Keeping your customers and clients and arms length is likely to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. As is providing an environment where your customers stay apart. But should you see this as a threat or an opportunity? And more importantly, how can you adapt your business model to the new trading environment?
Whilst the obvious impact will be felt by the leisure &hospitality industries, where social interaction is central to their offering, it is going to change the environment for most businesses. With this in mind, I would like to look at how the ability to adapt to new scenarios can really deliver opportunities.
Adapt Adapt Adapt..
Adapting to new environments is critical for survival across pretty much every ecosystem. This is no different in the business world. There has undoubtedly been a seismic shift in the trading environment and the successful businesses will be the ones that are able to adapt their models to this new environment. The good news is – We are already seeing this happening:
Conferences and events are going virtual
Restaurants and pubs are moving to high quality take-away delivery model
Craft food & beverage producers are moving from wholesale to online retail models serving local markets
And those are just in our local area, and are all doing OK.
Opportunity or Threat
Assessing opportunities & threats is a classic part of business planning – I am sure most people will be familiar with the SWOT analysis.
Taking this approach to the current situation its easy to focus on the threats, as they tend to be stating you in the face, but in most cases there will be opportunities too.
Take craft F&B who have relied on wholesale markets, those markets may have shut down, but new retail markets have emerged. Conference & event organisers are seeing the demand for online events is growing rapidly. The key is to identify these opportunists and adapt quickly to deliver.
Being Small and independent can be an advantage.
In this rapidly changing environment agility is key. As such small independent businesses who have a short decision making process and who can react quickly to changes will have a distinct advantage over larger business with more complex decision making processes.
Take the current 2m rule. Businesses have had time to develop and adapt their business models to cope with this new regulation, but now they are open. If this changes and for example moves from 2m to 1m then that will deliver opportunities. Big businesses will take time to adapt and communicate these changes through their organisation. Small independent businesses on the other had can quickly adapt and reap the benefits.
Over the coming months this ability to quickly adapt as the situation changes will give smaller businesses a real advantage. The key is to jump on the opportunities as they arise.
Think long term
I just want to finish by encouraging people to think long term. Rather than thinking “How do I adapt and cope until this is all over”, think about how adapting to the the new environment could improve your business into the long term. Some things you are having to do now, could actually reap benefits to your business long into the future!
The COVID pandemic has turned the economy upside down. As in any period of major upheaval, some businesses (Zoom and Amazon spring to mind!) that do very well, while others (most small businesses and certainly those operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors) have seen turnover fall off a cliff. For both Zoom and Amazon, they were fortunate. Their existing business models happen to be well suited to delivering services to people and markets in lockdown.
What is more interesting is the way that some businesses, faced with a huge decline, or even effective closure, of their existing business models, have used their capabilities, resources and market knowledge to adapt to the new economic environment. Additionally, given the speed with which lockdown was imposed, it has tended to me SME businesses who have the potential to be most agile, who have reacted most quickly, and are starting to see the benefit.
Agility with a short or long term view?
Many business owners recognise the need for change. Facing the reality of the pandemic, they are coming up with new ideas. Furthermore, they have acted. They have implemented their new ideas.
This said, I have seen businesses adapt in 2 distinct ways:
Switch to a model simply to stay viable.
Use lockdown as the incentive to develop a business which works in the short term but can have real benefit long into the future.
People in the first group are really just hanging on, waiting for things to return to ‘normal’. The problem is that no-one knows how long this might be. Certainly, all the indicators are looking encouraging at the moment but even so, the easing of the lockdown comes with warnings of the importance of continuing to maintain social distancing and quarantine for those who can’t. All this, and a spike in COVID cases could see lockdown being reimposed overnight.
I suspect that elements of lockdown will be with us for some time yet. It could be a long wait for normality.
Moving your business into the future
For other businesses, the lockdown has been a catalyst for real change. By embracing the challenges of the current climate and using them to ‘think differently’ some business owners are evolving their businesses in ways that mean they will never look back. Implementing changes effectively and sustainably can be made easier by working with reliable partners. We are proud to have supported numerous clients moving their businesses forward into the future. Let’s have a look at a few:-
1. The Retailer
Our client runs a retail business. Part of the business is a farm shop which means they were allowed to remain open during lockdown. However, in practice, business turnover dropped dramatically and footfall to the shop was not sufficient. The business had a website which included a modest e-commerce facility but this was always an add-on to the main retail business. Up to the start of lockdown, online orders were running at only 1 or 2 per day. Look what happened in March….
From a ‘norm’ of 30-40 orders per month in January & February, order levels rocketed to 400 in March and nearly 600 per month since then. June is on track to sustain this jump inactivity.
The 10-fold increase in on-line orders created significant logistical challenges across the business. By providing effective website hosting and technical support, we were able to ensure that the website absorbed the huge growth in traffic and continued to perform effectively.
We are now looking forward to developing and implementing new marketing programmes over the coming months to continue the benefit to the business of a new online customer base.
2. The Conference Organiser
As an organiser of specialist technical conferences around the UK attracting up to 150 professional delegates, our client faced particular challenges to their business. Events arranged for the Spring had to be postponed. Also, it is looking increasingly likely that it will be impractical to host any further regional events before next year. Faced with potentially zero income for 2020, the owners decided to take their business online. Following initial discussions in mid-May, we set 25th June as the date for the first live webcast. We are working closely with our client and within 4 weeks we have delivered:
A complete online delegate booking & payment management system
Secure management of delegate registration
Secure, controlled access to the webcast feed
Ongoing technical support for the registration booking & payment system
Ongoing marketing management and support for the event
All of the above is seamlessly integrated into the existing website. This is a real testament to the power and flexibility of WordPress.
Proof of the pudding
From the initial marketing launch of the event, there are now over 180 delegates registered, including people attending from as far away as Australia! While our support has helped deliver effective systems facilitating the event, we mustn’t forget that the key is top quality content. The webcast is being delivered by a highly respected leader in his field, our input is to make the online management system straightforward and effective so that it almost appears invisible. Read more about invisible technology here.
Into the future
The switch to online webcasts is undoubtedly a direct outcome of the lockdown. However, there are significant differences between a webcast and a ‘live’ event where there are valuable networking opportunities as well as the technical presentations. The plan is to restart the regional events as soon as practical but webcasts are likely to offer an additional service (and revenue!) channel into the future.
A couple of others….
The engineering service
Our client wanted to take his service offering into Europe. He saw the relative quiet of lockdown as the ideal opportunity to work with us. As a result, we have updated his website to deliver full multi-lingual capability and translated the site into German as a first step into Europe. The plan is to add more languages in due course. This staged approach allows planned expansion in a managed way.
Our client has developed a range of high-quality workbenches and CNC tool storage systems designed for engineering businesses and specialist hobbyists. We have worked with them to build and launch a full e-commerce website from the ground up.
Just do it! The value of effective implementation
The above are just some examples of how we work closely with clients to make things happen. Our goal is to help clients make their businesses better and easier.
We work with our clients to understand their business ideas and objectives. We then design, implement and deliver effective marketing and technical solutions to meet these objectives. Our services are the means, not the end.
We help make implementation happen. It is making it happen that gets results.
Technology is everywhere! During the past few weeks, it has been the main way that we have been able to stay in contact with one another, yet I’d like to think that actually, the best technology is effectively invisible.
This isn’t to say that we can’t see it, more that we don’t notice it. It is effective. It just works.
Even so, people do normally ‘notice’ technology in the first instance. Top technology companies have turned ‘unboxing’ into an art form. The look and touch of the latest iPhone are carefully designed to make us feel good! This is all very well but ultimately it is what you can do with the phone that matters. A handset is just a tool that allows you to communicate, surf, photograph, or whatever? The look and feel may be important to start with but, at the end of the day, you just want it to work. It is what you do that matters.
The same is true when it comes to the technology you use in marketing your business. It may be nice to have all the bells and whistles but what really matters is that your customers and prospects, who engage with you, are fully focussed on your marketing message rather than the technology you use to deliver it. You want the technology to be so good that people don’t notice it!
UX is the key – but stay focussed on your goals
User eXperience (UX) is a significant and growing field in the world of marketing. However, like so many aspects of technology in marketing, it is being sold as a design solution rather than a practical solution. Talk of the psychology of colours and the positioning of key elements on forms and web-pages can lead to an expensive bill but (IMHO) is of limited practical value for the majority of SME businesses and websites.
Use your own experience of your business, customers and markets. You know what you want to offer and what people are looking for. Make sure you deliver in a straightforward way. This sentiment applies equally to your marketing.
For most of us, we should be focussing on a clear message with well laid out, straightforward navigation to our web content – and no dead ends! You can test this yourself, or ask friends & colleagues to take a look. There will always be someone who can offer another tweak or refinement but ask yourself if these make any significant improvement. Incremental/marginal gains in UX can be expensively unnecessary. Don’t try to make your marketing technology perfect. It never will be! What is important is that it works seamlessly.
Website Speed – Fast enough is fast enough
Some people are fixated by website speed tests. Whatever speed-score their website delivers, they want it to be faster. It becomes irrelevant whether the real-world performance of the website delivers a good and positive experience for their site visitors. It becomes all about making the numbers better – even if this delivers no real value or benefit. Are marginal gains in site speed really worth it if?
If I had to pick, I would say that speed isn’t everything – fixation on speed tests isn’t as important as UX – fast enough is fast enough. A slightly slower, well flowing site is better than a fast site with poor logic/navigation that frustrates visitors or leads them to dead ends.
Focus on effective functionality
If users can find a way to break your website, they will! Better that you break it first. If you have tried to break your new web system, and failed, you can be confident that it is OK to launch on your market.
Even if you have failed to find the flaws in functionality and flow of your website, those flaws will still be there – and the chances are someone will find them, even if they are extremes!
Unless you are anticipating very high traffic on your site from the start (in which case it should be worth investing in some careful and comprehensive testing and a phased roll-out of a new site), I recommend that you make sure that you are ready to handle the process failures and bugs manually in the first instance.
This process has benefit for most businesses:
It is more cost-effective
No need to second guess every single possibility (and programme in solutions from the start that will rarely, if ever, be used)
If you have a good, flexible system, you can always add functionality
Accepting that you will need to keep a close eye on your new system for a while and be ready to jump in and sort any problems that visitors experience, quickly.
I reckon that good system that is live and working for you and your business is more use than waiting until you have perfection before launch. Even if some visitors do experience the odd glitch, helping them quickly with backup and support can send a strong and positive message about your business
My tips for effective marketing technology for your business…
Never forget that marketing technology and websites are the means, not the end to achieving your marketing and business objectives.
Start the process then evolve with experience. With development platforms such as WordPress, it is easy to add functionality based on real-world experience.
You can start with a simple system and, over time, evolve it into a sophisticated, yet practical, web-application to help drive your business.
The best technology for your business is invisible to your customers. It just works. It is your business that they see and remember.
Get support from someone who understands both business process and technology. Someone who can support you in achieving your business goals, not just someone who does what you tell them.
During the Lockdown, web meetings, and webinars have definitely come of age, and the number of people selling them as the next big marketing thing has also increased!
Talk to any of these people and they will tell you that they are a must have in your marketing kit bag. But are they?
The simple answer is, as with any marketing tool, “It Depends”. It depends on whether your marketing message would be enhanced by the webinar format and whether your market is likely to engage with the webinars.
Content is King
First lets look at content. The question here is do you have expertise, or access to expertise that people in your market would value. If you do then providing access to this expertise could be a great marketing tool, or in some cases a potential revenue earner via paid webcasts.
Most of the marketing strategies that we use with clients assume that they are experts in their fields, and the marketing is largely about communicating this expertise to the marketplace. So in our world, and in that of many businesses working in niche markets, this means that you can deliver value through your marketing messages. As such webinars may be relevant.
For many niche businesses, this “Expert in your Field” concept should be appropriate, and as such the the webcast as a marketing tool could well have merit. For other businesses, its about asking the question “what value would a webcast add to my marketing?”
What about your audience
So you have material that suits the webcast format. The next question is “What about your market? will they engage with a webcast?” I think that in most cases, if the content is interesting and relevant, then yes they will. The real question is will they believe you when you tell them you have something valuable to say!
I was speaking to a client last week, and this topic came up. He recounted a story about a webinar (yes this was a webinar) which on the face of it seemed valuable, but in fact it turned out simply to be a sales pitch for a paid course. The experience has led him to be wary of the marketing hype surrounding the format. The reality is that this is an issue. The use of webinars as a sales tool in this way has devalued them in many peoples eyes. One reason we talk about “webcasts” rather than “webinars” as this puts the focus on the content. Delivering great content, and getting a reputation for doing so has to be part of your strategy in this area.
Protect your Brand
The final thing I would like to cover is how the use of webcasts sits with your brand image & values.
There are many aspect to delivering a webcast:
The webcast itself, including technology, branding, and the quality/production values for the feed delivered
The sign up process, and how you manage access to the webcast
The interaction with attendees during the Webcast including how you handle things like Q&A and Chat
The lists goes on
All of these things will impact how the webcast reflects your brand, and all need to be considered. It might be a very easy solution to simply use a tool like Zoom for the whole process, but is that right for your brand?
To give an example; In a recent project for a client, we chose not to use Zoom to deliver the webcast as it was felt that the reported security issues for the system might reflect badly on them, and prevent some people from being able to take part. Whilst security may, in reality, not be much of an issue anymore for Zoom, the perception is there. This coupled with other factors around branding and the signup process led to us not using Zoom. As a result we used a number of technologies & platforms to deliver the webcast rather than a single platform end to end. Whilst more complex, the result was totally in line with their high quality brand. Something that could not necessarily be said of Zoom.
I am not saying that you should never use an out of the box solution. (In some cases it would be highly appropriate). What I am saying is that when selecting how to deliver your webcast, making sure it accurately reflects your brand should be a key factor.
So Are Webcasts a good marketing tool?
Consider all the factors above. If on balance they add value to your marketing, and can be done cost effectively in a way that fits your brand, then yes they are a good tool.
If on the other hand, the conclusion in that they don’t add significant value, or are not a cost effective part of the mix, then maybe they should be avoided. But at least you will have an answer for those trying to sell the concept!