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Shifting out of survival mode

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My recent business trip to visit Australia felt like a milestone – after two years of virtual meetings and travel restrictions I was finally able to set foot in our Melbourne office and meet the team – and our customers – face to face. With the majority of even the most locked down countries finally relaxing the rules and opening up their borders, I was surprised that most of the conversations I had were still focused around immediate and short term planning, rather than businesses looking further ahead and planning for the next 3-5 years.

There was a recognition that challenges have moved on from what they were even six months ago in regards to employees, hiring and customer confidence and that operating in crisis mode needs to shift to looking ahead to where companies need to go. This awareness, however, has not fully translated into action.

Given everything that’s happened and is currently happening on the world stage, I can’t say that I blame this reticence to act. We seem to be moving from one disaster to the next and in times like these, it’s hard to look beyond the headlines. It seems easier to stick to what’s become the status quo: survival rather than growth, but if twenty plus years in marketing has taught me anything it’s that now is the time to plan – to look beyond survival mode.

Planning out of a crisis

When it comes to operations and marketing, businesses need to return to building a long term vision and a strategy to get them there. We need to be looking at where we are, where we’ve been and at where we want to go. We all need to revisit our long term goals and adjust them to the new landscape, building in the ability to deal with the inevitable changes that are yet to come.

For example, companies that adopted a digital first strategy to retain customers during lockdowns need to consider how they can develop this offering and put a plan in place to ensure it evolves to provide the best possible experience for customers. Buying behaviours and the high street may have forever changed, but for those businesses that exist across online and in-person channels, the bricks and mortar can’t be ignored.

I’ve long been a fan of high end Aussie shoe brand, R.M. Williams and on my recent visit, I found myself in one of their shops after my current shoes were ruined by the recent unprecedented rainstorms that hit New South Wales. The staff talked me through the whole process of how they create custom boots with a lifetime guarantee – a process they were able to continue online when the shops were shut without compromising on the quality of customer service. It is this experience that keeps customers coming back to purchase everything from custom liners and accessories to additional pairs of shoes.

Despite not having the time to order a custom pair in the shop, I purchased ready-made waterproof boots to weather the rainstorms during my trip and take home to the UK. I was so impressed with the whole experience, I eagerly signed up to their worldwide online community. This seamless in person and online experience is a model all multi-channel service providers can aspire to and plan for – creating reasons to engage with and make purchases from a brand, whether they are in a local shop or anywhere else in the world.

Part of the key to creating a 3-5 year vision is to really delve into what you want to achieve, where you want to grow and how to get there. Easier said than done, but here are a few tips that may help get the ball rolling:

Listen to your customers

Any good marketer knows that the customer is king and this remains true. Pay attention to what your customers are doing and how they are interacting with your brand. Talk to them and drill down into how their interactions have changed with your organisation so you can evolve with them. If you don’t already have a mechanism for customer feedback across all the channels you operate in, make sure you build this into your planning. Access to accurate and sensible analytics and data can go a long way to ensuring that your customers stay happy and you continue to gain new ones.

Create custom experiences

Following on from listening, think about the bigger picture. What bespoke experiences can you create for your customers? How can you increase their engagement, loyalty and encourage them to buy from you? Alluding to my R.M. Williams example, think beyond being simply a shoe store (or food retailer, bank, high street brand, or whatever business you’re in). Look at what your customers appreciate from you, what relevant products or services you can offer them and what positive experiences you can create to make their lives easier. Build this experience-led thinking into your forward planning.

Stop procrastinating

It’s easy to fall prey to lurch from one crisis to the next – especially after the past few years we’ve had, but we can only exist in survival mode for so long before getting dragged under. Now is the time to make sure you have a clear vision for the future in place. Take a step back, meet with your team and look at the bigger picture of how you want to move forward. From there, you can put a plan in place and ensure you have the right mix of people, processes and platforms to achieve it.

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