers are saying.

For businesses willing to adapt to convenience throughout their business, a great exercise is walking through the customer journey at each step and asking yourself, “Is this the most convenient option for our user?”

If you’re not continually evolving your business or service to be as relevant, valuable and convenient as possible – particularly during this time of uncertainty – you’ll be left behind with Dylan’s sinking stones.

Innovate your brand messaging

It may seem counter intuitive, but times of crisis actually provide fruitful grounds for brand’s to grow market share if they’re prepared to be creative, inventive and some-what unconventional with their messaging.

Right now, brand engagement has never been higher. Facebook and Instagram are reporting upto 40% more usage than normal (source).

To put it politely, business owners and brand marketers alike would be damn right out of their minds to not use this crisis as an opportunity to reach new audiences, provide more value and thus gain deeper and more expansive loyalties.

But, and it’s a rather large ‘but’, we simply can’t do as we have always done. During tough times the reflex is often to “turn up” the noise for a better yield rather than fine-tune it for a stronger harvest. And whilst we certainly believe this is not the time to be cutting your marketing budgets, I do think that the turbulent and constantly shifting landscape requires us to carefully, but considerably innovate our messaging too.

Being able to adapt to changing consumer behaviour, the dynamics of business and new developments throughout this crisis while maintaining a strong customer focus is essential to great marketing right now.

Harvard student Roland Vaile spent a year following the fortunes of 250 companies throughout the period of time following the Great Depression. “Using secondary data and an occasional survey, he followed these companies through the recession and into the growth period that ensued. Tracking both advertising investment and annual revenues, Vaile was able to divide the firms into three groups: those that did not believe in advertising, those that cut back advertising during the Depression and those that increased it.

His results demonstrated that companies that increased their ad budgets during the recession grew sales much faster than their rivals – not only during the downturn but also beyond it. Companies that decreased their advertising spend saw their sales decline both during the recession and then for the following three years. In relative terms, these companies actually underperformed even those that elected to do no advertising at all.” (source.)

Innovate your team workings

At Smack Bang, I’ve spent a huge amount of time building my team. It’s taken years of refinement, hard lessons and constant work to bring this team of brilliant minds together. So, it goes without saying that I want to hold on to these incredible individuals throughout this time – the first reason being that I care deeply for their wellbeing, and the second, more selfish reason is that I know this team of individuals will help Smack Bang come out strong on the other side.

Necessity is the mother of invention and there’s no time like a crisis or a recession to force a business to look very frankly at it’s systems and processes. Right now, at Smack Bang we are using this time to work productively and strategically at building a fool-proof future strategy. As a team, we’re considering where we want Smack Bang to be when the storm has passed. To do so however, we’ve had to adapt with speed to our remote working situation.

Luckily for us we’ve had a bit of practice, with the entire team working from home at least one day per week for the last 12 months.

Remote working aside, we’re using this time to fine-tune the way we communicate with each other, how we approach our work in a multitude of ways, and also, fostering new skills with additional training and online courses. Our focus at the moment is to over communicate with each other, celebrate every green shoot and go above and beyond for our clients and each other.

What I’ve learned is that people love improving the way they do things, they love when flaws are exposed and more efficient ways of doing things are uncovered. And surprisingly, they all seem to be thriving throughout this crisis.

Ask yourself, how will I use this crisis to strengthen my team and our processes so that we are even more united, productive and future ready on the other side of this?

Image credit: Maiko Gubler

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