Dealing with COVID-19: Uncertainty? Yes, But Prepare for Return to Normality

March 19 2020, 14:10
Our deepest sympathy goes out to all those directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Our thoughts in particular go to all who were first and most severely affected. A word of praise, in particular, to our loudspeaker manufacturer friends with operations in Italy and China who were particularly affected. Really glad to see that they reacted quickly, managed to remain afloat, and are getting ready for a strong restart.
Some lost business may be compensated for in later quarters, if supply, manufacturing, and logistics return to normal. Supply chain diversification is a good idea says Futuresource Consulting.

This virus is now a global problem. While the whole world follows the advice from the scientific and the medical communities and the World Health Organization, most of us are forced to stay at home, working remotely, while many others are required to stay firmly at their work posts. Together, helping each other, we will all recover from this crisis.

Yes, the health and safety of employees, partners, customers, and everyone around us is everyone's top priority. But at this particular moment, I would like to share what I think are some essential thoughts about how businesses should react to this global crisis. And, of course, I wrote these thoughts thinking specifically about all types of companies in the audio industry.

Probably the most surprising part of how this entire pandemic situation evolved was the speed at which it spread, but also the pace of reaction in different countries. As a result, while some parts of the world are already experiencing "stay home," or mandatory shutdowns and quarantine situations for weeks, others are still just in the early stages of precautionary measures and mitigation. But this will gradually change, including in all 50 US States, so companies should prepare to operate under these variable conditions and constraints, always looking ahead.
This is temporary. Keep your online operations working and plan ahead. Anticipate changes. Plan for different rules. Remember, as with the virus hit, everything can change in just a few days.

Stay in Business
Keep your products available. Revisit your supply chain to make sure you can keep up with demand. Pivot to online tools and offer the best options. Remember, going online is not the same as direct to consumer. Brands and manufacturers rarely need or can succeed by selling directly online. You still need to work with a distribution channel to get closer to your clients in every way - for deliveries and technical support. So, make sure your channel partners are also ready to offer online sales, now that people cannot visit their physical stores or locations.

Work on creating and delivering all the tools that your distributors need to generate an online catalog, refreshing the products, and promotions on your side, so that your channel partners can effectively fulfill their roles.

Keep Doing Your Job. Rethink Strategy
As I wrote in my previous COVID-19 editorial, two weeks ago (it seems like ages ago...), use the available time to reorganize, focus on product development and other essential bench and back office activities, and get ready for a full-force return at a later date. And communicate more, not less. Get those press releases out, regularly. Get your marketing closer and more agile. Engage with your PR people to work on your product releases and promotion calendars now that you don't have a trade show to maximize reach and boost your message.

Promote Your Calendar
Now that the calendar is not determined by a trade show, you have less control of the timing, not more. So, review your product cycles to plan ahead for your promotion and distribution strategies. You will need to make sure that your messages get out when intended. Everyone will be facing the same challenges and trying to fight for a slot on the calendar. As I already mentioned, forget the "webinar" format and work on creating deliverables available on-demand. Scheduled events only work for channel communication and internal training.

Make Your Product Essential
If you build a strong emotional connection with your user base, even if your product belongs in the luxury category, or isn't exactly a staple product, you will get the business from potential buyers. But if you want to really succeed under the current difficult circumstances, rethink your strategy to focus on "must have" products. And maybe now is not the time to build me-too products with no differentiation.
The COVID-19 pandemic will force companies around the world to radically rethink how they operate and embrace technological investment, says ABI Research.

Price Smart
If your product is in stock and available, rethink your price strategy. No, don't discount it heavily to empty the shelfs, unless you intend to close your business (not a smart move under the circumstances). First think. Is your product essential? Do you have an advantage by actually being able to ship today? Maybe it's time to encourage up-selling and cross-selling instead: Buy the standard product, get the optional extra for 50% less. Buy the product, get extra supplies and replacement parts for just X. 

Or don't. Simply keep the list price and offer discounts to resellers, using the opportunity to expand your global reach... 

Increasing the price under these circumstances is not a wise decision. Any extra revenue earned today will be strongly offset by the damage the company's image will suffer once the uncertainty eases and people realize what you did.

Plan for a Return
This is temporary. Anticipate changes. Plan for different rules. Remember, as with the virus hit, everything can change in just a few days. This global effort to contain the virus will require a six-month effort at a minimum, but things will gradually return to normal and at different paces. Things will start changing after just two weeks. You want to be ready to respond to the markets that recover first.  The last problem you want to face is things returning to normality and not being prepared for it! 

This article was published originally in The Audio Voice 268 newsletter, March 19, 2020.
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