From crisis to catalyst

The origin of the word 'crisis' is 'decisive point'. At the moment we are staring into the abyss, but could we learn from what we see?

In 1928 the young Romani musician, Django Reinhardt was already attracting international attention when one night a fire in his wagon left him badly burned. On a guitar given by his brother, he re-learnt to play using just his two uninjured fingers. While recovering he heard American Jazz, and eventually, teaming with Stephane Grappelli in Quintette du Hot Club de France, became a jazz sensation.

He was faced with a crisis, but found a better method and style of playing, resulting in world fame.

COVID-19 is the largest crisis that we have faced in recent times – the true scale of the pandemic remains unpredictable as it spreads globally and prolonged uncertainty grips the World. One thing is very clear – everyone will be affected by this crisis. 

For businesses the survival process is complex, with even the most valuable brands becoming vulnerable. There will be unprecedented pressures on all types of businesses, so organisational resilience should become their main objective during this time of crisis.

They should also be prepared to improve their chances of a quicker and more efficient recovery by increasing their responsiveness, making decisions before it’s too late. Become adaptable and flexible in order to cope positively with the unexpected and finally, learn from the process for the future.

For the B2B sector, whilst new avenues such as technologies, innovations and services should be explored, flexibility within the workplace might play an even bigger role.

 

Ok, which way should I go?

The pandemic is an ever-evolving crisis for all businesses, giving rise to many questions, such as what’s good advertising vs bad advertising or profiting vs sending a good message. Do brands really care for customers and communities? Are they really reinforcing their core values or are they purely profiting from this global crisis?

These are the ‘decisive points’ of the moment.

Some brands’ marketing strategies are definitely using emotional touchpoints to reach their customer – for example, Pret A Manger offering free hot drinks to NHS workers and 50% off all of their products. More recently, with only ‘essential shopping’ permitted, supermarkets’ tactics have changed to allocating delivery slots and shopping hours for the vulnerable and key workers. And running TVCs to explain instore arrangements to reassure shoppers.

These decisive moments of a crisis require more than these shorter-term reactions, especially when the aim is to survive the crisis and emerge strong, not just stumble through it. Working out how to navigate through and beyond the crisis means asking the right questions: questions about the immediate short-term context and the longer-ranging trajectory of a brand and a business. 

 

Finding the good, in the bad and the ugly

Just as brands are changing to survive, so is society. The way we work, the way we talk to our friends and families, the way we buy things - everyone is having to adapt to the crisis’ consequences. And from each adaptation springs a seemingly endless list of questions. What can we learn from these new practices, and might some of them actually be better than the old ones? 

New enforced working habits have changed the way business is conducted around the world. Looking beyond the crisis, questions will be hanging over the future of the office in particular - do we really need it anymore or would a virtual ‘meeting hub’ be just as effective without the expensive overhead? Around 90% of office workers in the US suggest they want to work from home - will they be so eager to return to the office once the crisis has abated? Or will the terms of engagement within company walls need to be renegotiated?

In the midst of the crisis, local communities have sprung to life to support each other - and Google searches for “care package” have increased by 400% over the past 90 days, as consumers are looking for ways to take care of their loved ones. Accordingly, we have seen businesses responding, even collaborating with one another, to help out their communities. BT and ITV are teaming up to bring social media education to those less well-versed in the subject so they can communicate with loved ones during this period of forced separation. Amazon, eBay and more have pledged to support their own communities – local businesses – with funds, grants and free online stores. Once the crisis has passed, will we see this pattern of compassion continue? Will we see a more caring society emerge? And will that society demand businesses and brands be genuinely more caring?

Meanwhile, manufacturing and supply chains have not only had to respond to the direct impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, but also to changing customer buying habits. The mass transmigration to online shopping during the crisis was predictable, but will the shift online stick? And will it expand to more than groceries, apparel and entertainment services? Will the crisis kickstart the cashless society here in the UK? Will consumers become more self-reliant or will we see a new regard for “the expert”? And will businesses have to choose between global and local operations, that consumers might know and trust?

And finally, is it possible that this crisis might strengthen businesses and communities in the long run? After all, for Django a nightmare became the decisive point for him – just have a listen to Django’s Blues!


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