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Jennie McGinn: Noticing other businesses getting creative? Here’s how to innovate online

13th Apr 2020

We are witnessing a surge in innovation online at the moment. There are so many things a business can do while we wait for the recovery, writes Jennie Mc Ginn 

Times are tough. There is no shying away from it – the business landscape is in disarray. Shopping for essentials and hobbies are up. But many, many other things are down. Events are cancelled. Contracts pulled. Projects paused. Indefinitely. Many are struggling to juggle the “working from home revolution” with a lack of support infrastructure. 

And yet…we are an optimistic nation. Core Research released some interesting stats taken during the period Friday 27th – Monday 30th of March. Marketing Director Finian Murphy reported that 67% of the adult population say they are optimistic or very optimistic that Ireland will overcome the outbreak”. In comparison, the British population is only 49% optimistic, and France less so again, at 44%.

So if we collectively feel that we will recover from this, what can we do while we wait for the recovery? What can businesses do when they can’t sell, what can service businesses do when their services aren’t needed, what can freelancers do when their projects are pulled?

Start Communicating

The first most important thing is to take a moment and reflect the wider environment of anxiety and confusion. You don’t need to contribute to “crisis communications”, but you do need to make sure you have acknowledged it; that none of your communications are out-of-step. It’s important to let your customers, audience and community know how you intend to operate over the next few months. Are you producing, shipping, shifting to online, available for contact?

Start Creating Content

Perhaps you can’t sell right now, but you can certainly still provide value to your client and customer. This is definitely the moment to start investing your time into high-quality content that will inspire, delight or inform your audience. Look externally and provide thought-leadership on your industry and area of expertise. Or look inward to your audience and customers; perhaps you have insights about consumer behaviour that could form the basis of a report or an infographic? Is this the time to start gathering testimonials from customers and build out case studies? 

Start Emailing

Do you have an email database? If not, you should – whether you’re a retail business, service provider or publishing platform. Get an email embed on your website or build an email landing page (great guides in Mailchimp) – and make sure you’re data compliant with GDPR. Once you’ve started collecting emails, you need to think – what are you saying? What is the first email your audience receives and when do you send it? How often should you talk to them? Think about welcome email flows; a series of staggered emails welcoming people to your brand or service, explaining the brand, the ethos, your intentions. Make sure you have an “ask” – follow social media channels, read an article. Similarly, you might not be selling right now, but it’s a good time to review all your transactional emails. 

Start Producing

Leading on from the above, if your content creation skills are usually outsourced or need to be improved, now is the time to start learning some of the basics. From improving all your templates, presentations and layouts in Canva right through to setting up a mini-home studio, there is a lot of material out there to help you invest time into your own content creation. The Design and Crafts Council of Ireland are offering courses on producing effective video on your phone for website and social media. If you’re further up the chain in terms of production assets, now might be a good time to conduct a brand audit and review. As Deirdre Corcoran, founder of Chapter notes, right now, you might have the time to re-brand with purpose. It’s also a fertile time to observe best-in-class ecommerce production and start actioning that future strategy now. 

Start Collaborating

During periods of economic uncertainty, partnerships offer a great way to strengthen your offering, reach new audiences and lean into new industries. Start delving  into your network and look to collaborations. These could be partnerships for down the line or mutually beneficial activities to help you navigate the crisis together. 

Start Innovating

We are witnessing a surge in innovation online at the moment, from people having “live” online markets via Zoom, to recording podcasts in self-isolation, to inviting customers to co-create products. This is a fertile period of creativity. Designers Zoe Carol, Gill&Jill and Natasha Sherling are producing beautiful illustrations for people to download and share. Richard Seabooke has created an online mentor and resource service for the freelance community via “Half Hour Hangouts”. Thinkhouse  launched the “Create Don’t Contaminate” campaign in partnership with RTE across social media resulting in a wave of content creators doing some powerfully interesting things. Huku Balance – a hand-crafted balance board company – have started creating work-from-home desks. When people are forced to think outside of the box, great things can happen. That said, there will always be moments of stress, tension and anxiety, so take each day as it comes and don’t rush to create; make it meaningful, purposeful and genuine. 

Ultimately, this might not be a time for you to sell, but it might be a time for you to really invest in your audience and customer relationships. 

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