Breaking the Rules: How Brave Brands Are Adapting in a Time of Crisis
What does it take for a retail brand to survive during a global pandemic that's disrupting supply chains and manufacturing capabilities, changing consumer behavior, and impacting employee productivity? In the age of COVID-19 it takes brave brands that are willing to strategically break the rules and conventions of the industry, experiment with new ideas, play with new business models, and redefine the retail experience.
We Have to Break the Rules to Survive
When we talk about survival, many of us think of the evolutionary theories of Darwin and the idea of “survival of the fittest.” However, what's often left out is how Darwin defined “the fittest”: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” And what holds true for the natural world holds true for business as well.
During times of crisis the old rules go out the window and tried-and-true consumer behavior can change in a matter of days (just look at the toilet paper hoarding we've been seeing for the last few weeks). While many leaders and organizations are crippled by any breakdown in regular processes, brave brands are rapidly assessing customer needs and adapting to new constraints because the reality is that brands that are unable to adapt, and adapt quickly will likely not survive the next few months.
So what are some of the ways for retail brands to adapt to our new reality?
Human Interaction Through Tech
While many retail brands have experimented with digital experiences, most still rely on their physical retail presence and in-real-life (IRL) experiences. However, the recent shutdowns are forcing all brands to get more creative with how they connect with customers in the digital space.
Beauty retail brands like DECIEM and Kiehl’s are launching one-on-one digital consultations for skin care and beauty recommendations to keep employees employed and help customers find the right products.
Mattel decided to focus on its target market, kids, by launching Playroom, a free online resource with kid-friendly content and activities from brands across the company’s portfolio.
And when it comes to creating truly digital experiences, the direct-to-consumer (D-to-C) space can teach traditional retailers a lot. Take for example D-to-C brand Belle Bar Organic, a hair and beauty brand for women of color. Around the end of March, as almost everyone went into self-isolation, the founders hosted an interactive pajama party event from their homes, sharing stories about their family life and offering self-care and beauty tips using their products. Participants could ask questions in a live two-way Q&A with the founders as well as answer pop-up survey questions focused on product feedback, resulting in 25 percent of attendees engaging in live questions and a whopping 80 percent of the audience staying on for the full duration of the event.
At times of crisis when many consumers are feeling unsettled, unstable and alone, brands that develop products and services that provide comfort, stability and safety will thrive.
Texas grocery chain H-E-B is doing just that. H-E-B has introduced a senior-only food ordering and delivery service to protect those most vulnerable to the virus. Volunteers staff the phone line for this service, and the company has curated a list of products to help make the new system efficient and effective. Using the company’s existing delivery service, Favor, orders are usually delivered within a few hours.
Woman-owned swimwear company Summersalt has opened up a free text message hotline, a "Joycast," allows people to connect if they need something to make them feel better during isolation. Someone from Summersalt’s "customer happiness" team will respond by sending over self-care ideas, a 10-minute meditation or breathing video, or a puppy GIF.
As mandatory lockdowns continue to change consumer behavior, conformity and business as usual are what will kill your brand. Therefore, start looking outside of your own vertical or industry, and figure out which rules of retail you can break to keep your brand and business going strong.
Here are three things for you to consider to encourage bravery and rule breaking within your brand during this crisis:
- Identify what would provide value and/or comfort for your consumers and community right now.
- Invest in and enhance your mobile and digital infrastructure to give your consumers a seamless e-commerce experience and to develop rich, unique and engaging digital experiences that surprise and delight. Make it memorable and impactful.
- Define the rules and norms that your company strongly abides by, then look for ways to break some of them if they're hindering growth for you in this current season.
Nicola Smith is CEO at REBEL & REASON, which partners with companies and organizations in every vertical to use creative problem solving and curiosity to develop engaging and authentic brands, marketing campaigns, and corporate cultures that are ready to face and change the future.
Nicola Smith is CEO at REBEL & REASON. REBEL & REASON partners with companies and organizations in every vertical to use creative problem solving and curiosity to develop engaging and authentic brands, marketing campaigns, and corporate cultures that are ready to face and change the future.