The business impact of the coronavirus pandemic is as fast-spreading and overwhelming as the virus itself. We are facing a health crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis and a humanitarian crisis. Businesses need to look after their people, their financial solvency and their supply chains. Customers, who have always been told they come first, respect this,1 and are rightly having to adapt, fitting in among these other priorities.
But as the crisis evolves, the customer agenda must come to the fore. Customers want to see you doing the right thing; but they also have real needs, and will turn to companies that understand and support them. Being a Go-to Brand for your customers has always been about creating meaning in their lives.2 Now the need for that is stronger than ever – Go-to Brands have proved relatively resilient in this crisis3 – but in many cases what it takes to do that has changed. From our research and our conversations with clients across different sectors, we have derived the following five-point plan:
Respond to fast-changing needs
As your customers’ needs have fundamentally changed, make sure you are solving the right problems for now.
Uncovering people’s Jobs to be Done4— the progress they are struggling to achieve in the particular circumstances they face — is an approach hugely applicable to today. Jobs provides a unique way to look beyond obvious needs to understand the hacks that people are using to manage in their new world, and respond with the products and services that can help them. To get to these insights quickly and remotely, use social listening tools to explore where the shifts and new jobs might be; use digital panels to quantify the shifts and uncover new segmentations; and use rapid design-and-test sprints to experiment in the market, with a community of customers that can help you validate your insights and refine solutions.
What are the urgent jobs to be done that your customers are facing? What is the progress they are struggling to make, and the experience they are missing?
Jobs-based innovation replaces traditional models of backward-looking data correlation with deeper insights about why people do what they do. By understanding the jobs that people are struggling to perform, companies can systematically design better products, services and relationships to get them done.
Establish a purposeful role
With all brands reaching out at the same time, find and claim the distinctive role that you can best play for your customers.
Now is the time to discover if your brand purpose has meaning. Ask yourself: As a customer, in my new situation, what could I want or expect from a company promising whatever your purpose says? If the answer to this question is clear and valuable, your brand can act as a beacon, a source of inspiration and authenticity.5
You can energize your organization by turbocharging your purpose and using it to guide what you do. Use it to be true to who you are and how you fit in customers’ lives. What unique assets do you have to bring in service of customers’ new needs and circumstances? What role do you have customers’ permission to play? Then adjust your voice to respect today’s sensitivities and any new roles you may be taking on, while still showing your authentic character. Your purpose made tangible can energize customers and employees alike.
What will make your customers look back a year from now and remember how you were there for them, as only you could be?
Create connection in separation
With people living and working digital beyond what anyone intended, design humanity into the experience you offer.
People are experiencing the most disruptive event of their lives separated from friends and family. Digital connectivity has transformed how we can cope, whether through working from home, ordering online deliveries, bingeing on Netflix or sharing a quarantini over Zoom. Many companies are sensibly responding by bringing forward digital initiatives.
But the new circumstances are not just about accelerated demand. The suddenly all-pervasive use of digital channels for work and play, by reluctant adopters as well as digital natives, makes it more important than ever to make the technology human, to connect more closely with the service-providing brands and with each other. Apps that people used as tools, as part of a broader relationship, have now become the only interaction with your brand. Look to behavioral science to respond to how people feel during their digital experience with you, in order to design appropriately sensitive technology: technology that is understanding, compassionate, perceptive, attentive and delicate.6
How can you help customers feel the human connection that we all need right now, through the digital experiences you provide?
Design for a new future
Beyond the immediate adaptations we are all being forced to make, anticipate and position for the lasting attitudinal shifts for when we emerge.
The products and services that your business is developing today will appear in the market once we emerge from the crisis, or at least from the current phase. So it is important to anticipate now whatever changes in people’s attitudes and priorities may shape the market at that time and over the longer term. Just as 9/11 left America with an elevated trust in the military and an acceptance of surveillance that would have previously been hard to imagine, what will be the lasting shifts from people’s reaction to the pandemic? Will we sustain our digital habits and change how we meet and travel — or will we long for the personal proximity we are currently missing? Will we feel more vulnerable, because we’ve seen how easily our way of life can be disrupted beyond what we imagined — or will we feel more resilient, because we’ve come through it?
While the future is uncertain, now is the time to research signs of potential lasting shifts in resilience, confidence, future orientation, etc., in order to plan for contrasting scenarios and innovate for opportunities that these scenarios may open up.
What assumptions are you implicitly making about what will change and what will stay the same?
Concentrate your spend
Given the cost pressures of a collapse in demand, focus your spend and energy where they matter, balancing immediate shifts and future trends.
If all the above weren’t enough, we need to do all this under huge cost pressure, which requires relentless prioritization:
- Prioritize customers: invest in the profitable core for whom you can be their Go-to Brand through and beyond the crisis.
- Prioritize brands: review your brand portfolio to focus on critical brands, and be prepared to disinvest from or cull others.
- Prioritize initiatives: design and target investments for the best returns, as the channel mix changes to reflect customers’ changed circumstances and priorities.
To make the most impact, this will generally require concentrating the spend and effort in fewer places; the challenge is to do that for immediate results while positioning the business for the post-Covid future.
Are you letting cost pressures reduce the impact of everything you do, or making tough choices on what to support, with an eye to future recovery?
We know this is a demanding agenda, but it is what the current situation requires. The risks are high, but so are the rewards. The brands that truly support customers when they’re struggling are the ones that become lifelong favorites.
For our comprehensive guidance on helping your business respond to the coronavirus pandemic, please visit the Oliver Wyman coronavirus hub.
According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brands and the Coronavirus, 52% of people across twelve countries say that to earn or keep my trust, brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends; a further 38% say that they hope brands will do this.