If the 1997 Asia financial crisis, or the more recent global economic crises of 2008, taught us anything, it is that those companies who were prepared to respond to the post-crisis conditions prosper better than their less prepared competitors. Across Asia, we are seeing markets at different stages of recovery. South Korea, which never really shut down, is back to a new normal; China is close to reopening its economy with consumption and manufacturing rapidly ramping up; and meanwhile, Southeast Asia markets are still pretty much at a stand-still and closed off.
As you actively think about and plan how to manage your business and marketing in the post-crisis period, here are five questions you should be asking.
What impressions have you made on your key constituencies during the crisis?
We believe customers are watching to see how brands behave in three areas — how they have managed customer issues dealing with the pandemic, how they have treated employees who are victims of the forced closures and how they have quickly adapted and evolved their offerings to the new normal both during and after the crisis.
Early in the crisis in China, telecom equipment maker ZTE, and China Telecom partnered on 5G technology to remotely diagnose coronavirus patients. This first 5G remote diagnosis facility acted as a “central node” during the crisis, responding to almost 30 hospitals at a time.
Across Asia, many businesses, small or large, took the initiative to protect employees’ pay and jobs, to support healthcare workers and contribute to the economy. In an open letter, Alibaba Group and Ant Financial said, “This is the time when millions and millions of consumers need our services and the economic battle must continue alongside the fight against the virus.”
Bad times bring out the best in people. What has your company done during and planned to do after the crisis? Have your customers recognized and appreciated your efforts? How will your current action – or inaction – help you in the months ahead?
What will it mean to be relevant to your customers in the ‘new normal’?
Highly relevant brands that are customer obsessed, pragmatic, innovative and inspiring outperform their peer groups. But how does pragmatism change when customers’ hopes and fears have been reset? Do innovations that mattered yesterday still have the same significance tomorrow? How can you inspire people when they are reassessing their priorities, their consumption choices and even their favorite brands? Now is a good time to revisit your brand purpose and determine new and relevant ways to live it.
Across industries, many brands at the forefront are rethinking the business they are in, reflecting how to remain relevant and better serve not just their current customers, but more importantly their ‘customers of tomorrow.’ Insurance player AXA is accelerating its transition from payer to partner, expanding its proposition beyond insurance to provide customers more access to health and wellness services and advisory. AB InBev is rethinking its portfolio of beverages beyond beer, fulfilling new needs across more occasions. It is also rethinking its consumer propositions, like delivering new in-home consumer experiences such as weekly DJ livestreams and e-gaming events.
No matter the level of disruption faced in your industry and the degree of change in your customers’ habits and expectations, it is critical to think about your ‘consumers of tomorrow’ and reassess your value propositions to remain relevant and stay in sync with those changes.
Will you be facing headwinds or tailwinds post-crisis?
Not all industries have been impacted the same way during this crisis and beyond. Travel, hospitality, entertainment, restaurant and retail sectors have been virtually shut down and will face massive headwinds. These industries will need to manage cash, track consumer’s sentiment and the timing of their return to normal.
However, other sectors are booming. Working from home has been a boom for video conferencing and work services like WeChat Work in China and Zoom across the globe. Telemedicine providers have found record levels of adoption. In China, Ping An Good Doctor partnered with regional governments to provide real-time online and phone consultations, handling over 1 billion platform visits at the peak of the outbreak. Moreover, the company has formed joint venture with Grab to deliver online healthcare services to Southeast Asia. The crisis has not only accelerated adoption and penetration, it has also removed consideration barriers and opened new market opportunities.
Home delivery services is another industry that will benefit from strong tailwinds in the new normal, as key players continue to see high demand for their services and expansion of their offerings. Meituan has taken the opportunity to expand its delivery services beyond food and grocery, to include smartphones and beauty products. Grab has adjusted to the new environment by scaling up its food and grocery delivery segments.
Will the post-crisis period be a time to double down to accelerate growth or will it be time to conserve cash and prepare for a better time? Now is the time to align with your CFO, sales leaders and operations teams to have a shared perspective on which path you will choose.
Are you agile enough to adjust to the uncertainty that lies ahead?
During this coronavirus pandemic, conditions are changing daily and organizations have been dynamically adjusting to new information. It is unlikely that there will be much certainty post-crisis either. Will there be a second wave of outbreaks? Will your customers be facing new spending constraints, or will they be catching up to fulfill unmet needs? Will consumers change their habits and preferences? What unexpected moves might your competitors make?
Scenario planning can be a useful tool for preparing for uncertain times. By laying out a variety of potential situations, you and your teams can discuss how you would approach each of them and evaluate the impact of each scenario. It can help you plan your responses to changing conditions and help you prepare a road map to follow as it gets clearer which scenario is playing out.
Operational sprints may also be useful. Based on the best information today, what will your team focus on achieving in the next two weeks? This shorter horizon can help energize and align your teams to be highly productive in a volatile environment. It is a long enough window to complete substantial tasks, but short enough to adapt to new information as it is known.
Are your digital foundation and transformation efforts solid enough?
Many tried and true marketing techniques are no longer options. The full and seamless integration of digital and offline experiences is no longer limited to forward thinking retailers like Nike, Starbucks or Hema Fresh. It is now becoming a table stake and will be the expectation of most consumers.
Our 2019 State of Digital Transformation report indicated that a large majority of Asia businesses were on a digital transformation journey. In China, for example, 89% of the companies interviewed were already undertaking cross-disciplinary and enterprise-wide digital transformation, pre-Covid 19. 42% of them had their digital transformations led directly by the CEO, compared to 29% in the rest of the word. We can expect digital transformation to accelerate and become an even higher priority for many CEOs in Asia.
Thanks to its significant digital transformation underway, Starbucks managed its ‘shut down’ quite well compared to other retailers. Starbucks China had built and grown its online retail experiences, Starbucks Now and Starbucks Delivers, which includes mobile order, tracking, payment, loyalty and e-gifting, and a delivery partnership with Alibaba, giving the company an edge. On April 27, Starbucks announced it had partnered with Sequoia Capital’s China arm to make strategic co-investments. The partnership will accelerate Starbucks’ capacity to tap into the Chinese technology entrepreneurs and digital ecosystem.
If you ever needed a reason to convince company leadership to speed and scale digital transformation initiatives, now is the time. But such an undertaking can be daunting. Where do you start? One approach that works well is to identify various use cases and then prioritize them. We often start with a comprehensive list of 25 options and work with marketers to select the five or six that matter most, sequence them and assign a project team to tackle.
The scarcity and hardship we face in times of crisis bring out the best in all of us —ingenuity, resourcefulness, perspective and new insights. As you look ahead, and consider what is next, start with these five questions to jumpstart and guide your plan onward.
Benoit Garbe is a Senior Partner at Prophet based in Shanghai; John Ellett is CEO of Springbox, a Prophet company, and a contributor to the Forbes CMO Network.