The coronavirus has changed everything. In the fifth in a series of special Brand Lab Series™ episodes, we talk about what it really means to reopen the economy with Bob Moesta. Bob is the President and CEO of ReWired Group, an adjunct lecturer at Kellogg, a guest lecturer at Harvard and MIT, and a research fellow at the Christensen Institute.
In this episode with Bob, you’ll learn about…
“If you think of coronavirus as a step backward, we as humans will always find a way forward.”
Alright, Well Bob welcome back to the Brand Lab Series™ podcast. As we were just joking, it seems like it’s been a long time but it’s only been three and a half weeks since we had you back on in episode 95. At that point we were talking about in an unknown future, how do you rethink strategic planning? We talked a lot about trying to look at some of the uncertainty as a positive, trying to look at some of the uncertainty as an opportunity not to install a lot of fear but just rarely try to focus on what can you learn in a moment like this? How can you use things like innovation and time walls to maybe really see and apply some learnings through a slightly different lens? And as we were kinda joking, so much has changed as it does almost every hour during the current phase we’re in but at the same time, most people describe their days as groundhog days.
Now the big thing is really “Oh, it’s time to start opening the economy” and I suspect as painful as it was to close the economy, that was actually the easier thing to do so as we start to think about opening an economy and what does that really mean? I’m glad that you could come back on because I think there’s a lot of things we can talk about, different industry examples, thinking about innovation principles, thinking about consumer behaviors in fear and anxiety. So great to you back with us.
Thanks for having me back. As you said, it feels like it’s been a long time but at the same time, I realize it’s only been three weeks and to be honest, we are now, we’re getting ready to go into that phase two as I talked about, which is we’re now still sheltered in place but it’s like we’re two maybe three weeks away from opening the economy in Michigan and it’s like okay, what does that mean? And that’s where I think we started this conversation of we should probably get back and just talk about ’cause in three weeks I’ve probably talk to 100 people. I’ve done 40-50 interviews on many, many different things and it’s just been kind of a crazy three weeks. In some cases, it feels like we’ve stood still and at the same time I feel like I’ve been able to, I’ll say dig into over terabytes of data just to see what’s going on. So it’s awesome to be back. So thank you for having me on.
Oh, it’s always great and as we were kind of talking before we also, somewhere in the middle of all that, squeezed in a virtual whiskey happy hour which probably…
I think we should have recorded it. That would have been fun to do.
That probably would have made for an even better podcast episode but yeah, it’s definitely interesting. We’ve talked, how we both work in a number of different industries and you can see some that are getting hit a little harder than others and as we talked back on Episode 95, some of that was actually the result of just natural business, if you will, evolution.
I think some of the industries that have been hit the hardest, retail, for example, education, for example, were already industries that were struggling a little bit in terms of adapting to the forces of change consumer behavior, the forces of competition, the forces of innovation, the forces of in the case of education, e-learning, retail, e-commerce. What kind of industry jumps out at you? Is one that’s probably most at risk as we start to think about re-opening?
Yeah so my brother actually, he’s a CFO for a construction company and then for a hotel here in Michigan. One of the things that we were comparing and contrasting was the difference between the construction side, which is they can open back up pretty quickly and those projects are already funded and so for the most part, I think construction can continue but I think like for the hotel, it’s one of those things where they’re out near Chrysler’s headquarters and they’re out there via Chrysler’s headquarters and it’s one of those things where it’s like, what can you do? And so we started to talk about how he had to rethink the hotel, for example, what if you made it one of the safest places to go? And that when people came, everybody had to have at least 24 hours between rooms.
So when you were buying rooms it was literally we’re making sure that we’re not only doing our usual clean but we’re disinfecting, we’re gonna do UV light, we’re gonna do all these different things that enable people to kinda make sure that they don’t have it. So if you really wanna reopen, what does it mean to try to reopen? And for him, it was like he just wanted… I just need people to stay in the rooms, I’m like “Well, there’s a couple of ways you can think about that too.” It’s like “How many people are stuck in their house and they literally want a different place to be and would they really be willing to move to the hotel or come to the hotel and work out of the rooms there and as long as there’s social distancing, rent the rooms for so much a week so almost and turn them into quarter offices.”
He’s got fiber coming in, he’s got a gigabit backbone coming in and it’s one of those things where it’s like… So he’s approached different schools to say, “Hey if you wanna actually come and use our facility for internet because we have actually high speed.” Is one of those things where he’s like, “Well, I’m not sure whether I wanna bring people back in or not.” and I’m like, “You have to realize Bill, trying to restart the hotel after it stopped is very different than keeping it going in a little way and then ramping it back up. So at least you’ve got still some momentum of coming in and opening and doing those things.”
And so I think his notion was, again he’s a finance guy so his whole thing was, “Is there some cost associated with keeping it going?” And I said, “Yeah but they’ll be a larger cost of kinda starting from a dead stop.” And so this is where I said, “You should be at least having the kitchen come in and make pizzas or do something. Not long time but basically maybe one meal or make a bunch of pizzas that are… Make a bunch of food and give it to the Healthcare workers and frontline people. I think this notion of when we say we’re gonna open the economy, it’s like if something’s been closed for three weeks, it’s gonna be… You almost have to rethink how you’re gonna actually open and so my thing is this, keeping it going in some small way will help you actually have that momentum to kind of ramp it back up if you will.
Yeah, well along the lines of the hospitality and hotel example, I know you’re seeing at least in the US occupancy rates now at 80-90% which is a staggering statistic. And you’re seeing those some outliers in more like suburban rural market, some of that might be involved with interstate travel and commerce and…
Truckers, right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But also I think you said is, I’ve started seeing a couple of things pop up where they’re thinking about using hotels as a day office place because I think on the commercial real estate side, there is such a shift into the open office space, there is such a shift in the co-working spaces. You’re now right on top of each other. I think it gets back though to this thing that we talked about right before we started recording though, which is a little bit of the end customer and in many cases, perhaps the employee quite frankly as well, the anxiety that some people will have that they’ve never had before about things like germs and health safety and I saw Marriott just recently announced this week that they’re going to undertake a massive cleaning effort and a consistent cleaning effort almost as you’d see in hospitals that they’ve never done before in their hotels. I think that’ll be a challenge to do at scale but I know that there’s going to be a lot of people, myself included, that would be a little nervous about how clean things are.
So I even like your suggestion of spacing out the rooms or being able to have it for several days knowing that you’re the only one in there.
Right. Well, and for example, people won’t come in and clean it. You start to build new rules around it and say like, “Here’s how we are actually gonna play this out.” and it’s like, “What do you mean you’re not gonna clean my room?” it’s like “Well here’s the thing, we can either leave you to clean… ” I just think there’s a whole bunch of choices that we can actually offer and so it gets back to, I think as businesses we’re gonna have to learn how to prototype and we’re gonna have to learn to prototype at what I call the low end of the market, as opposed to the high end of the market, which is we’re used to always making things better and in this case, it might be about the fact that we’re gonna actually take things away, which actually makes it more acceptable and so part of this is being able to understand how we’re gonna prototype and think about it. I think as consumers though, we have to actually innovate as well and think about how we’re gonna prototype to say like “Okay, I’m bored out of my mind,” Or “Boy, can I get a change of scenery?”
And the thing is this, for those who are working, it might be useful to say like, “You know what, I’m gonna go get a hotel room as just a change of change of scenery and it allows me to actually have a window and light whereas opposed to working in the basement” or wherever you are. It’s one of those things where again, I think we have to think about creatively how we’re gonna actually think about this.
And again, I was trying to emphasize to my brother, I think part of this though is to figure out where the demand lies, where struggling moments are and how you can pivot your set of resources and processes that you have to go against those, as opposed to trying to get back on to your plan for 2020. I think the notion of… I think he said that they’d done a financial plan and said “Oh yeah, everything will be back to normal by August” I’m like, “Okay I don’t think that’s gonna happen and you can plan that way but the reality is like if it’s not, what are you gonna do and how you’re gonna actually do it?” And the thing is, this is where I’m not sure planning is gonna be the same way, forecasting is gonna be the same way and so it gets back to, he’s gotta talk to the bank and the banks gotta say, “What’s your plan?” And you’ve gotta be able to have some things but the reality is like at some point, “I don’t know, and here’s what I’m doing.” It is usually good enough for the banks ’cause in some cases, banks don’t… They don’t want any of this back anyways, they had it back in 2007 and ’08 and they know they can’t manage it any better and so they’d rather have us try to figure it out and they rather just figure out “How do we get new terms?” That’s my view on it.
Yeah and I wanna build off something though that you said in that segment, which was… And I think this is where maybe marketing communication might come into play a little bit which is, there will be some onus on the business and the employer and obviously training and equipping the employees but I think there has to be some onus on the end consumer as well. I know again, just in the travel industry, for example, I was always that guy that carried sanitizer wipes on to the airplane and I would get at my seat and I would literally wipe everything down and most of the time people would be looking at me like “This guy is crazy.” And I remember, Jason had recently tweeted something out about how “Wouldn’t it be something if every seat had hand sanitizer wipes sitting in it for people who actually wipe down themselves?” What a good co-brand opportunity that puts a little onus on that? I think there are things that we as consumers will need to be thinking about to participate in whatever this open economy is.
Yup. Yeah and I think it’s gonna take time. So this is the whole thing is, at dinner last night, I have three of my four kids home and it’s one of those things where we talked about, “Okay, let’s pretend that the economy is open and we can go out to dinner, where are we gonna go? Like how are we gonna… ” It’s like all of a sudden it’s… There’s like, “We can go here, we can go there, there are these different restaurants.” it’s like “Well… ” And I think it came down to which restaurant do we wanna support the most? So it really wasn’t about the food anymore, it was about which ones do we wanna make sure are gonna be here and that we can help the most, as opposed to what food do we want tonight? And so you just start to realize it was a completely different conversation, that was just like, it was very interesting and so tonight, we have I think it’s called “Take Out Tuesday” and somehow we heard about it and every night the…
Somebody else is in the house been cooking and so we all kind of been getting or trying to cook if you will, especially me but the reality is, is that you end up getting to the point where it’s like, boy we wanna participate in this ’cause we wanna help the restaurants near. Okay, who’s open? Well, we don’t know who’s open and so part of this is we had to go do some research but it’s a very different conversation than, do you want Mexican or do you want Middle Eastern tonight? It’s like no, that’s not the discussion anymore and so that’s a really interesting way to talk about these conversations and how they’re gonna be different and what they mean and at some point when is it gonna be back to. Okay, do you want Mexican or Middle-Eastern? But I don’t think that’s gonna be for, to be honest, quite a while.
Well and we’ve had a similar as I’m sure millions of people have around the country. We’ve had a similar conversation at the dinner table. I remember we’re going on now about day 46 or 47 of essentially home quarantine and I think it was the first week in, my nine-year-old son made this really long list of every restaurant or every place he would wanna go when this quarantine is over and that list has gotten smaller and smaller not because some of these places are out of business or closed, more so because he’s now been rethinking it differently in his head about why and where and when he would go and I think to your point and it gets back to… I wanna talk a little bit about the lens of sales in all of this. We don’t have to dive into it yet but I think on the demand side of sales and the famous Peter Drucker quote, people are rarely buying what you think companies are selling and if you’re trying to sell Taco Tuesday or a Mexican meal, that may not be why people wanna buy right now.
I think it subtly ties back in the whole notion of the jobs to be done. You talked about which… I do see a fair amount of it. It’s like people wanna try to support a cause or a business or something, it’s less about the choice of the actual meal itself and I think how some of that stuff will be messaged and marketed a will somewhat be important as well. I think…
And I think the thing is, as you start to realize this new context has created some struggling moments that we’re rethinking of both our trade-offs, our considerations, what are our options but we also have these new forces at play. So in the jobs framework, we talk about pushes, pulls, anxieties and habits and it’s like this anxiety force of, do I wanna go out or not and am I willing to stretch one more meal as opposed to going to the grocery store and so there’s just these trade-offs we’re willing to make right now and I think the thing is, it’ll be different when we get to this kind of… When the economy’s open but it’s not, it’s not gonna…
It’s gonna be more like, I’ll say like a U than a V and so part of this is for us to actually come to terms with how long are we gonna wear a mask? My thing is, that’s a great over-under kind of bet if we’re gonna make it, ’cause I believe that I’m not sure masks are gonna go away for at least a year. I think you’ll have some people wearing masks all the time. I think they’ll be… But the reality is, is at some point, we’ll be wearing masks at least for the summer like so I think the aspect here is trying to understand what does that mean when we wear a mask, then how do you eat when you wear a mask [chuckle] and okay, I take the mask off, where do I put the mask when I actually take it off and there’s just like all these subtle step process things that we start to realize.
Like okay, if I wear gloves and a mask into a restaurant, where do I put the glove, where do I throw out the gloves? Do I throw out the gloves on the way out? Do I throw out the gloves when I get in the car ’cause if I have it on the gloves, I don’t wanna take it in the… There’s just so much… So it’s this aspect of us getting comfortable with that new process of going out to dinner. It could be interesting.
Yeah, it’s funny you say that. I was on a… Our Monday check-in team call yesterday and we kinda did around the horn make sure everyone’s doing okay like we do every time we do a check-in and our marketing manager was so excited ’cause she’s like well, I had to venture out to the grocery yesterday and I was just about to check out and I couldn’t believe it because right in front of the checkout was a box that had just been put out of masks and it was the first time I was able to buy a mask and she said you would have thought didn’t matter what food was in my cart, the fact that I could buy a mask was the best thing for me that day and she said she went back home and told her boyfriend. “Oh my God, you’ll never gonna guess what I got at the store.” and he was like “Is it pizza?” And she said, “No it’s a mask” and I think that with all the talk about opening the economy when you think about the need for gloves and masks and we don’t even have to get into the trap of testing for Coronavirus at scale but so many of those things are still not even in a place as we’re talking about the opening. It’s very hard to get some of those PPE supplies right now.
Yeah, well and rightly so, I think a lot of them are hopefully still going to the healthcare workers and the people in the front lines, dealing with it, but my belief is they’re gonna be the norm of as you walk in the store, it’s gonna be gloves, it’s the way, as you walk in, the sanitizer is gonna be everywhere and I think all those kinds of things will be a lot more of the norm for I think years to come. I think though is as people start to go back to work, I think there’s a couple of things, one is you have to realize there’s a lot of pent-up demand. I just think that people… So for example, we’re talking about our hair cuts, right? Think about how… One is, we can only cut hair every other chair in every other place, the reality is, we’re gonna have people lined up for months trying to get their hair cut, right? And so things will come back on that front and at the same time, the fact is, people, to cope with their long hair. I’ll say my hair just feels like…
I don’t think it’s been as long since about eighth grade or ninth grade and it’s one of those things where it’s like, “Okay I’m just gonna buy a product.” and so I’m buying products I never bought before. So I think there’s just these things where there’s a… I’ll say a one-hit-wonder of like, “Hey I’m gonna buy that product.” But the hair-cutting is gonna come back and the manufacturing is gonna come back. One of my kids is graduating and another one has an internship and it’s kind of like, “Okay.” At some point we’re talking about “How do we get them a car?” And that kinda thing, I said, “Well we can’t go to the dealer.”
And so, it’s one of those things where like, “Okay.” There’s gonna be a pent up demand to go by cars. Not maybe where it used to be but at some point there is, it’s gonna be this rush and I think we will have some of those things and we’re just gonna have to be understanding and patient in how that demand is gonna get fulfilled and as manufacturing lines haven’t been running, whatever inventory we had is being depleted. So again, I think as we come back, there will be… The demand is gonna be there, it’s just not gonna be at the 100 plus level that we were at. I think it’s more about how do we refill kind of the supply chain one and then two, how do we actually make sure we can serve in a different way.
So servicing cars is gonna be I think differently. I think a lot of those things are gonna turn out where GM has never been able to sell cars online before because of the dealer laws but now they’re enabled to do it and partner with dealers to do it and so it’s a very interesting kind of combination of things that are going on. I’m excited for where we’re headed, I just think the fact is, is that people have to realize both as consumers and as producers, that we’re gonna actually be doing this differently and that we need to be a little bit patient to understand kind of what’s the new norm.
Yeah and I know you see that in retail, which again is another industry that was already struggling from just a massive shift in consumer behavior and taste, in the way people shop, in the way people buy before coronavirus but if you look at the statistics say in March, it was staggering ’cause it was the lowest level in the history of retail sales that had been recorded. Yet you see now in April, a massive surge in online commerce. I believe one of the top executives at Target had said, “Every day is like Cyber Monday” so that’s changing their whole supply chain and process there. So it’s interesting because I think as you said, with GM, for example, it’s like the days of going into the dealership just won’t be there at least in the sense of how it was before and now thinking about online and I think another industry that I wanna make sure we talk a little bit about with pent up demand is education.
I mean, you talked about your kids, I know you got a few in school, one that’s graduating, you talk about how you think we’re gonna be in masks for at least or social distancing or the rest of the summer, if not longer, I agree with that. I’m honestly starting to wonder, is our own governor here is saying, “Hey be prepared for e-learning in the fall.” Will schools be able to bring thousands of kids back from across the country around the world, in tight living in dorm environments and education environments? And I think that’s an industry that really needs to find some innovative thinking and I know you’ve got some perspective on that.
I think there’s a lot of things going on with the education, ’cause I think the notion of a place to send your child that you feel is safe and that they can actually go learn and do other things but the reality is if they’re virtual, then you’ve gotta be home. So all of a sudden, it’s gonna change that whole dynamic and so all of a sudden it’s kind of like, “Does that mean I have to be home because they’re gonna be home and they need help setting it up?” And I think there’s a lot of different things that are kinda going on with that aspect but again, I think safety is, should be the primary concern around this is that… And so if we’re gonna do that, how are employers gonna handle that? How are, if I’ve got young kids at home and I need to be able to do that, I might have to keep working virtually because they’re gonna be home for school and so I don’t think, again, people have kind of played those kinds of things out.
I think the other thing is you’re starting to realize if it’s gonna be virtual, where all of a sudden, people are going like, “Well, if it’s gonna be virtual why in the world wouldn’t I moved to a different school where I can actually… They’re either gonna cater to either how my kid learns or cater to from a college perspective like they’ve been doing online forever and they’re a third the cost of going to this other school and they really don’t know what they’re doing.” and so it’s like all of a sudden you start to realize like, “Okay, there’s a different value proposition and at the same time, the fact is there might be things that I can actually learn as my prerequisites before I go.”
I think Michael Horn is doing a great job of bringing up a lot of these questions and what I would say is there’s always been a level of schools that have been kind of challenged and I think this is gonna actually help them either reinvent themselves or morph into something different and I think this whole aspect of a gap year, right? Well, they’re trying to think of a gap year as like you’re gonna pay the same price but you’re gonna learn a lot of different things.
And the whole aspect here is I might be 18 but I don’t really know what I wanna do and so I need a range of experiences and I might need a job, I might need to actually volunteer, I might be able to do different things but I’m not gonna pay the school 30 to I’ll say, $60,000 to do that for me. My thing is that there’s gonna be these things that pop up that help because again if I can’t actually go to school and I want to be part of the traditional kind of college experience, the reality is like my first semester virtually is not gonna be it.
Yeah, I’ve got a nephew who’s in that boat now and I empathize most with if you think of K-12 and I’ve got two kids that fall in that range, they’re all struggling with shifts this year but to me, I feel worse for the seniors in high school because all their spring sports, all their spring activities, all their proms, all their graduations are thrown out the window and now it’s the prospect of not really being able to go off to college, perhaps come August at least in the traditional sense of maybe what those that were planning on doing that or thinking of and I think you’re right because there are certain colleges and education systems that were really built around the idea of delivering an e-learning experience and they continue to learn and apply and iterate on that and do that well and then there are others that are trying to adapt to this reality and it has stripped away so much of the true college and education experience.
Yeah and I think people like Paul LeBlanc up at Southern Hampshire, I think he just reduced his tuition even more. His tuition has gone down over the years because of where he’s at but he’s been doing online for almost 10 years and he’s got well over 130,000 students and they’ve literally kind of mastered this online program and he was saying, they have students who are in the Philippines who basically have sent a bunch of masks to back to campus is kind of like, thank you for everything you do kind of situation but it’s one of the few universities that just has such a global presence and at the same time, if I gotta learn the basics of calculus or I gotta learn my math or I gotta learn, get my science like all of a sudden they can do all of that for third the cost of anybody else and it’s like if I’m gonna be home, why not take a semester off and go there and get it and transfer it as oppose the other way around?
That’s the other thing that I think is really interesting, is that there’s these, all these antiquated, kind of views around the credit hour and how many hours you spend in a lecture or spend in training and what you find is like Paul has moved to basically outcome-based kind of learning which is, you can learn it as fast as you or as long as you can actually pass the test and demonstrate you have mastered the knowledge and so, you changed that entire equation and so all of a sudden people are able to learn faster and people are able to learn differently and you start to realize like okay, I think it’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out but I think it’s gonna do… It’s gonna accelerate the growth of some schools and it’ll accelerate some of the demises of the other ones who aren’t able to kind of cope with how this works.
Yeah, one other industry I wanted to make sure we touched on today because we’ve gotten some actual interesting questions about this topic online, is actually religion and kind of again, regardless of your affiliation, your denomination and historically most people go to church or a house of worship they do on a regular basis. Usually, that’s a Sunday and so, that’s a whole industry if you will, where people come to them and so much of that has historically been celebrated in an environment of being around fellow parishioners or members of your congregation in tight quarters and the format itself hasn’t really changed and you’ve already written a lot about how so many things from a Jobs-to-be-Done perspective has already been replacing religion but now you throw something like the coronavirus on top of it where again are you gonna suddenly take, going back to your barbershop, example when you’re used to having hundreds and hundreds of people in close proximity, how do you do that? How do you weave all that in? And I haven’t seen yet anybody do a really great job over the last six, seven weeks of how do we bring religion out into this world, to the people, how do we think differently. So what do you see there?
So what’s so interesting to me is I think one is I think demand is actually, like people want a sense of purpose and wanna basically have a notion of the community and it’s like if anything, there’s actually more demand for this than there was before but there’s very, very hard to kind of execute on it and so it’s a very interesting kind of a… I would say it is one of the innovator’s dilemmas of, they’re trying to make the church better in terms of how it looks, nice place to visit and in there everybody else is like “No, I just don’t wanna necessarily come on Sunday. I want… ” and so you start to hear people watching church throughout the week and you start to see people kind of consuming it and not just Sunday but other parts of the day, you start to realize like that sense of community is actually changing.
Our sense of community was we had, I think it was a Whisky Wednesday and I met a few new people and you happened to be the, I call The HUB and everybody else really didn’t know each other and we’re able to introduce but it’s like that whole aspect of community and how do we actually facilitate conversations and help people ’cause I think that there’s as much desire to actually be with people because you can’t and so typically, people are looking to the church for that kind of counseling and you start to realize there’s just no way to do that and so you start to realize that there will be innovations that come and I think if the churches don’t change their tact or approach to realize like, everybody again, comes to them, everybody, you say your sermon once and now it’s a podcast and you can hear it.
I can hear it every day for the next 365 days, kind of thing. So it’s one of those things where I think hopefully it’s gonna push them to start to realize that the progress is in the consumer or the parishioner’s hands and we need to be able to meet the parishioner where they are, not try to force them to actually adjust their schedules to us and so I think it’s gonna be a very interesting kind of…
Again, because it’s built on so much tradition and history, just the notion that they shut down my church… I’ve never heard of “No, we’re not gonna have Easter.” Wait, what? This has to be pretty serious and we’re not gonna have Easter and that aspect of… Before this, I went to church every Sunday and so it was just one of those things where Sundays are just a very different ritual now and so it’s really… The question is how is it gonna come back? And now we listen to the sermon at different times and sometimes we just don’t listen to it together but we talk about it at dinner. So it’s very, very interesting to see how all that dynamic is there but I would say even though we can’t consume, I think we’re trying to find different ways to consume. So it’s a very interesting industry that I think will have an opportunity if it chooses to step up and kind of serve differently.
Well, one of the things that my company tries to do a lot of is help its customer portfolio that are in select industries look and learn and apply new innovations through other industries and see what other people are doing well and you talked earlier in conversation about GM having to think and shift differently to selling cars in a way that they’ve never had before and on the religion side, I think it’s interesting, one of the things we’ve talked about, maybe not today but I know you and I have talked about offline is much of a force that the coronavirus has become in our lives, life in many ways, is still going on, good and bad and when I think about all the things besides the actual Sunday part of a church, like funerals, there are things like weddings, there are things like confessions. Again, it depends on your faith and what’s practiced but this whole idea of delivering any of those things virtually, I don’t know if that’s something they really know how to do. The same way the Brick and Mortar…
Or they don’t… Might not necessarily want to do. It just goes against our religious beliefs to do those things and so the reality is, is like as this goes on, the question is what do they do? I think that’s the thing is like at some point, how long do they stick to their guns? ’cause our context has changed.
Well, I’ve got a former alumni who worked for me for many years. Her wedding is being disrupted as a result of this. She still wants to get married. I’ve got someone else who works for me whose daughter was supposed to get married and was trying to shift the dates and they said, “Oh, well, we don’t do weddings on that date.” Or, “Is there a virtual option?” “We’ve never done that before.” And I think people want to, to your point, they want to engage. There is pent-up demand. Obviously with religion being so much on Sundays, one of the other huge areas of pent-up demand I think which isn’t coming back anytime soon is live sports and there’s a lot of that that would typically fall on a Sunday. I think these industries just have to think… That’s where I think I wanna pivot a little bit into something that I know we’ve talked about on prior podcasts but I think is maybe more important than ever, is thinking about the jobs to be done thinking, thinking about the innovation framework and how do you look for these struggling moments and how do you look for these opportunities to know that “Hey, we’re going to have to think a little differently about our product-market fit.”
We’re gonna have to think differently about how we approach some of our business processes and how we ultimately communicate, sell, and market that to our ideal audience.
For me back in the late 80s, early 90s, I really got confused by what consumers would say and what they would do and as a person building products, I realized I have… People would say they want something and then I build it and they go like, “Well no, I don’t really want that. I want something a little bit different than that.” And you’re like, “Okay, well, why didn’t you tell me before?” So is this notion of trying to figure that part out? And so, Clay Christiansen and I from the Harvard Business School kind of co-architected this notion of what we call “jobs to be done” and that people hire products to do a job in their life and that if we…
So they’re not really buying a product, it’s what the product will do for them or the service will do for them and what progress they make and so part of this is taking a step back and so if we actually think about this as a consumer, I’m at point A and I wanna get to point B, how does the product I buy help me go from A to B? And in that, we talk about there are push forces, things around the context that they’re in that basically say like “I can’t do what I used to do anymore, I wanna do something different.” And what’s pushing people and then as they see the product or they see what the product will give them, what are the outcomes that they seek?
At the same time… So those are two forces that kind of promote the progress but then there are these two counter forces that are pushing against that, which is the anxiety of the new, which is kind of a force that pushes backward that says like, “Well, I don’t know if I wanna go there. Or I don’t know if I wanna travel. Or I want… ” There’s a concern that I have about it. Like I wanna go on vacation and boy, we haven’t been on a vacation in a while and I need to get away but things like, “Oh I don’t know if I wanna go so far. I don’t know if I wanna get on a plane. I don’t if I wanna rent a car.” And then the habit is the thing that kind of pushes them back to say like, “Well we just don’t know if we can do that now.”
And so there are these four forces that we look at and so part of this is, is that… And we look at it from what we call the supply side and the demand side and the demand side is where the consumer is and what we find is that we are creatures of habit, until our context changes and we have a struggling moment and so this COVID has created a whole new set of struggling moments that causes to rethink how we do something, how we cut the lawn, how we actually get our haircut. What do we do with our… All these different things are moments where we’re trying to figure these things out and I think to me as an innovator, it’s like this is the place that I’ve lived for 30 years and about this is one of those things is as I…
One thing I do have is I have confidence in humanity to figure this out. I know that we’ll find a way to make progress and if you think of this as maybe we have a step backward, the fact is that as humans, we always find a way forward and so part of this is being able to help both consumers see and companies see the progress that customers are trying to make and so I always used to say, I was like before all this is that in a lot of cases, we have way more technology than consumers can innovate with. I think we have what I call a consumer side innovation or demand-side innovation problem more than a supply-side innovation problem.
And so part of this is now us learning as consumers how do we go out to dinner now? How do we go on vacation? Where do we work? Boy, this is really nice we don’t have all these meetings anymore. It’s like, do we need to have all these meetings if we go back to the office. All these new struggling moments are causing us to rethink how we do things and so I think the framework itself is a very powerful one for us to understand but I think it’s also for both companies to understand but for consumers to understand. Right?
So I talk about these five skills that people have as innovative… When you’re a really good innovator, you have these five skills and one of them is about prototyping to learn is that at some point you have a notion of progress, which is number three but at some point, I gotta try different things to figure out how to do it and that’s skill number four and so part of this is realizing that consumers now have to actually have more innovation abilities than ever to figure out what they’re gonna do next. Like, how long are you gonna go with your hair? And you’ve already thought about, I wanna buy my own clippers. Do you actually know how to cut your hair? Do you know to… How would you do that? Or like you’re just gonna get it and then ask your partner like, “Will you cut the back of my hair?” Like how does all that work?
And so you start to realize like we have to think about this kind of struggling moments in innovation on just about everything right now. So to me, it’s exciting about that because I feel like that’s part of what humanity is, is that struggle to make progress and struggle to figure things out and struggle to do better and I think that’s like even though we’re being kind of pushed down a little bit, the reality is, is like the thing is, is it brings out the humanity in all of us, which is just kind of just so refreshing to see.
Well, I know Clay with your help and a few others wrote one of many books and it was all about marketers treating innovation as luck and that was my 10 seconds of fame is the mattress man from…
You are the mattress man in that book.
But I think what’s interesting and we touched on this a little bit in our prior episode number 95, about rethinking strategic planning in general and that is this idea of trying to innovate for learning, not trying to innovate directly to get at a specific outcome and I think one of the things that you touched on the demand side is the shift on the consumer side and how the consumers have a lot of different struggling moments maybe now more than ever and I think one of the mistakes I’ve seen a few companies making is, they’re already making some of those assumptions without actually talking to the end consumer or they may not be equipped to ask the right questions that are really getting at that struggling moments and I think that’s where some businesses that are trying to as best as they can plan for an unknown future, really run a risk of how do you really get it some of that insight and I don’t think people are as equipped as they realize at being able to do with that.
So as someone who has invented and designed and marketed thousands of products over the years but also is really good… I hate to use the term but really an interrogator if you will, you know how to ask questions to get at things. What are some things companies should be thinking about when getting some insight from consumers?
So my thing would be is really to help… I don’t think they know what they… To do but they know the outcome they want. So part of this is to say like if they’ll say, “Oh yeah, I really want it to be virtual.” You gotta ask why because, at some point, there’s a whole bunch of trade-offs that imply for it. So let’s say we wanna do a wedding virtually, like why? And they’re gonna say, “Well, I want everybody to see it.” Well, you know what, we can actually video it and then share it and let people comment on it or we can…
There are three or four different ways in which you can go but if you don’t ask why and you don’t actually dig deeper, you actually end up building hope what they want and the reality is like they don’t know what they want and so part of this is being able to make sure that we understand the struggling moment and we understand the reasons why they’re asking for certain things and understand the outcomes that they’re seeking and so part of this is to be able to like… We come up with a whole set of different ways. So for example, I’m helping a company right now build… They realized nobody can have baby showers, right? And so, this aspect of it’s just a very ritualistic thing to have…
Your first baby, you’re gonna have a baby shower. Nobody can have a baby shower. How do we actually do that? And so part of it is, it’s not just talking about the games but the games are okay, these are silly things that we do together that allow us to laugh. Okay, well we can come up with five different ways to do that. Right? And we can do it virtually and we can actually do it like from a game perspective, we can actually build a game but that’s different than the games you play when you’re together but more like games when they’re online and so part of it… And you might be able to do it like asynchronously.
So now there’s a wedding, there’s a baby shower when it’s like for a certain period of time but it might be a week or four days leading up to it or there’s a whole bunch of different things we can do to design it and so part of this is making sure that they’re digging past the feature or what they’re asking for because typically, all they’re asking for is something they could do in the past and want it now in the future and so part of this is to understand that outcome and the other part to me is understanding the trade-offs. What are they willing to give up to get? Right? Are they willing to actually have fewer people so it’s more intimate or they want more people so and it’s the last system, so more people can see it but fewer people can actually interact and so, there are all these trade-offs you have to make now because of the technology and so to me, it’s having these conversations and understanding and helping the customer make these trade-offs because the reference point is not as good as a baby shower.
The reference point now is better than nothing, because there is no baby shower and so this just has to be better than nothing and so you start to realize they’re willing to actually compromise on a lot more things because otherwise, they can’t have it and so, this is the interesting part of how consumers have to innovate.
Well and I think it almost, as we start to wind down, I think it almost comes full circle to your conversation about trying to find opportunities to meet pent up demand of a consumer in the hotel space. You’re not gonna see occupancy rates anywhere near where they would have been a year ago, at this time.
But the alternative is okay, everything is completely closed for a long period of time and the longer that goes, the harder that is to re-open. You’re seeing a lot of the marketing and advertising side of the house, you’re seeing a lot of brands that are saying, “Okay, we have to completely stop everything because it might seem bad to be spending money on marketing and advertising in a time of crisis.” But there’s a lot of data that shows, okay, you stop doing that and you’re kind of no longer at the top of anyone’s mindset or you’re not able to communicate how you could effectively perhaps help your end customers. So I think the longer you pause on things, the harder it becomes and I love what you said about, it’s not even about the baby shower, it’s just about it’s the baseline is you can’t do anything. We talked about in our last podcast episode, the recording wasn’t anything like what we would typically do but it was enough and I think…
The feedback that I know you and I both got together and collectively, was huge and the downloads were enormous but it wasn’t our best audio or video quality podcast but it was better than not doing anything.
Well and I think the reality is, is that let’s be clear, people were, they’re at home, they have time now to listen, so the numbers are good but the thing is, is I’m not sure, I’m not sure there’s gonna be a lot of things that were ever as good as whatever happened in April 2020, do you know what I mean? And I think part of this is also the timeliness of the content where people are looking for an updated way in which to see the future as opposed to I sat at one day with the news on in the background and I literally was, I couldn’t take it ’cause all they do is keep talking about what it is and it’s like “Okay, I need to think about what we’re gonna do” and if I just have that, I need the data but I don’t… I need to know, I need to be able to make decisions on some of it.
So the fact is like having all that barrage on me all the time is really, really hard, so… I’m very excited about the future, I’m very excited about what we have to do. It’s not gonna be the way it was but I think at the same time, I think I said this in the last podcast, I feel like the problems that I was trying to solve from a bigger perspective were very again, we don’t need another flavor of Mountain Dew, do you know what I mean?
We have other problems we should be solving and so part of this is being able to look at and say, “How do we help other people make progress?” And there’s a lot of people struggling, so I think it’s, the market is actually, it’s bigger and needs more help than ever. The question is, is can we actually reframe ourselves to go service the new market and how it’s making decisions?
Well, I think that is a great way to end the conversation because it is really about, I think and we’ve hit on this now in two different episodes but being willing to learn and being willing to try to innovate, try new things for the sake of not getting to what you already preconceived to be your desired outcome but more so, what can you learn and then adapt from and while you can’t plan long-term or strategic planning at all in the way it was ever done in the past, at least for the foreseeable future, what can we do to survive today, what can we do to thrive tomorrow? So as always, I think this is a great conversation and I appreciate you being on and sharing your insight. Time flies.
Tags: B2B, B2C, Healthcare, Technology, Brand and Marketing, Customer Experience, Employee Advocacy, Entrepreneurship, Technology
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