Transforming this crisis into a creative opportunity

The pandemic has pushed brands and agencies to be their most analytical and responsive to their customers, and to be the most savvy they've ever been when it comes to data and technology. Previously, they might have been too busy wrapped up in the ‘old normal’ to make enough time for new ideas and create real change.

The most innovative will be seeing this as the greatest opportunity the last 10 years has opened up to brands. Those who can adopt the mindset of seeing this time as perhaps one of the most exciting in business history will be those who pioneer the next developments in customer experience.

As stated in MediaCom’s recent Lockdown Lift-Off report: “Consumer behaviour won’t simply return to the old ways. Indeed, it may never return to what went before, so brands need to prepare, not just for the new normal but also manage the transition from lockdown.”

Here’s a snapshot of what that looks like:

● We are socialising differently, with 50% of consumers saying they will avoid restaurants and cafes and 46% saying they will stay away from cinemas.

● We are working differently, with job searches for remote working increasing 60% globally since March.

● We are shopping differently, with 77% of people expecting to continue to purchase more online post-lockdown.

As none of our worlds are the same for anyone, all brands have had to work out their own COVID survival plans, albeit with running themes of virtual and e-commerce.

Turning lockdown on its head creatively

For all the challenges, the most innovative brands have turned the lockdown on its head, transforming a crisis into a creative opportunity.

Secret Cinema, for example, has had to completely halt its signature film-inspired experiences, replacing them with Secret Sofa, and most recently, a new drive-in movie initiative. Entire events, such as London Fashion Week and the Cannes Film Festival have had to be held completely online. And beauty giants like L’Oréal have had to push boundaries by becoming more tech savvy and experimenting with virtual try-on technologies.

But for every story of triumph and inspiration are dozens of other marketers struggling to make sense of how their customer has changed and how to revaluate their strategies and move forward. No doubt there are a multitude of questions to consider: Do you want a better digital experience for your customers? Have your sales dropped because you couldn’t connect with your customers during lockdown? Have you done well during this period and think you can now do more to use digital to your advantage? There is so much talk about ‘digital transformation’, but where do you start? So, how do you get to the bottom of these, and move forward?

Evolving a Lean Canvas into an Outcome process

A ‘Lean Canvas’, a one-page business planning tool famously adopted within the start-up world, can be a simple way for marketers to come up with an action plan to drive progress and sales, especially in times of change.

Although I prefer to think of it as an Outcome Canvas, a space where marketers can scratch underneath the surface of what’s not working, to articulate their true issues and keep everyone focused on solutions and outcomes. It’s an effective alternative to lengthy strategy documents that are rarely read by others or updated and can help propel you beyond a mere hunch or gut feeling.

Most importantly, it can stop the temptation to build a strategy around a channel rather than a challenge, making you think from the customer’s perspective rather than your own. For example, turning your thinking around from believing you need to build a new website or app, rather than really understanding what your customers are doing, what they want from you and how you can fulfil that.

An Outcome Canvas, bookended by a refocusing of business goals and a testing plan as a wider process, is a model that can help marketers channel creativity into any crisis, turning it into a golden opportunity.

Take the L’Oréal example. The company as a whole has developed more than 20 new services in response to the lockdown, including the virtual try on tool, while branching out into online skin diagnosis and personalised product recommendations. As a result, e-commerce sales have shot up by 53% and now represent nearly 20% of global sales.

We can apply this as a theoretical product of the Outcome process to highlight exactly how marketers turn on switch on that lightbulb. Thinking back to the crisis at hand, when physical retail stores and hairdressers were closed, L’Oréal quickly understood that more people would need to colour their hair at home.

Identifying your ‘North Star’

As the first step in the Outcome process, look at what your mission and vision statements are, and whether they set up your brand to surprise and delight your customers.

L’Oréal enabled itself to create the virtual try-on tool by focusing on innovation as part of its mission statement. Its mission was important to foster innovation and didn’t limit it to only think about retail in the traditional sense. Its values took this further by specifying ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and ‘open mindedness’ as paramount.

So, think: what is the ‘North Star’ for your brand that aligns everyone behind a goal? For L’Oréal, we imagine it might have been “supporting our customers through lockdown to make them feel better and earning their trust to create a deeper relationship with them”.

Focus on customers via the Outcome Canvas

The Outcome Canvas is designed to lead you to an idea or outcome that helps your customers, and in turn your business by generating a punchy, lean plan around a hypothesis.

1.Customer Segments. In this section detail your customers. Be brief, but descriptive and make it clear to anyone reading for the first time who your customers are.

2. New audience opportunity. Here, detail any new customer groups that have, or could be available to you as a result of COVID.

3. Problem. Write down up to three problems that your customers have.

4. Existing alternatives. How is the customer solving that problem today? Be honest; it’s important to know what you are up against.

5. Solution. For each of the problems, write a sentence that solves it, in plain language. It’s ok if it’s not a new or unique solution.

6. Define success.

8. USP. Why will you be better than anyone else at solving these problems?

9. Unfair advantage. Is there anything you have that will make you better suited than others?

10. Marketing channels. Where will you find your customers to communicate your idea to them? If it’s social media, which platform resonates most with your customers?

Test for success

Once you have formulated your Outcome Canvas and have some great ideas to engage with your customers, it’s time to test them.

This phase is about interrogating your Outcome Canvas, thinking of all the assumptions you have made, and then how you can test and validate if they are accurate. If you test all the assumptions, and engage customers as you go, you are de-risking your strategy and increasing the chances of success.

The key things you need to be assessing as you go through your testing are fourfold:

1. Desirability: do your customers want your idea?

2. Usability: can your customers access and use your idea?

3. Feasibility: is the cost to create your idea worth it?

4. Viability: can the team you have create your idea?

If all of the tests you do show there is a market for your idea and it’s viable, then you can go about implementing it and digitally transforming your business, reassured that you have done your research and de-risked your strategy.

By embarking on an Outcome process, marketers can leverage their lockdown insights by creating a clear set of goals, and actionable steps forward, that overcome any breakdowns in the customer chain.

Change is daunting, but it’s time to see beyond the difficulty of the last three months and see this is a time of unprecedented innovation and experimentation. After taking these initial crucial steps, marketers should feel confident about tackling their post-COVID futures with the power of strategic thinking.