At every given opportunity in the last 3 years, I have been speaking about the need for businesses to embrace some transformation, either in their organizational culture or inter-departmental structures or customer delight or employee engagement etc. While I felt the scenario forced down upon businesses by COVID-19 will at least now work as some trigger, am saddened that marketers are looking at letters from the CEOs and videos on “how to wash hands” and “stay home, stay safe” to build relevance, while people in China can track the body temperature of the delivery person real-time and even cosmetic companies through technology adoption are reported to be registering more than 150% increase their sales in Wuhan itself.
The biggest challenge is the mindset that this too shall pass, and everything will be back to where it was. Optimism is great, but not being planned and prepared for the eventuality is suicidal. In this case, unfortunately, things may not look as they did before we were impacted.
Various reports say a potential COVID-19 vaccine is some 16-18 months away. And as per authentic reports, the other possibility is herd immunity, meaning a considerably large part of the society (over 60% of the population) contracts the virus and a large part of them also recover, providing protection for those who are not immune.
The lockdown will get lifted in stages, depending upon the critical need of the products/services and vulnerability of different states/regions/cities/suburbs. We may again face lockdowns if people do not respect the Govt guidelines.
Lots have also been spoken about, on the impending changes humans are going to embrace as far as eating, shopping, working, traveling, partying, caring for oneself, etc. are concerned.
In all, the reality is we are staring at various business impacts both in the short and long term.
The impact will vary from “Gainful” to “Disastrous” depending upon the categories. While Food and Pharma would be on the positive end, travel/hospitality, events (including sports) would be on the other. But does that mean the “Gainful” players can happily stay where they are or the “Disaster” facing ones need to shut shop?
Unless the nets are repaired in a robust manner, both these players will come back to the shore, although one from calm and the other from choppy waters without much in their possession. The nets may sustain for a longer period in calm waters but will eventually get damaged since it wasn’t repaired in time.
It is a critical need for every business owner to set up an internal team consisting of cross-functional talent; people recognized as potential starts, even the nonconformists, also ensuring the team has rich experience backing it, since life has no manual which will prescribe the starting point to generate the domino effect. The experienced would have a better idea of how to create the line-up. It will also make immense sense to hire a couple of external blue-sky thinkers, all with an objective of assessing the short, medium and long term impact to his business and prepare very quick strategies around the same and also implement those, embracing the digital necessity of speed; the ability to embark on ideas, with the knowledge that some may even fail. This team should meet (virtual) on a daily basis with a tight deadline to create that impact structure based on various inputs, statistics, and insights.
While e-commerce would be in the “Gainful” part of the business ecosystem, ensuring cleanliness and perhaps even making sure that the customers know about the health conditions of the delivery executives could make it a winning proposition. Considering the cases in the past where they were caught stealing food, should a surveillance camera on their helmets make a difference? Will that attract privacy issues? Should packaging see any changes? What’s the best way to be build trust? How authentic will you be in your low-touch claims?
Similarly, for the travel/tourism business, the local tourism may gain, with the very limited foreign travel opportunities. Considering the fact that India is yet undiscovered by many of the Indians and almost all state governments are trying to promote their states, interesting collabs can take place here. Also, in the worst-case scenario of the epidemic being uncontrollable, what will these businesses do to stay relevant and cut the losses? Will the hotel premises being given away for isolation facilities work in their favor or against? What can they, authentically, do to make it work in their favor?
What will be the shape of education? Will hiring policies include an immune certification? If a successful arrest of the virus happens in some way even though a vaccine before it moves to the herding stage, how will the people who contracted the virus be treated in the society and by brands for those be the brands’ consumers? Currently, it is seen as a social stigma, at least in some places, from the reports we are seeing. Is there an opportunity here for some brands – touch the pickle, sindurkhela? Will an immunity certification create a new socio consumer classification?
The Automobile category is facing a reality, that is many cars are parked currently without any movements for days, forcing a maintenance need when restrictions are lifted and there are two other possibilities too, one reduction in dependency of public transport, owning to contact/hygiene issues, prompting vehicle ownership and two, the epidemic becomes uncontrollable and markets and sentiments all go down south. Will we see the emergence of new relationship structures between brands and dealerships? Will technology adoption help? Will current owners start becoming very important, unlike ever before; providing reinforcement for the choice they made.
From a Dentist to robotics and everything else in between will need impact planning. It is already late. If you don’t focus on this today, you could be history tomorrow as survival in such a scenario means innovations. Innovations mean disruptions. The ones who are quick and are the attackers, for example, let’s say in the home furnishing/interior business will offer tailormade work from home infrastructure and align with the limbic brain of the consumers, while the others will keep selling mattresses and tables.
Credit for the title: Nabil Sabio
Authored by S Yesudas, Co-founder, Y&A Transformation