This pandemic has exposed a whole host of weak spots in the readiness of some businesses to respond to such events and cater to the virtual needs of their customers, but with weakness comes the opportunity for entrepreneurial-minded companies to innovate solutions. This pandemic has certainly forced brands to innovate far faster than they might have otherwise, and I’m frankly overwhelmed and inspired by the daily examples of brands that have bravely and successfully taken the leap. Take a look at how these industries are adapting.
NBC Universal became the first studio to release new films — previously planned for large-scale, traditional movie-theater rollout — straight to on-demand for $19.99 per download. Malco is now premiering new movies through on-demand as well.
The School of Rock, a multi-location music school targeting young would-be rock stars, typically operates a brick-and-mortar performance-based music education program. After an initial panic, CEO Rob Price admits, immediately following shelter-in-place orders across the country, the company quickly adapted its model to now offer virtual programming — from singing lessons to instrument instruction — to its more than 40,000 students across the country. “You have tens of millions of people dislocated, with time on their hands feeling anxiety, grief, fear and dislocation,” said Price. “We know from 21 years of experience that music is one of the best natural antidotes to those conditions.” So, this organization developed a brand new revenue stream seemingly overnight, one that will continue to serve it well post COVID-19.
YouCam Makeup has offered an augmented reality (AR) beauty app since before the pandemic. They are now offering it free to cosmetic brands as a way for them to stay connected to their customers and integrate virtual makeup “try-ons” onto their websites.
Grassroots Fitness Project — a boutique fitness studio in New York City known for creatively educating its clients and their kids on the why and how of fitness — launched 45-minute virtual classes for kids featuring a physical activity and a section for conversation. Classes are capped at eight children each to ensure that instructors can be hands-on with every child to give stressed out parents a break and help keep the kids active.
Evergrande Real Estate Group — a property developer in China which markets rental homes — has trained and mobilized its otherwise offline sales team to leverage virtual reality and social media in order to better engage customers. Not only are they allowing you to rent a home without an in-person closing, but they have flipped their formerly non-refundable deposit policy to one that is fully refundable and smaller in size. As a result, customers have committed to nearly 50,000 home rentals online, since the pandemic hit, by just paying a mini down payment of approximately $431.
Ethel’s Club — a social and wellness clubhouse located in Brooklyn — is a coworking space that offers its members space to network and work alongside like-minded people as well as development programming from which all members can benefit. The organization had considered a digital membership prior to COVID-19 decimating the economy. Shelter-in-place orders across New York gave them just the ammunition they needed to quickly launch the new concept in a ridiculously truncated one-week timeline or risk financial failure. The new digital membership includes daily streamed content with programming from meditation to stress-reduction to photography and other skill-building workshops. While the physical space could only hold a maximum of 200 members, the digital community can grow endlessly.
Seattle restaurant Canlis knew they had to act fast in order to keep their team employed and to realign with dramatically changing consumer demand. The restaurant completely transformed into three smaller pop-up concepts including a drive-through upscale burger joint, a curb-side pick-up bagel shop and a family-meal delivery service.
Burger King is giving away two free kids meals with any purchase made using their app, as a way to reinforce app purchases — a behavior they hope will stick after the pandemic.
McDonald’s is teaching customers how to create an Egg McMuffin at home as a strategy for staying connected with customers.
Professional-organizing service Horderly typically partners with its clients on-site to declutter and organize their homes. After this 30-person firm saw 300 billable hours cancelled in just four days following mass shelter-in-place orders, the company developed a virtual organizing service in just three days. The service allows its customers to hire a home organizer to work with them via video chat. With so many people at home with more available time to focus on their homes than ever before, it’s not surprising that this service is taking off.
A company that has been in the business of hosting in-person events for businesses, Teambuilding, now offers virtual team-building events including remote lunch-and-learn sessions, online storytelling workshops, and a creative virtual campfire event complete with ghost stories, competitions and real s’mores which they ship participants in advance as part of a campfire kit. Given increasing employer concerns the link between isolation, loneliness and depression, this idea is sure to take off.
While the past month has certainly been a boon for most e-tailers, there’s a new virtual storefront platform (with app) that launched amidst the Coronavirus outbreak that’s designed to allow consumers to easily shop online at the stores they love most and to keep these retailers afloat. Streetify allows users to setup a virtual ideal “street” comprised of the stores they love most. Once set up, they can scroll left or right to essentially “walk” down the street and enter virtual storefronts of their favorite retailers. Once “inside” of each store, consumers are able to see specials and promotions that those retailers are offering. The platform even uses geo-referencing to turn on shop lights at night, when these retailers are open, and it simulates rain if it is actually raining in that part of town.
Inokyo, which builds self-checkout stations for retail stores, redirected its R&D efforts quickly to develop a contact-tracing technology — called Act — that retailers can use in their workplaces and warehouses. “It uses cameras and computer-vision technology to see visually which employees have been in proximity to each other,” company partner Jared Friedman told CNBC.
OhmniLabs is leveraging its technology to allow COVID-19 patients to better connect with their loved ones while they’re hospitalized. This tech solution is essentially a rolling robot with a camera and screen on top.
Promobot, a Philadelphia-based robotics company, redeployed its technology for use in Times Square as a way to help residents determine if they have symptoms of Coronavirus and need to seek medical attention.
BioIntelliSense just launched a barbell-shaped wearable sensor that can monitor a patient’s vitals from a remote location for up to 30 days, allowing COVID-19 patients who aren’t among the sickest to remain at home thereby reducing hospital overcrowding.
This telemedicine sector has been much slower to take off than most industry insiders predicted, but the Coronavirus has certainly changed that. In countries like India, telemedicine for primary care has been illegal until the Coronavirus necessitated a change in thinking by lawmakers causing this industry to explode. In the US, where HIPAA requirements have historically made it challenging for traditional primary-care physicians to offer tele-medicine, the government has temporarily loosed these regulations in connection with the good-faith delivery of tele-health during the COVID-19 crisis. Let’s hope this sticks as a long-term solution.
There are also countless examples of Memphis companies deploying downright courageous and astonishingly quick, virtual pivots to their strategies in order to adapt to this new reality. Here are just a few of the many shining stars.
Beloved chefs Felicia Willett and Kelly English adapted their businesses — seemingly overnight. Felicia Suzanne’s restaurant now offers daily curb-side pickup and is even delivering to Jonesboro on a regular basis. Restaurant Iris launched a delivery program where they alternate the parts of town they will deliver to based on the day of the week — including as far out as Millington, Marion/West Memphis, Olive Branch/Horn Lake and Southaven. If you haven’t seen Kelly’s video-marketing series — including thoughts from the shower — you’re missing out.
Furniture retailer, Stash Home, created a virtual showroom on their website allowing customers to “walk” through the store from the comfort and safety of home and chat with a designer online.
Old Dominick Distillery and haircare products manufacturer, Ampro Industries, generously added production lines for much-needed hand sanitizer.
Popular downtown wellness studios, Envision Fitness, launched virtual workouts and boot camps to keep their membership fit and engaged, as well as launching a live Q&A podcast. The boutique fitness group is also lending gear to members.
Mahaffey USA has adapted its temporary structure business to meet the needs of the medical and business community — offering temporary medical facilities and screening stations during the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, the company recently provided triage tents and temporary hospitals for the hard-hit New York City area and turned a New Orleans convention center into a coronavirus-patient care facility.
The level of transformation these companies have been able to deliver in a matter of days is nothing short of astonishing. What would be possible for our companies if we moved as nimbly and rapidly as we are now to develop new revenue streams after COVID-19 is long past us? Could we be more agile, launching innovations far more quickly? Could we let go of perfection as a go-to-market minimum and simply launch a minimally viable product to the market for reaction before investing weeks and months getting it just right? If we can do this in the middle of a healthcare crisis, what are we really capable of during more stable times?
The world will never be the same after the worst of this pandemic. There is a new normal coming, and if you’re waiting for things to return to the way they are, you’re going to be left behind. Innovate now for what the world will look like in May, in June, in Q3 and Q4. Adapt your product and service lines now for what’s to come. Wait and risk brand irrelevancy, as I assure you some of your competitors are already figuring out how to sustain agile innovation.
We are all in this together. If you would like to partner, please give us a call. RedRover is deeply committed to Memphis and any business working to support our great city. Let us know if you need help getting the word out about your business. Knowing what to do next can be hard. There are resources and partners all across our city ready to help. RedRover is here for all Memphians working to save their businesses.