Last month, one of the largest retailers in the US announced two new experiences to help families make memories together. The first promised a free virtual camp that brings summer fun directly to customers’ backyards, and the second was a touring drive-in movie theatre that will transform their store parking lots into outdoor cinemas. Essentially, retailers are trying to reimagine large empty spaces for shoppers.
Since April, reports have been filtering in of over a dozen mainstream passenger airlines battling uncertainties on travel bans and shifting to cargo in the short-to-medium term to get grounded aircraft back in the air. We’re not just talking about the belly of the aircraft or even the overhead bins; for those who are reluctant to change the aircraft configuration, even strapping cargo onto passenger seats has become a viable option. In fact, Lufthansa has even gone ahead and called them “preighters”.
Empty hotels struggling with shutdowns and severe occupancy drops are now being converted to coronavirus quarantine centers. This is typically being done with active and direct government intervention to cope with a shortage of facilities amidst a rising infection curve. Even for Wipro, as we moved to 95+% work-from-home, our newly emptied but functioning campus facilities offered us an opportunity to do our part on the CSR front - first by helping feed migrant workers--who were left stranded in the city--by leveraging campus kitchens, and later, converting part of our Pune campus into a 450-bed COVID hospital.
Do you see the pattern yet? Amidst the health crisis and economic suffering brought on by the pandemic come these stories of ingenuity and innovation, at the level of individuals, communities, governments as well as organizations. An increasing number of organizations are now forced to re-baseline their core value proposition since primary ones have eroded.
Consumer-facing companies are either into delivering products (Retail, CPG, Manufacturing) or services (Media, Telecom, Utilities, Banking). We now see product companies using services as a sweetener (like free delivery or warranty) and services companies offering products as a differentiator. Many organizations have undertaken initiatives to shore up revenues via new product categories (the surge in apparel companies like Hanes1 and Levi’s2 making facemasks and PPE, for example). Others have offered experiences to bring customers back to their premises or just generate brand recall, like the case of drive-in movies in retail premises.
Are there any takeaways from these innovations? Are these stories replicable regardless of the type of business one is in, the country of operations, scale, and customers served? Organizations that have employees who are ready to be multi-skilled and business functions (sales, supply chain, manufacturing) that are agile and flexible have been able to swiftly augment their offerings (look no further than Pepsi launching snacks.com in four weeks flat) and even completely pivot (hotels being transformed into hospitals). For firms worldwide, it is time to reassess their capabilities and identify what can be leveraged to not just grow revenues, but reshape their brand promise as well.