Only Thing For Certain: Coronavirus is Reshaping Business
It’s a wild moment of contrasting fortunes for brands. Some categories are booming while others are suffering. Some businesses that were once close to imploding are now thriving while some that were thriving now face possible extinction.
Brands like Blue Apron and Chewy, who have had a rollercoaster run on the stock market, now seem poised for growth as demand for meal kit delivery (for humans and pets alike) has skyrocketed.
Makers of toilet paper, wipes and disinfectant sprays can’t keep up with demand. Department store retailers are hitting a new floor while big-box providers of necessities are selling just about everything they can get their hands on. Online betting titans search for answers and new revenue streams after losing March Madness and entire seasons of professional sports.
Meanwhile, online gaming is surging and consoles like Nintendo Switch can be hard to find. Some brands are halting or slowing their marketing while others are benefiting from gaps that drive a precipitous decline in ad rates.
Where is it all headed from a holistic standpoint?
“This is a time when marketers need great empathy and leadership,” says digital analyst and anthropologist Brian Solis. “Not every industry and not every company is going to come out on the other side of this healthy or successful. It’s unfortunately reality. But you have a choice. You can cut innovation programs to save money, pause critical sales, marketing and CX investments, let go of supporting staff, and batten down the hatches. Or you can make bold investments in innovation that set the stage for growth.”
“Everyday life has undeniably been turned upside-down in a matter of days,” says Matt Fantazier, Head of Marketing-US Baby Brands for Johnson & Johnson. “People are adapting to new routines and norms. Consumer behaviors have been moving towards things like content streaming, eCommerce, and telemedicine but current conditions likely will only accelerate adoption. Why? Because they replace higher-friction experiences.”
The brands and industries that thrive in the coming months, says Fantazier, will be “the ones that have invested in their digital experiences and infrastructure to support evolving consumer trends and an increasingly non-linear path-to-purchase driven by individual needs. The technology is here to improve experiences, and our consumers are quickly realizing that, at scale.”
Amidst the chaos and disruption there are numerous points of opportunity for brands, according to Matt Hudson, Senior Mobile Delivery Manager for Belk. “Drive-up services and take-out online ordering are going to be hot. E-commerce is still thriving--maybe even growing. Amazon cutting shipment of non-essentials is an opportunity for D2C brands on their own website or app.”
Solis points out that tough times tend to reset the landscape. “The truth is that we’re not going back to the normal we once knew. How we come out of this will largely be shaped by how companies choose to shape markets in these times. The status quo will by design be behind the times. Their efforts will emphasize recovery rather than growth.”
The opportunity for future brand growth, Solis says, may hinge on making defensive and offensive moves now. “If you’re going to cut, don’t minimize growth and innovation,” he says. “Don’t cut initiatives that reach and engage customers in times of great distractions. Don’t cut incentives that are attractive to customers. Don’t cut investments that improve and differentiate customer experiences for an increasingly digital-first mentality.”
It’s also critical in this moment for brands to find direct, honest ways to communicate with their customers and communities Bonin Bough, Chief Growth Officer of Bonin Ventures. “Businesses are looking for ways to effectively navigate this crisis and remain connected with consumers in meaningful, helpful and human ways. Brands are now, more than ever, realizing the importance of human-centric, 1:1 connection and, as a result, large brands are shifting to emerging channels such as short-form video and live-stream content in order to connect in an authentic way. Major short-form social content players are seeing engagement like never before, and this deeper connection will become the new standard of marketing and advertising as we move through this and beyond.”
Companies would be wise to look to past recessions for lessons, Solis says. “It’s about balance. You can’t be too cautious and you can’t be too ambitious. But focusing on customers, prioritizing programs and infrastructure investments that engage them in meaningful ways and cultivates memorable customer experiences and outcomes, exploring innovation opportunities to improve processes, products and systems, this is where purpose and balance comes to light. It’s those companies that seek this opportunity to look inwardly and also see changes on the outside that can inspire the right next steps to not only survive but also thrive.”
The hardships across the business landscape right now are real. The stakes--and the potential for positive changes--are incredibly high. The safe bet is that companies with strong, steady leadership and plans that balance short-term viability with long-term growth will emerge from this chaotic era as strong as ever and with a blueprint for a brighter future.
This is the first article in a series that will continue to explore the myriad ways brands and entire categories (e.g., sports and entertainment, shopping and ecommerce, travel, hospitality and the restaurant business) are being impacted by the Coronavirus.