Facing a loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis?
It sucks. We get it. But there’s no sugarcoating it. You’re going to have to innovate your way out of this one.
Focus on controlling what you can control, and innovate to a better future.
What can you deliver to your audience that would have an immediate or quick, substantive impact? Might not be what you were offering last year or even last month. But you need to ask yourself how much time you’re spending right now, today, this week, this month, on creating a different future. What’s going to be different next week and next month?
How much energy are you directing at innovation?
Be honest. Is it a major focus? Did you actually spend hours or days on it this past week? Or not any time at all?
Your Business of Today, and Tomorrow
In my book Rethink Your Marketing, I talk about the need to always be working on two businesses – your business of today, and your business of tomorrow. There’s no two ways about it, look at any hugely successful company and you’ll find an organization that has transformed through the years, taking bigger and bigger bets over time.
Wipro? They started selling vegetable oil (Vegetable oil, people!), and now are an $8 billion global technology consulting leader.
You, too, need to transform.
Especially if you want to make it out of the current crisis stronger than when it started.
It’s not because of the crisis that you need to innovate. You need to innovate all the time regardless. The crisis has merely shrunk the timeline and intensified the urgency. Sometimes requiring you to identify new revenue streams overnight.
Where to Start
A major challenge is that although innovation sounds great, many companies and leaders don’t know how to build an innovation framework to get you out of the status quo, fast. Typically, companies are busy being busy. Or, they are focused on tinkering around the edges – adding a few product features or adjusting a service offering, for example.
What you need right now is to focus on your customers’ problems like you never have before. Go deep.
What can you do to solve a major problem of theirs right now? Innovate around that.
Or, alternatively, take your expertise and apply it to a new market or audience, where you can take a fresh approach and blindside everyone in the space.
There’s plenty of opportunity. You need to spend the time, think laterally and execute like crazy, but the opportunity is there. Just with more urgency. The ramifications for lack of action in the current environment are just too great.
Talk to Customers and Prospects
The best path for innovation is audience-focused. In order to understand your audience’s current pain points, frustrations, areas of opportunity, etc., you should talk directly with them. Not an email. Not a survey.
Call them. Talk with them.
And actually more than talking, be sure to spend the majority of the time listening. See what’s changed. See what’s most urgent. See what’s new. See what they value most right now, and let all of this information help you to start fresh in your thinking.
Mine Every Level of the Organization
Good ideas can come from everywhere and anywhere. When crisis hits, though, many companies set up bunkers and the executives disappear while they talk amongst themselves.
Instead, actively engage with ALL levels of the organization.
Don’t only engage with them, but actively seek out their opinions and ideas. Give them an equal opportunity to make a significant difference. Listen to the latest person to join the organization as much as you listen to the founder. Challenging times require creative solutions, and sometimes a fresh voice with a fresh perspective is just what you need.
Brainstorm with your team, but do so in a structured way for maximum results. Create a brainstorming brief, and outline the objective or the problem to be solved. What are the KPIs by which you’ll measure success? Lay down the ground rules.
Ironically, structure tends to yield a higher number of relevant ideas. So instead of going in freeform, provide a productive structure for your team to work within, and you’ll probably end up with a higher volume of high-quality ideas.
Different Types of Innovation
When looking to jumpstart innovation at your company, remember that you’re not limited to just one type of innovation.
Product innovation is often what we think of when it comes to innovation. Have a product? Build a better mousetrap. This is called incremental innovation.
You can also look at developing something completely new. What I would recommend is that you look at your audience, and figure out a way to get them a new digital solution right now.
Or you can look at your expertise and apply it to a different industry. One that’s behind the times. One where you’re already well ahead of the game. Stratabeat is actually taking this approach right now. We’re not yet discussing it publicly, but we’ve launched a new business right smack dab in the middle of the outbreak.
Is it online? Yep. Provides the audience with a better, more cost-effective solution? Yep. Different than the existing players? Yep. Leveraging our branding and marketing expertise? Yep. But completely different than anything we’ve ever done in the past? Yep.
You have to come up with a tangible product or service. It needs to solve a problem. And if you can make it 100% digital, you’ll make it all the more scalable.
How are you developing your product or delivering your service today? Are there alternative methods that might introduce new innovation in your space?
What are potential ways to improve the upstream inputs?
How about the main production process itself?
Or the delivery mechanisms?
Revenue Model Innovation
How do you make money today? What’s the revenue model?
This is an opportunity for new growth that’s often missed by many firms. I’m such a firm believer in its power to deliver growth that I devoted an entire chapter of Rethink Your Marketing to revenue models.
For example, Hilti, a high-end power tool manufacturer serving the construction industry had long sold its power tools directly to its customers. Then they noticed that their audience of construction companies and contractors made money by using tools, not by owning them. So it rethought its revenue model and changed to a subscription model, delivering the right tool at the right time for a monthly fee. In other words, the model changed from product transactions to ongoing, holistic tool management services.
The new model not only brought higher revenue, but also higher margins.
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What technologies are you using today? Is your tech stack documented, tracked and monitored for performance? Where can you innovate for incremental improvements within your stack?
On the flip side, for those that develop technology, is there a component within the tech you’ve developed that you can now roll out as its own SaaS product?
Or, can you innovate more ambitiously in rolling out a disruptive technology solution in your industry? How would you disrupt yourself?
So many products and services are a commodity now, sometimes the customer experience is where you can differentiate the most.
How can you transform your brand touchpoints and the entire customer experience? How can you improve your sales, onboarding, customer service, tech support, follow-up after a purchase, etc.? How can you improve the experience of using your product or services? How can you enhance the memories your audience has after using your product or services? What would be an experience that would make them want to tell others about it?
Igniting Creativity and Innovation at Your Company
You Need Lots and Lots and Lots of Ideas
If you sit in a conference room with your colleagues, brainstorm ideas, and call it a day, you’re not doing enough. It’s a good start, but it’s just a start.
How many ideas have you considered? Five? Ten? Fifteen? You need to reach higher. At this level, it’s probably stuff that came very naturally to you.
Open your mind wider.
Aim for at least 50 ideas. Now, that’s how to get your brains working hard and exploring new possibilities.
The Power of Cross-pollination
“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
The Einstellung Effect is a cognitive bias in which a person (say, a marketer) is predisposed to solve a problem in the specific way they’re used to doing it. Whatever they’ve done in the past is going to be their inclination for solving new challenges. This cognitive bias prevents marketers from seeing better or simpler solutions to problems.
This is why you see organizations doing the same marketing over and over. Sure, they probably tweak it here or there, but essentially it’s the same as what they’ve done before.
A solution to break the mold and achieve better results?
For a more effective innovation process, inject the “outside” into your thinking. The cross-pollination of ideas from those outside of your department, your division, your company, your industry, forces you to think differently.
This is why industries or geographic areas with a higher population of immigrants tend to generate more patents. The more cross-pollination, the more innovation you’ll see.
The “Adjacent Possible”
Forget about the “Aha” or “Eureka” moment in innovation.
As Steven Johnson shows in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, the best ideas are typically iterative, form over time and occur in the realm of the “adjacent possible.”
Instead of ideas popping like popcorn, they form more like a stew. Johnson points to the example of GPS, which was accidentally developed by scientists at the Applied Physics Lab associated with John Hopkins University messing around with a microwave receiver. By listening to the sounds of Sputnik’s journey in space, they were able to track the speed of the satellite, and therefore, its location, and ultimately its exact trajectory around the planet.
A couple of weeks later their boss asked them if it might be possible to do the opposite – using the position of satellites to track the exact position of something on Earth.
Only decades later did GPS become the platform for the many everyday technologies we take for granted today.
In other words, when you come upon a good idea, don’t stop there. Think deeper. Keep iterating.
An Innovation Framework
OK, ready to start innovating? The following is a simple, yet highly effective, framework to inject new life into your thinking and to come up with new innovations to propel you not only through the COVID-19 crisis but onto your next wave of growth.
- Develop a brainstorming brief. Doesn’t need to be anything formal or stuffy. Can even be written in a Slack message or email.
- In the brief, clarify the basics for everyone involved and to give the effort structure.
- Specify the ultimate goals and outcomes. Define the audience. Explain the need for change. What are the repercussions if you don’t change? What are the KPIs by which you’ll measure the success of any changes?
Brainstorm 50 Ideas
- OK, now it’s time to brainstorm ideas with no constraints. Include those from different departments and at different levels of the organization.
- Keep going until you have at least 50 new ideas. That’s right – 50.
- As you brainstorm, consider the exact opposite of what you’re doing today.
- Also consider how other industries are tackling similar types of challenges.
- Consider what an outside consultant would tell you to do.
- What can you change about your product or services to eliminate your audience’s pain points?
- How can you improve your processes or innovate your delivery mechanisms?
- Can you spin off any technologies as their own products?
- Consider how you might change the revenue model to support new solutions.
Qualify Your Ideas
- As you brianstorm, build a matrix outlining the following factors for each idea: 1) Cost, 2) Timeframe, 3) Revenue Potential and 4) ROI.
- Take a break.
- Provide full access to all team members involved in the brainstorming, allowing for anyone to add to the list.
- Come back another time or another day and brainstorm again after everyone has had a chance to digest the topic.
- See how much further you can take your ideas.
- Consider making your innovation sessions an ongoing, regular part of your business, so that over time innovation simply becomes part of your organization’s DNA.
Narrow Your Focus and Go All-In
- Now, narrow down your list to only the best idea or ideas.
- Make sure you have the bandwidth for the final selection of ideas. If not, narrow down further.
- Assign responsibility for each and every idea to someone on the team.
- Set deadlines.
- Give them all the resources they need to execute on the idea. If you’re going to go for it, go all-in.
If you’d like any help with your innovation efforts, just give us a shout!