Corona Capitalism – Adapting to change at warp speed by Precise’s Gopal Aswani

by Gopal Aswani is a Managing Partner at Precise Communications FZ LLC, a Dubai based messaging Digital Communications Agency.

It feels like we are in a bizarre sci-fi space TV show as we watch the world and the UAE unite to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

A massive round of applause to the medical and healthcare professionals. Not enough can be said about their selflessness acts of being physically present to cater and nurse society. It is no doubt that with the backing from the UAE government, the medical teams will continue to do their role diligently.

It is remarkable to observe the efforts of the UAE government in beginning to manoeuvre different policies & mandates to not only contain the virus but also to support businesses and society.   Stepping it up in different ways, be it stimulus packages, loans breaks, disinfecting the cities, rent waivers, reduction of utility bills or as placed forward by the Abu Dhabi government who commit to pay all vendors within 15 days.  It’s a tough job, yet it’s exciting to see the authorities navigate this uncharted territory with us.

We now understand that “Social distancing” is an imperative requirement to “flatten the curve” in controlling critical cases that can be handled by the healthcare system.

Instead of social distancing, the term I heard Gavin Newsom (Governor of California) use was “Physical distancing”, which to me feels more apt to what we are practicing.   We are not any less social, far from it, in fact we are interacting and communicating more than ever: Internet usage has shot up by 50% in many parts of the world, WhatsApp saw a 40% hike, Facebook and Instagram reported a 50% jump in interactions and messaging.  Operational businesses are more defined/structured in their tasks in order to improve efficiency due to remote working.  People personally are spending more time interacting with their familly and partners, which interestingly could go either way, for instance China experienced a divorce rates rise after the COVID-19 lock down, while some reports suggest that USA will see Babies Boom!

With an average person saving 3-5 hours a day from commuting, going out etc, the context we live in now brings about a very different and intense level of social interaction.

These new circumstances we face bring major changes to all forms of organizations. Businesses will evolve as per the market that surrounds them.  The ones that change with the times will survive and the ones that don’t will diminish.  This is the natural order of capitalism.

Keeping this in mind, let’s take a few steps back and simply observe what we are experiencing. COVID-19 has become a catalyst of change that has somehow stepped on the fast-forward button of human behaviour that had lead us spinning into a time warp and giving birth to a new order of business dynamics, some are calling it Corona Capitalism.

What could have taken the world 20-30 years to eventually accomplish (just watching a few episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix will suffice to illustrate); one of many potential scenarios is happening in a matter of days.  Remote working, ecommerce, family time, health, hygiene etc. will have a different level of immediate importance.  This sudden change doesn’t mean that businesses are doomed (initial acceptance does have its own process), but it brings forward the need to approach the market from a different perspective. Afterall consumers will always consume, it is the what, how and where they consume our services and products that changes.

We can already see revenues increasing for restaurants who focus more on delivery, there is a hike in cleaning/ disinfectant goods, select home furniture along with DIY and home gym kits. Offline distribution channels are encouraged to convert to online.  Loss making ecommerce stores are now in the “Green” and firms who adopted digital prior to Corona Capitalism are having the 1st dibs during this transition. Initial research in the US shows a 100% increase in March on online grocery sales, with Ecommerce increasing by 25% on daily sales.  The surge also caught off guard many UAE E-retailers where consumers experienced at on set delayed delivery and other capacity related issues.

Businesses that are currently sustaining themselves are the ones that have or can create a value to consumers practicing social/physical distancing.

The onset of this stage is that we did and will continue to see “cowboy” entrepreneurs who are focused on exploitation for quick gains rather than an actual value add, and time calls for conscious enterprising businesses.

The key question is: What can you do to reach your customers?

There are quick opportunities that can be used to add value to your consumers proactively. Here are some steps and examples Precise Communications are excited in working with our partners on.  Hope you find them insightful.

Checking your distribution channel: Set up your online ecommerce site if it’s not active and makes economic sense.  The initial wave of builds is about practical low-cost set ups that connects customers to their products.  There are many simple solutions available that allow you to be online with efficiency.  Either create your own or using an existing distribution channel such as Amazon, Noon and social shops.  Some businesses are exploring a quick option of placing product catalogues online with a call to action for cash on delivery. WhatsApp recently added a product catalogue feature in it’s Business app which is available for free in the app store.

Having a clear communication plan: Using social media channels to stay connected with your customers, see what’s trending and align them to your brands. A kitchenware client of ours noticed an increase in home cooking and baking, thus we are using our social channels to communicate tips, advice and guides.  TikTok is showing to be an interesting channel of entertainment and can be used to connect in innovating ways.  Their engagement is currently one of the most active in the region. Throw in the right influencers and this will multiply.

Choosing the right advertising channel: Yes, advertising is key now as audiences are more captive than ever before. Don’t hold back on the AED spend out of speculation, focusing more on digital media is important as that is where your users can be reached.  However, change your goals from footfalls to engagement with your brand and/ or site traffic to promote online sales and queries.

Keeping in touch via Messaging platforms: Keep in touch with your customers via text, share offers, online deals and updates. Their phones are always with them.  The Dubai Police took a unique approach by using Artificial intelligence I to find out if a trip is essential. Check out more tips here for messaging and AI chatbots (https://www.tobeprecisesms.com/blog/).

Changing the perception of Product launches: Products can still be launched but let’s be mindful of what we are launching in the context of our current environment.  For a new fragrance/perfume launch (Yes, it’s still good to smell right during social distancing), we are using social as a platform to launch their products and opt for a virtual and live presence.  We recently saw UAE launch a new platform called Emirates Loto, where you can participate and win prizes adding up to AED 35 million at home.  Some marketing gurus may consider it ill timed, but with the right positing, media mix & captive population there is massive potential.

Adjust how services can be delivered: Many services can continue to function remotely, an agency such as ours, continues to offer our services where possible and viable.  Individuals such as fitness coaches continue to have their classes via live stories through social and counsellors counsel through VOIP apps.

An interesting moment in social media history: American DJ, D-Nice created a virtual cub via Instagram live, reaching 160 k listeners live at one point! It seemed like everybody, from your next-door neighbour to the former FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Lionel Richie, Lenny Kravitz etc had decided to join the live DJ set streaming.

Finding new methods to interact: In line with building innovative communication tools, Netflix’s approach of launching Netflix party is a perfect example of how services add value during social distancing. Netflix Party is a Chrome extension for watching Netflix remotely with friends, e.g., for movie nights with that long-distance special someone. It synchronizes video playback and adds group chat.  Some brands are also bringing in gamification as part of their online purchase cycle to help further differentiate themselves from competitors.

Naturally these steps and examples are not a one-size-fits-all fix, as some operations will be more impacted than others. Traditional business that require physical presence of outsourcing goods such as the classical wholesale business for re-export aren’t prepared for virtual communications yet, but there are still opportunities where the government or an innovative entrepreneur can help digitize the process in their respective sectors.

So…if you need to hop on a Star Ship Enterprise to get you here at warp speed or you would just like to chat about how we can support each other, do get in touch ([email protected]).