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You can pivot your business in the middle of a pandemic – you have to

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Coronavirus has sounded a death knell for lots of small businesses. Learning to pivot and redirect your company’s focus may help keep it afloat in this uncertain economy.

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These days, it’s not enough to be a household name. Heck, we’ve already learned that branding means next to nothing in today’s society, especially if said brand has garnered a bad rap for being offensive in nature. And the fact is, with millions of companies struggling to stay afloat, it’s no longer enough to get your proverbial foot through the door just through brand loyalty. You also have to prove your value to your customer base in order to be able to keep it there, too.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for companies to take a hard look at how they run their businesses. The ability to remain flexible during these uncertain times may make all the difference in whether a company remains solvent, or if it collapses under the mounting pressure of a recession-bound coronavirus economy. So what’s a company to do to keep from joining the ranks of other businesses that have gone under in recent months? Is there any hope left for them?

Surprisingly enough, the trick to not succumbing to bankruptcy may lie in a company’s ability to pivot. Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to do a shimmy and a shake and a hip pop next (though, to be fair, it may look cool to see a bunch of octogenarian CEOs getting groovy on the dance floor). In this context, pivoting is remarkably simple in nature — but may be a near-impossible feat for companies that aren’t willing to approach their branding strategies with an open mind.

Pivoting is a novel way of approaching how you run your business. Instead of getting trapped in a dogmatic, my-way-or-the highway-mentality, these business owners need to find a fresh approach in how they offer their goods and services to their customers. Take, for instance, Spotify. This music streaming service has largely depended upon advertisers to earn revenue, which meant that unpaid subscriptions were their bread and butter. One might think that with more people staying home and listening to their jams to stay upbeat during quarantine, Spotify would flourish.

The reality was though, that ad revenue dried up as their advertisers cut their budgets. Spotify remained undeterred, and thus their own pivot emerged. Instead of letting this potentially catastrophic loss of income lead to their demise, they took a unique approach to remaining relevant: they allowed users to host their own original content. Suddenly everyone had a voice, and they wanted to make it heard to their doting public. Spotify found themselves signing deals for celebrity podcasts, and even the average user wanted in on the fun. By going this route, Spotify was able to remain relevant.

How does this translate to other businesses? And is pivoting applicable in real life? Well, sure. Take a look at restaurants. They’ve been hit harder than most, and many restaurant owners found themselves permanently shuttering their doors in the aftermath of the coronavirus quarantines. However, by pivoting, many of these restaurants may be able to continue serving up fresh and delicious fare to their community. Perhaps by offering subscription meal services, or maybe a la carte entrees with cute little recipe cards for sides, tucked into the to-go box.

However, it’s not enough to just pivot. What’s the secret then, to not becoming the next company to suffer a premature death at the hands of coronavirus? For starters, a company needs to be able to capitalize on the new norms established by the virus. This can include working from home, or meeting broken supply chain demands. Secondly, the pivot needs to align with what the business already offers. Your local gastropub, for instance, isn’t going to start to offer a free haircut with every meal. And finally, the company needs to crystallize themselves as necessary in the eyes of their consumer base… and, ultimately, this perception needs to help them make money.

Unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that not every company has the privilege to deliver a good that regarded as a necessity. If they shift their model and how they provide their services to their customers, however, they can take the first step in presenting themselves as a product that we not only want, but also need, in this new economy. Compounding on their existing reputation, and maintaining an open mind about how they operate their business, can make all the difference in whether these businesses can stick around for another decade or two. Otherwise, they may find themselves to be next company folding in this coronavirus-stricken economy.

Karyl is a Southern transplant, now living on the Central Coast with her husband. She's proud to belong to two very handsome cats, both of which have made it very clear as to where she ranks on the social hierarchy. When she's not working as an optician, you can either find her chipping away at her next science-fiction novel or training for an upcoming race. She holds an AAT in Psychology, which is just a fancy way of saying that she likes poking around inside people's brains. She's very socially awkward and has no idea how to describe herself, which is why this bio is just as dorky and weird as she is.

Business Marketing

Snapchat’s study reveals our growing reliance on video

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Snapchat released a report that shows some useful insights for future video content creation.

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Snapchat is taking a break from restoring people’s streaks to publish a report on mobile video access; according to Social Media Today, the report holds potentially vital information about how customers use their mobile devices to view content.

And–surprise, surprise–it turns out we’re using our phones to consume a lot more media than we did six years ago.

The obvious takeaways from this study are listed all over the place, and not even necessarily courtesy of Snapchat. People are using their phones substantially more often than they have in the past five years, and with everyone staying home, it’s reasonable to expect more engagement and more overall screen time.

However, there are a couple of insights that stand out from Snapchat’s study.

Firstly, the “Stories” feature that you see just about everywhere now is considered one of the most popular–and, thus, most lucrative–forms of video content. 82 percent of Snapchat users in the study said that they watched at least one Snapchat Story every day, with the majority of stories being under ten minutes.

This is a stark contrast to the 52 percent of those polled who said they watched a TV show each day and the 49 percent who said they consumed some “premium” style of short-form video (e.g., YouTube). You’ll notice that this flies in the face of some schools of thought regarding content creation on larger platforms like YouTube or Instagram.

Equally as important is Snapchat’s “personal” factor, which is the intimate, one-on-one-ish atmosphere cultivated by Snapchat features. Per Snapchat’s report, this is the prime component in helping an engaging video achieve the other two pillars of success: making it relatable and worthy of sharing.

Those three pillars–being personal, relatable, and share-worthy–are the components of any successful “short-form” video, Snapchat says.

Snapchat also reported that of the users polled, the majority claimed Snapchat made them feel more connected to their fellow users than comparable social media sites (e.g., Instagram or Facebook). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the next-closest social media platform vis-a-vis interpersonal connection was TikTok–something for which you can probably see the nexus to Snapchat.

We know phone use is increasing, and we know that distanced forms of social expression were popular even before a pandemic floored the world; however, this report demonstrates a paradigm shift in content creation that you’d have to be nuts not to check out for yourself.

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Business Marketing

Technology is helping small businesses adapt and stay afloat

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Small businesses need to utilize digital platforms to adapt their businesses during COVID-19, or else they may be left behind.

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While many may not have imagined our present day back in March, and to what extreme we would be doing things “remotely” and via “hands-free contact”, we have to give some credit to small business owners who remain flexible and have pivoted to stay afloat. They deserve major credit on adaptations they have made (and possibly investments) in new technology (ordering online, online payments) especially at a time when their in-person revenues have taken a hit.

There are various marketing buzz words being used lately to say “let’s keep our distance”, including: curbside, to-go, hands-free, no contact, delivery only, order via app, social distancing and #wearamask.

The thing is, if you really think about it, small businesses are always in evolution mode – they have to pay attention to consumer consumption and behaviors that can shift quickly in order to stay relevant and utilize their marketing and advertising budgets wisely. They heavily rely on positive customer reviews and word of mouth recommendations because they may not have the budget for large scale efforts.

For example, we use Lyft or Uber vs calling an individual cab owner; we order on Amazon vs shopping at a local mom-and-pop shop; we download and make playlists of music vs going to a record or music store. Small business owners are constantly fighting to keep up with the big guys and have to take into account how their product/service has relevance, and if it’s easy for people to attain. In current times, they’ve had to place major efforts into contactless experiences that often require utilizing a digital platform.

If stores or restaurants didn’t already have an online ordering platform, they had to implement one. Many may have already had a way to order online but once they were forced to close their dining areas, they had to figure out how to collect payments safely upon pickup; this may have required them to implement a new system. Many restaurants also had to restructure pick up and to-go orders, whether it was adding additional signage or reconfiguring their pick up space to make sure people were able to easily practice social distancing.

According to this article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Studies have shown that 73% of small businesses are not aware of digital resources, such as online payment processing tools, online productivity tools, e-commerce websites, online marketing and other tools, that can help them reach customers around the world. If small businesses had better access to global markets, it could increase the GDP of the United States by $81 billion and add 900,000 new jobs. During the pandemic, this could also mean the difference between thriving and closing for good.”

There are some larger corporate technology companies offering ways to support small businesses whether it’s through small business grants from Google, resources and grants from Facebook or Verizon giving them a break on their telecom bill. The challenge with this may be whether or not small business owners are able to find time from their intense focus on surviving to applying for these grants and managing all that admin time. Many business owners may be focusing on what technology they have and can upgrade, or what they need to implement – most likely while seeing a loss in revenue. So, it can be a tough decision to make new technology investments.

It does seem like many have made incredible strides, and quickly (which is impressive), to still offer their products and services to customers – whether it’s a contactless pay method, free delivery, or even reservations to ensure limited capacity and socially distanced visits. There are still some that just haven’t able to do that yet, and may be looking at other ways to take their business to a wider audience online.

We would encourage, if you can, to support small businesses in your community as often as you can. Understandably there are times that it’s easier to order on Amazon, but if there is a way you can pick up something from a local brewery or family-owned business, this may be the lifeline they need to survive and/or to invest in new technology to help them adapt.

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Business Marketing

There’s a shortage of skilled workers, so get learning

(BUSINESS MARKETING) COVID-19 may end up justifying training funds for lower-class workers to learn new skills. Skilled workers are desperately needed right now.

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The COVID-19 pandemic (yes, that one) has ushered in a lot of unexpected changes, one of the which is most surprising: An increased call for skilled workers — a call that, unfortunately, requires a massive retraining of the existing workforce.

According to the New York Times, nearly 50 percent of Americans were working from home by May; this was, reportedly, a 15 percent increase in remote work. The problems with this model are expansive, but one of the greatest issues stems from the lack of training: As employees of lower-class employment transitioned to working online, it became increasingly evident that there was a shortage of skilled workers in this country.

The Times traces this phenomenon back to the Great Recession; Harvard University’s Lawrence Katz points to some parallels and insinuates that this is an opportunity to elevate the lower class rather than regressing, and it seems fair to put the onus of such elevation on lawmakers and senators.

Indeed, Congress has even addressed the issue of skill equality via “bipartisan support” of a $4000 credit for non-skilled workers to use toward skill training. For Congress to come together on something like this is relatively noteworthy, and it’s hard to disagree with the premise that, given the invariable automation wave, many of our “non-skilled” workers will face unemployment without substantial aid.

COVID-19 has accelerated many trends and processes that should have taken years to propagate, and this is clearly one of them.

Supporting laborers in developing skills that help them work within the technology bubble isn’t just a good idea–it’s imperative, both morally and economically speaking. Even middle-class “skilled” workers have had trouble keeping up with the sheer amount of automation and technology-based skillsets required to stay competent; when one considers how lower-class employees will be impacted by this wave, the outcome is too dark to entertain.

It should be noted that non-skilled workers don’t necessarily have to scale up their training in their current fields; the Times references a truck driver who pivoted hard into software development, and while it may be easier for some to focus on their existing areas of expertise, the option to make a career change does exist.

If we take nothing else away from the time we’ve spent in quarantine, we should remember that skilled labor is integral to our success as a society, and we have a moral obligation to help those who missed the opportunity to develop such skills fulfill that need.

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