Times of crisis force us to think differently as entrepreneurs and leaders within our organization. As many of the systems we used just months ago become antiquated, it is critical to develop new pathways to move forward. Embracing innovation is key. Here’s how you can push yourself out of the comfort zone and explore unfamiliar territories and new opportunities that are beneficial to the mid to long-term success of your business.

Identify Lasting Changes

Crisis creates new needs, and, as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention. The key during the COVID-19 crisis is to discern which needs are likely to last beyond this pandemic period and create lasting change.

As an entrepreneur or leader within your organization, this opens up the door to ride the wave of opportunity presented by meeting these needs so you can set yourself up for long term stability and success.

Focus On Your Customers & Consumers

Your customers and consumers must be at the center of your business. Listening and engaging with them is more important now than ever. It is critical to understand how increased access to online options, more products, and new marketplaces are changing shopping behaviors, purchasing habits, and interactions with your brand.

Thankfully, in this digital age, gleaning customer insights is also more feasible than it has ever been before.  Businesses should invest in expanding and deepening their data analytics abilities so that they can leverage data insights that are already being collected when consumers purchase goods, post on social media, and interact online. Understanding these trends is the key to developing actionable insights that will drive your businesses’ top line growth and margin enhancement efforts.

Then businesses need to take the next step. The pandemic has shown that “data for the sake of data” is a dead end. It is crucial to understand what current data analytics and trends mean for your organization so you can creatively test new ways to improve the buyer journey, the product experience, and customer service. With this information, you can develop a strategy that allows you to quickly pivot as needed to continue to grow.

Be Aware Of Current Trends So You Can Leverage Them For Your Business

It is hard to miss the incredible shift to digital that has come with COVID-19, but there are plenty of other consumer trends that business owners need to watch as well.

One important trend is the increasing emphasis on health and well-being – both physical health and ways to protect from disease, but also, and perhaps more important, emotional health.

Companies that can link their services with helping consumers thrive personally in difficult times will have an edge.  Retail and consumer goods companies have already been active in the health and wellness segment for years — and their involvement in this space has continued to increase dramatically throughout the pandemic. Whether it is health clinics in stores or an increased focus on OTC products, these businesses have jumped into healthcare with both feet first and are now reaping the rewards.

There are also opportunities to use positive customer experiences as a way to address deep consumer needs for emotional self-care. The human touch, wherever it can be made tangible in an increasingly digitally-based society, will differentiate companies in ways that are likely to last long past this pandemic.

Another important trend is how consumers shop. When they do leave home, they buy more at once resulting in fewer trips to the store. Consumers are also showing an increased preference for trusted brands, and, due to lower discretionary spending, they are searching for deals.

Brainstorm with your team to see how your organization can leverage these trends to better serve your customers and consumers.

Look For Examples Of Companies Who Have Adapted Well

Every business has been impacted in one way or another by the pandemic. By studying the companies who have adapted well, we can learn from their response without having to undergo the same trials and errors they initially may have faced.

For example, Chick-Fil-A might not be the first company to come to mind for innovation, but they showed resilience and opportunism in how they handled the sudden increase in demand for on-the-go meals. 

Whereas other fast-food restaurants struggled with long, slow lines and low customer satisfaction, Chick-fil-A earned top marks in an October QSR consumer survey for order accuracy, friendliness of staff, and speed of service. This last one was most surprising, since in fact their lines were 2-3 minutes slower on average than competitors. Still, they managed to create a feeling of “care” and speed in several ways. They had friendly staff members take customer orders before they reached the speaker boxes where orders would normally be taken and they visually addressed management of crowds by creating temporary double-lanes — again with lots of smiling staff members.

Chick-Fil-A illustrated that subjective experiences are even more critical than objective measures like time spent waiting. Through this case study, we can learn to keep the subjective experience top of mind when tailoring experiences for our customers.

Take Action

Now is the time to embrace critical elements of innovation, starting with deep, ethnographically-based insights into emerging long-term consumer functional and emotional needs, testing potential solutions with prototypes, and iterating quickly.

During times of uncertainty, we can’t be afraid to test and learn. By leaning into innovation, we can create a more agile and resilient organization optimized for long-term success.

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