A global pandemic is causing chaos, to businesses and economies globally, of an unprecedented nature in this digital age. Whilst it's completely understandable for panic, pessimism and conservative measures, there are contingency strategies and business opportunities to consider.
At Mäd, we champion creativity, problem solving and forward thinking. Having a dynamic team well versed in technology allowed us to have remote working opportunities in place early in our company lifespan. With aspirations to expand globally, we collectively brainstormed solutions to provide the highest quality of service to clients on our doorstep and indeed on the opposite side of the planet. We covered this topic in Remote Work: How We Learned to Make It Happen™.
The Virtual Office.
As many countries encourage self-isolation measures, businesses are forced to either adapt to a virtual office or pause operations. The former solution can be met in a number of ways.
Team Management Software.
This is a strong starting point. Mismanaged teams will ultimately become the biggest pain point. To increase productivity and communication we discussed a multitude of solutions before opting to build our own platform, Bloo.io. Many great team management solutions existed already, but our decision to create our own allowed us to create an answer to every problem we'd face as a customer. Understanding your team needs, and mapping out the organizational solution is invaluable. With a powerful TMS system in place, communication flows smoothly- centralized. We've covered this topic in Why We Killed The Group Chat. More information on the benefits of using TMS can be found on Bloo.io.
Before discussing how to have a remote meeting, it's important to know when a meeting is needed. By all means, this thought process isn't new, yet many businesses suffer massively from internal time wasting. Before arranging a meeting, it's worth asking some key questions:
- What is the purpose of this meeting?
- Could a simple e-mail suffice instead?
- Who needs to be at the meeting?
- How will the meeting be structured?
- Do we have all the information needed for the meeting to be productive?
Point 1 is key, there should be no meetings without thoughtful purpose. Recently, we made the decision to adopt the six pager strategy to ensure that there is clarity over the content of the meeting.
The purpose of a meeting may be to make an important decision or to discuss ideas. If the purpose could be replaced by a simple e-mail (point 2) then time can be saved for multiple team members therefore increasing overall productivity.
When deciding who should attend the meeting (point 3) there is no need to lazily bring usual groupings together, for example: when signing off design work there is no need for the operations manager, maintenance manager or HR manager to be present. Narrow the participants to decision makers and those skilled and focused on the subject matter.
A well structured meeting increases productivity and reduces time wasted (point 4). Using the aforementioned six pager document, all attendees can read in advance (or on arrival) focused subject matter on the meeting content to ensure time isn't wasted in explanations or tangents. Assigning a team member to chair the meeting, and setting time limit guidelines are useful practices.
Whilst point 5 advocates careful preparation to ensure enough information is available for meaningful discussion and decisions, it is also important to be aware that sometimes unexpected variables will lead to a lack of agreement and an inability to commit to decisions. With this in mind, team members should be prepared to cut the meeting short and propose reconvening at a later date when more solid information is available.
Remote working doesn't kill social productivity, as many powerful conferencing tools are available online. Google Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and many other platforms allow virtual meetings to take place and to continue business as usual.
There may be challenges for the 'hands-on' aspects of work-life, but with screen sharing and a vastly diverse range of software on the internet, there are opportunities to innovate solutions.
One core creative service we provide is the Design Sprint. Working with clients internationally, we devised a solution to provide the same high quality service remotely. We covered this in our insight: The Remote Design Sprint.
As with traditional meetings, we advocate assigning a chair to the conference call. A useful tool is the ability to mute participants, especially if the meeting can't be optimized to a small number of team members. The chair can mute all team members initially, and unmute when they use tools to 'ask for the floor' in the discussion- such as Zoom's 'Raise Hand' feature or any of the messenger platforms available alongside the audio/video feed.
Without physically seeing team members arrive, leave and progress work, accountability becomes a potential issue for the remote office. Creating accountability funnels will keep team members on track and focused.
In our TMS solution we added to-do lists and the option to assign tasks. We create progress columns, such as 'Backlog, in-progress, internal review, client review, and done', to allow real time updates on task progression. We also added an 'update' feature and encourage team members to check in daily with what they've been working on, with the option to ask for help when necessary.
It should also be noted that motivation can be a problem for home-working solutions, and various productivity boosters may include mental health training and helpful guidelines to setting up a home workspace.
When potential team work problems are solved, another glaring issue from remote working may appear: the client. Many businesses will rely on face to face custom and virtual solutions won't be appropriate, whilst many may see this as a cause for concern we advocate exploring the opportunities.
"Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius"
- Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel's Zero To One, encourages novel thinking. The primary concept is creating an innovative product or service (zero to one) rather than developing, tweaking or copying an existing concept (one to one point two, or one to one, or one to two). With the world currently in unfamiliar territory, new demands will appear and new opportunities therefore also being created. For the fellow innovators, we tip our hats. For those less creative, have no fear.
As an example, a hairdresser may lose all customers if they're unable to physically come within two meters of a client due to anti-COVID-19 conditions. It's unreasonable to expect the hairdresser to be capable of AI tech to solve this problem, but there are opportunities to explore. Perhaps, the hairdresser recognizes the expected rise of DIY haircuts and creates an e-book with useful tips, to either sell or offer free (for long term brand alignment). Perhaps also, the hairdresser spots opportunity for a high demand when isolation ends and offers promotional vouchers to be purchased to secure the first slots when that high demand hits. Collecting deposits could keep their business afloat throughout closed months.
Relating this example to other business areas need not be complex. We previously wrote about designing for the lowest common denominator, a useful practice to ensure business plans are extremely accessible. Whether you create software, e-books, a deliverable version of your product/service, deposit based sales or other solutions, there are many ways to get your business quickly functioning virtually for the time-being with the minimum viable product (MVP).
Planning is always vital. In relation to COVID-19, we must think how consumer behaviors may change and how customer needs may evolve. Clever businesses are already adapting to the change, here in Phnom Penh we've already seen the following examples:
• Restaurants switching exclusively to a delivery model for the interim.
• Alcohol wholesalers creating drink-to-the-door services, essentially a mobile TukTuk bar.
• A cinema offering private rental of the entire establishment.
• Hot-desking offices providing virtual learning classes.
• Personal trainers moving to virtual training solutions.
Lowering costs will be high priority for many businesses aiming to stay afloat during uncertain times, but we instead advise clever investing to increase revenue. With a surge of digital users (due to inability to leave the house), online advertising can become lucrative.
First, research which advertising channel will likely be most effective to reach your demographic. Whilst there are many traditional methods to focus on such as television, radio, leafleting and e-mailing, we'll focus on two strong digital options in this insight. Google Ads, and social media advertising.
Formerly known as Adwords, the leading search engine has a powerful tool to bypass SEO results whilst appearing in multiple advantageous digital spaces. The most common advert uses search results, this is when keywords from customer searches trigger your advert to show as (ideally) the first result.
Often neglected, negative keywords are key for optimizing strong search adverts. This process involves listing keywords that you do not wish to cause your advert to trigger. Common negative keywords include: free; cheap; discount; worst; bad; poor.
A common search ad tactic is to use [exact match] phrases of your company name. When a potential client or customer is searching for your business, the last thing you want is for a competitor to appear higher ranked than you and potentially claim that custom.
It is worth noting that through Ad extensions, you can direct users to specific pages of your website. The above example offers two alternative pages within 'themeforest' in a hope to increase likely click-through rates. Other extension options include CTAs for direct calls, emails, app downloads and directions to the business.
The power of Google Ads extends beyond Google searches, as users have the option to utilize partner business platforms for their ads. This can result in your banner style ad appearing on websites that Google deems related to your content (providing you've set your advert variables efficiently).
Social Media Advertising
Again, many options exist but we'll narrow our focus for the purpose of this article. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn provide advertising within their platforms, with heavily customizable variables. The former two can be linked up, allowing a single advert to display across both mediums. Whilst it is a useful time-saver, we always advocate spending extra time and effort to make optimized adverts per platform as user behaviors differ per platform.
Adverts can run in-feed, as banners, in the marketplace section, during videos and other options. Social Media platforms have learned to focus their energy on developing their advertising opportunities as it's a lucrative money maker; We can expect an ever-evolving flow of options for advertisers, so we advise keeping up to date on trending features.
Separating LinkedIn, this platform is much less congested with adverts but is ripe with opportunities as users tend to be more 'professionally minded' when using it. As LinkedIn try to encourage more advertisers, they regularly offer advertising credit that can help you test their parameters and your advert effectiveness at no cost.
How to run effective adverts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As earlier mentioned, needs may evolve during new circumstances. Adapting to changing behaviors will keep your content in front of your demographics. At the simplest level, considering trending keywords and desirable copy that will resonate with consumers.
Taking this insight as an example, should we wish to advertise the content we would target keywords such as:
• COVID / COVID-19 / Coronavirus marketing tips
• COVID / COVID-19 / Coronavirus business help
• COVID / COVID-19 / Coronavirus advertising
• COVID / COVID-19 / Coronavirus Agency projects
Furthermore, we'd define opportunities for ROI on our adverts by attaching CTA leads to drive sales of our various services. There are two main trains of thought to consider with such content, if used for advertising purposes. Firstly, we could aim for it to be a sales drive through leading our expertise and consistently showcasing how purchasing our services will help business. Secondly, we could offer helpful free advice to strengthen our brand image. During uncertain times, businesses will remember who helped them out when they were in need.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Following on from the last point, if your business is able to offer help to those in need, you should consider implementing CSR campaigns. We'll soon discuss whether CSR should be thought of as a marketing strategy, as there are undoubtedly benefits to reap from socially conscious actions.
CSR schemes can cover much of the previously mentioned areas in a different way. Whilst advertising costs money, CSR often leads to press coverage and strong word-of-mouth approval. If your business is seen to support others, then likewise, you're likely to receive support too.
In the UK a large pub-group, 'Wetherspoons', chose to make all staff members redundant due to the Coronavirus pandemic causing closure to their venues. This act caused a public outcry that has led to a mass movement of future boycotts of the Wetherspoons establishments. Oppositely, Budweiser chose to invest heavily in bars by offering a voucher scheme to establishments carrying their products; Customers could purchase gift-cards for the bars (whenever they reopen) and whatever the customer spent was matched by Budweiser to double the voucher value. This gesture gave consumers an incentive to invest in local bars, keeping the staff and business costs afloat. Both businesses acted to save their long-term revenue, yet the solutions are on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding brand recognition.
Times are uncertain, and careful thought is required. It would be remiss to hold an entirely positive disposition in these current times and difficult decisions will have to be made. However, by planning carefully, thinking creatively, and exploring new avenues, your business can find routes to maintain and indeed flourish.
At Mäd, we help optimize projects and improve business solutions. Should you require external help, we'd be delighted to start a dialogue about helping your business achieve various goals despite the recent pandemic challenges.
As an additional insight, we've discussed the importance of Free Cash Flows (FCF) and how focusing on a strong FCF decision making process can prepare a business for turbulent times and crucial decision making.