“I’m always looking at the customer needs for 5 years time” was the message from my Dad, growing up and working in an entrepreneurial family and that mantra always kept a highly relevant and successful brand.
Only a crystal ball could have given us today’s picture, and the customer of 5 years time was now staring all of us in the face within 5 months.
After the initial crisis period of rapid change, we find ourselves looking into a new era, an era where we now know more about our customer’s needs and reactions to any shifts we made in our businesses than we did earlier this year. Knowing more about what to expect certainly doesn’t stop our fears or frustrations as we are faced with the 2nd wave constrictions. However, we know more about what’s going to happen, the norm (for now) has arrived: you can sense it, there’s less of a highlighted spirit of collaboration, singing and Quentin Quarantino no longer has its humorous place. Even the arrival of Zoom doesn’t seem as exciting as the first-time round, and gone are the funny moments of teaching elderly parents tech (when you really knew little yourself), watching a looming face fill the screen as they searched for how to take themselves off mute.
We know more and so does our customer
It’s not because we no longer care or lack emotions, we do, it’s perhaps more about knowing what we have to do, what we want and need. Although there isn’t a “new customer norm” that is completely finalised there is certainly enough knowledge to create the “norm for now.” Articles and business leaders are all discussing the future and the need to regroup, to bring together the changes of the past 5 months, as well as sharing the ways in which we should realign as we look ahead.
So what about what we don’t know?
Agility still remains key to staying relevant going forward. There were some hard lessons learnt at the beginning of Covid as so many companies realised how rigid they had become in their operations. This shone a spotlight on those companies who, with an already established agile culture, benefitted from being comfortable shifting their priorities as a result of changing situations with their customers.
It is these that reported “a more seamless journey forward after the initial shock of Covid, with few setbacks” as referenced by McKinsey An Operating Model for the Next Normal. 
The balance that is required between a clear direction and remaining agile is often already existing within small and mid-sized companies, where the more entrepreneurial purpose-led culture quite often still remains, and where the emotional connection to make something better, still plays a leading role in the creation of strategy and any decision-making processes.
Bringing this balance to life
When I see a theory, I always seek to find a real life test case and found an example of this balanced approach from my own community. It’s not a large organisation, however, it perfectly shows how using what we know to provide a clear direction and remain agile can create a strong approach and how this small, yet very successful, business created an advantage.
Locally we have a restaurant that has a well-known and established purpose, “to surprise, experience, enjoy” – high quality food eating, a business that has of course been highly affected by the changes brought about with Covid-19.
It caught my eye on Facebook, “Zoom food” headlined… genius, I knew exactly where they were heading and suddenly, in my mind, Zoom could be fun again.
Lockdown 1 brought us all the understanding of the phrase “acceptable social Zoom food”; the early days of the shout out “who brought the crispy crackers to the Zoom social” as the rest of the group endured echoed sounds of eating horses in their front room, brought us that education.
The restaurant owner, as with many, moved towards takeaways and deliveries during lockdown 1 and of course, now in lockdown 2, will repeat the same. However, for them it wasn’t the same, as these entrepreneurs – with such a strong customer-centric purpose – acted wisely. They spent the past 5 months understanding their customers even more and how their product and service was received and used during the 1st lockdown, connecting with the community to understand how they could be even better for them if closure was to be forced upon them again.
Zoom food was one of the new lockdown 2 product offerings, delivering the same high-quality food just in a format that was reflective of the ever-changing expectations of the customer – especially as we are all approaching the Christmas season. The genius part: they called it a name that would reignite a Zoom-tired community, now Zoom could be a party again with restored excitement.
“Make it matter with a platter: A beautiful Zoom accompaniment in a box delivered to your door, which includes delicious wine pairings too!”
Using this story, I could translate their approach into the thoughts of a recent article I was reading by MITsloan management review: Opportunities for brands during the Covid crisis , which highlighted “the unprecedented opportunities” of small and mid-sized businesses right now as consumers drop their lifelong automated buying routines. The authors suggest relooking at the traditional Four Ps (product, place, price, promotion) to form a direction that captures the opportunity of the changing consumer and to look for options that suit their shifted needs now we know more.
I decided to use the successful restaurant story and map it into the suggestion of the evolved marketing 4 Ps suggested by MITsloan, to appreciate the value of the idea more.
- P1: Think beyond your product to the solution: It’s all about looking at the desired outcome in the eyes of the customer, the emotional impact you can have on them and how relevant you are. Purchase has shifted from being about what’s different about you – to whether you can be convenient or relevant to your customer.
The restaurant’s product was a high-quality eating experience, they kept their purpose and ensured they were relevant and suiting for now, offering their quality food in a different form. Branding it “Zoom food,” gave it a different emotional feel and used a word that people care or are aware about.
- P2: Think access, not place: Access is now more than just the place, it’s an omnichannel direction, which is also establishing new habits for the future with both offline and digital touchpoints.
The restaurant delivered to your door or offered a take away option to allow this move from the restaurant to the social side of it all being in your home. They also changed their delivery times, offering an earlier option to coincide with earlier Zoom commitments as well as younger members of the family.
- P3: Think about your value not the price: Buying premium brands is beginning to lose its appeal and people are looking for value and to prioritise expenditure towards products and services that make their health and lockdown lives better.
The restaurant found a new way of displaying food, which created value placing a new picture in the minds of their customer and connecting to make something better for them. They added visually to their purpose of “to surprise, experience, enjoy”, the product took on a different value, it solved a new problem of Zoom boredom and to make festive catch ups a little different. It was a sign to their customer; “I am thinking of you and I am trying to make a difficult season with your family and friends just that little bit better.”
- P4: Think education not promotion: Companies should keep the right balance in their messaging, educating customers on their value and purpose with an appreciation of their current needs in these challenging times. The balance comes from avoiding the wrong self-promotion, ensuring the messages are relevant and truthful to the customer and not another way to lever promoting products that simply do not add value to them right now.
The restaurant created a strong value message because of their purpose-led culture. They maintained and demonstrated their values, because they were built on a customer connection making their story one of customer-first, not brand-first.
Small and mid-sized businesses have already adjusted so much and still are, however, we know more now, forming securer pillars of our strategies moving forward. Using the strength of your purpose-led approach gives entrepreneurs the ability to keep the clarity of direction yet still remain nimble to adjust and stay in a strong emotional customer relationship, which will benefit you now and create a loyal following in the future.
Perhaps by placing our businesses in the evolved 4 Ps structure, it will encourage us to ask different questions about our strategy of the past months, this time not having to turn our business model on its head again, instead to evolve it to feel different.
And from the point of creating an emotional connection: my order of Zoom food did create a different feel towards online socialising. For the first time in months it was refreshing to not open conversations with lockdown rule comparisons, instead we presented our Zoom food platters in the competition we created, laughing and joking and for 40 minutes we were ourselves again, we had a new story to tell.
 An operating model for the next normal: Lessons from agile organizations in the crisis (1) McKinsey, June 25, 2020
 Growth Opportunities for brands during the Covid19 crisis MITsloan management review, May 5, 2020