Surviving the New Normal Calls for Courageous Innovation

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Barbarian Group CEO Steven Moy and ECD Resh Sidhu on why Covid-19 means that 'innovation' needs to be more than just a buzzword
Surviving the New Normal Calls for Courageous Innovation
We never imagined that a kiss, a hug, and a hand-shake would have significant health risks to our society, our nations, our friends and families. Yet, extreme social distancing measures have become essential during this 2020 pandemic and at the same time, marked a new era of the Direct to “Stay-At-Home” customers.  

To face our new future, brands must start from scratch when it comes to their customers. The way people consume media and purchase products is going to change forever in a post COVID-19 world.  These seismic behavioral shifts are making it paramount for brands to accelerate their innovation initiatives with diverse and disruptive thinking. 

When we hear the word innovation today, many executives and the media in the industry tend to roll their eyes. To some, it has become a common buzzword and a window-dressing for expensive imagination with little immediate business impact. However, the potential is truly within our grasp more than ever.  When we see an idea that transforms our understanding of an established notion or creates something the world has never seen before, we become inspired.  Reimagining possibilities that aren’t limited by our past and restricted by our current perception takes courage. This breakthrough thinking requires a leap of faith, but we need to take these leaps now more than ever. 

Think back to less than a decade ago, when the rise of Apple, Facebook, Google inspired every brand including Intel, Fidelity, Coca-Cola, Target, Disney, Lowe, and many Fortune 100 companies to try to replicate their approach to innovation.  However, the majority of these brands focused on physical elements: open office floor plans, daily catering and coffee bars, chic contemporary furniture, and the list goes on. These approaches attracted the best and brightest creative minds and technologists for a moment, but the brutal truth revealed that physical elements were just part of the recipe for success.  

Today, issues with the physical aspects of the business are more significant than ever before. Heritage business models, supply chains, and retail dependence have left many organizations struggling through the pandemic.  Innovation is hard to copy.  The only way for brands and businesses to survive is to commit with conviction.  To commit to innovate the ways they work, create valuable solutions to reach their customers, and unlock business growth. It takes fearless leadership, driven by a desire to remove silos and find new ways to build and nurture your digital ecosystem. 

So, to the marketers and agencies out there seeking specific guidance in these unpredictable times, we offer a three-step approach to accelerate your innovation initiatives:  

Take a Multi-Faceted Approach to Diversity

Many studies indicate diversity as the active ingredient for successful innovation.  Assemble your 2-pizza team with diverse backgrounds, disciplines, beliefs, and ethnicities across both your internal and external agency partners.  Focus on your solution that fits all of these three diverse criteria:  

1. Does your invention add value to your new customer needs?
2. Does your invention differentiate your brand?
3. Does your invention unlock growth opportunities to continue to fuel your innovation?

Your Audience Is Changing, So Should You

As “stay-at-home” is the new normal today, digital is your major ingredient in new product and service innovation to meet your new customer needs.  Apply your O2O (online to offline) strategy and transform your customers’ homes as your new retail channel.  Create new personalized customer experiences by integrating all their homes’ digital touchpoints and customer data.  Imagine helping your customers place orders via voice, connected TV, mobile, tablet, in-home robots, and delivering your product with 3D-printing technologies.  Surround your customers at home with new services and real-time values that only your brand can deliver.

Put Experimentation at the Core of Your Culture 

We don’t know when life will return to normal. In the US, even Amazon now needs to manage customer expectations on their signature “same day” delivery.  Our new normal will entice your customers to experiment with new and diverse products and services when they need them the most. Be ready to meet them with bold, new thinking. Brands like RB’s Mucinex exemplified this approach as they launched their TikTok #beatthezombiefunk dance-off challenge in less than 10 days and generated more than 3 billion views.  With the proper mix of agility, proactivity, imagination, and risk-taking leadership, your ability to deliver a new and unexpected idea will be a competitive advantage.

During times of adversity, we embrace innovative and new approaches to solving our most difficult challenges. Despite the distance we now find between us, organizations that embrace these imperatives and act with empathy have the potential to help us feel more connected than ever before.  

We never imagined that facial masks could be part of our everyday apparel and that Zoom meetings could replace handshakes and hugs.  We never thought it was possible that family gatherings and businesses would be conducted exclusively over video conference.  Let’s now imagine a world where PPE becomes the mandatory accessory for attending the Oscars, the Cannes, or other celebrated events such as the World-cup and the Olympics.  One thing is for certain, everything has changed forever.  

Brands, agencies, and people need to create dangerously and push the world forward in the months ahead.  Taking that step starts with a willingness to embrace change, a commitment to the power of digital, and most importantly, a little courage. 

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Barbarian, 3 months ago