At the time of this writing, many countries around the world are still battling to contain the deadly novel coronavirus (sars-Cov2), or better known as COVID-19.
From widespread death tolls to nationwide lockdowns, this new reality has reshaped most of our lives in many different ways.
Some for the better, others... much worse.
But what’s so significant about all of this? When the way we move, work, play and live changes, so does everything else in life.
For instance, the way a business operates and offers its products and services to their consumers.
With such a rapid shock to the global business ecosystem, going ‘digital’ is no longer something that’s nice-to-have, but rather an ‘essential’ for brands and businesses everywhere to ride out and survive this health crisis.
‘Digital’, a.k.a the buzzword for 2020
People also call it by different names - Digitalisation. Digitisation. Digital Transformation.
While each of them has distinct definitions of their own, they generally fall under the same concept of integrating various technologies into your business processes to make it better, faster, more efficient and so forth.
But going digital is just one part to how businesses can find success in this new normal we’re living in...
The real transformation however, runs much deeper and larger than simply moving your business online.
And to get there, we’ll need to better understand our world going forward and how all these changes can affect us from the near term to the very distant future.
Put simply, we need to paint a clear picture of our current situation by asking some simple yet important questions, to not only help us adapt but to push us forward and find business success in this new normal.
Question 1: Where Is My Business Currently At?
It’s obvious that many of us had thought about this constantly throughout the MCO.
At the start, many businesses had shut their doors to flatten the curve, which disrupted their income stream while having to continue servicing monthly expenses such as rent and debt with limited cash flow.
After several months, some couldn’t survive long enough which led to massive lay-offs and bankruptcies across various industries, while others were barely holding on for as long as they could.
Fast forward to the present day, those that survived have either adopted some form of digitalisation or have found a new way to offer their products and services to their customers in a different manner.
Which then begs the question - where is your business currently at?
While the new normal constantly presents us with uncertainty everyday, we can help our business reframe its focus by analyzing some key areas such as:
• Agility - How adaptable & flexible is my business right now?
• Innovation - How much digitalisation has my business undergone? How much more do I need?
• Viability - Are my products and services performing well in the current environment? How do I make it more viable?
While not seemingly comprehensive, these areas provide a good starting point for any brands or businesses to slowly work towards defining the core problems that need to be addressed as they move forward in this new uncertain reality.
If you’re in the service industry (i.e. restaurant, cinemas, hospitality etc.), it’s clear that your current business model needs to change and adapt as you can’t offer your services the way you're used to until this pandemic is gone.
That means following various SOPs to drum up traffic for your retail outlets, but also leveraging various digital tools such as websites, social media marketing, digital advertising and other similar solutions to create an alternate revenue source for improving overall sales.
But not knowing ‘when’, or rather ‘how long’ you’re supposed to do this is the exact uncertainty that scares us, which means you have to be agile and flexible right now.
For instance, most people travel for leisure to make wonderful memories with their loved ones, while others do so to expand their cultural horizons and perspectives.
But when that’s no longer possible, it’s time to reinvent your offerings. More specifically, the channels and methods used to deliver your service to your customers.
In the example above, Lokalocal is a travel agency who brought the experience of travelling online by offering virtual classes and tours to customers over their website.
They did so by focusing on certain activities tourists would usually engage in during their travels (i.e. sightseeing, cooking classes, arts & crafts, learning about culture & history etc.).
By connecting willing consumers with travel guides and experts on such activities, they were able to meet that market demand and provide the same experience over private sessions on zoom.
To sweeten the deal even more, it partnered with several other companies to showcase virtual tours around hotels, resorts, properties, educational institutions and more.
This essentially expands the idea of ecommerce as consumers looking to plan their next vacation, purchase their next house or even enrol for their future studies can do so from the comfort of their home.
While not as fulfilling as the physical experience, Lokalocal remained agile to embrace their industry’s challenges and turn them into compelling opportunities by digitalising their services through their website.
This not only creates a viable offering and a potential new market segment for them, but has reinvented the idea of what it means to sell ‘experience’ through its new business model.
Question 2: What Is The Future Of My Business?
Similarly, reflecting on your business’s current state also prompts you into thinking about it’s future and the direction you plan to take.
While it may be hard to predict what’s coming in the long-term given the current situation, one thing is for certain - ‘digital’ is here to stay.
Even your everyday supermarkets in China have embraced the digital revolution (or new normal) by offering cashless payments to customers.
While this may seem like just a fancy upgrade on the surface, the benefits of:
- Quicker customer turnaround (Speed)
- A portable ATM (Convenience) and...
- Data on the frequency and quantity of products purchased (Analytics)
Provides many opportunities to not only improve their top-line financials, but to better understand their operations from a bird’s-eye view.
With that in mind, let’s come back to the question at hand - what is the future of my business?
To be more precise... ‘what is the future of my business in this new normal?’
From there, you would already have a few ideas in mind, such as ecommerce websites, cashless payment systems, automation for certain processes etc.
But as previously mentioned, digitalising your business is only one part of the transformation, as technology in itself is an enabler, not a solution.
Put simply, it only helps you do certain things you normally couldn’t physically. But that doesn’t mean it will solve the underlying problems your business faces.
Instead, we need to turn our attention towards a more crucial area - people.
After all, every business starts and ends with them, which is why they’ll play an important role in defining the future of your business in relation to the technology that is continuously shaping our world.
Here are some areas to start:
- Consumers - How customers are forming new purchasing behaviors around the business, products and services.
- Employees - How teams can be future-ready against emerging disruptions to protect and strengthen the business going forward.
- Suppliers, vendors & other third parties - How external partners & stakeholders are changing their business model that could affect my brand going forward.
From there, you’ll get a sense of the strategic thinking that’s needed, providing you a starting point to lay down the foundational work to make your business’s defined future a reality.
Now, say you’re in the business of selling shoes and you’ve decided to focus on digitalising your brand so you can navigate it through the many challenges presented during MCO.
While your products are already on popular ecommerce platforms, your brand still doesn’t have its own website to fully showcase what it is capable of.
So, you start looking for ‘web design services’ to build yourself an ecommerce website.
Fast forward a few weeks, you now have a beautiful and fully functional site like the one above and can start selling online. But what’s next?
Do you just stuff it with products alongside multiple discounts and promotions in hopes that customers will buy from you?
While low prices may be attractive, relying on that approach alone will only get you so far as others are doing pretty much the same thing elsewhere.
As mentioned above, we need to prioritize the ‘people’ element rather than the technology itself.
In this example, we’ll focus on the consumers by discovering and analyzing their behaviors during the MCO to get a better sense of how our shoe brand can find various opportunities for business success.
As we all know, consumers have been getting more comfortable with shopping online during the MCO (even for big ticket items like cars and property) while actively engaging in various home-based activities such as baking, gardening, cooking etc.
Additionally, they were also prioritizing their health by shifting spending towards necessities such as groceries and health supplements, but wouldn’t mind the retail therapy of online shopping to alleviate boredom, stress and anxiety from being at home everyday.
From there, we start to see several trends popping up, which shows that our customers have developed two particular behaviors:
1) The need to get rid of boredom through various means (i.e. hobbies, activities, online shopping etc.)
2) The need to stay healthy by cooking at home and consuming health supplements.
So, rather than betting on a ‘low-price’ approach for your shoes, you can instead actively engage with customers based around those behaviors through various strategies. For instance, digital marketing.
This can be done in the form of social media content:
Or even through your very own website as well:
By using valuable content to connect with customers on the things they care about (which was health & entertainment in this context), they’ll start to see you as more than a ‘shoe’ business and more of a brand who offers a ‘lifestyle’ and an experience for them to buy into.
To get there however, brands will need to focus on executing this strategy over the long-term (be it in-house or through a branding agency) as results will pick up rather slowly in the beginning, but will often compound when done consistently over a period of time.
When that happens, customers start to develop a strong brand loyalty to your business and ultimately become ambassadors that will advocate for others to buy into the same idea portrayed by your brand.
From there, you can see that investing in the ‘people’ aspect (consumers) was what allowed us to solve our specific business problem - the drop in sales and customer numbers.
Whereas the technology that was used, was only a tool (and not a solution itself) in assisting us to achieve the outcome.
But imagine if we relied solely on technology while ignoring the needs of our customers. Would we have gotten the same results?
Thus, when thinking about your business’s future, it’s important to keep in mind that digitalisation will always involve ‘people’ no matter the circumstance.
After all, those who have successfully undergone their own digital transformation have always quoted on how ‘people’ were the main driving force behind this transition, rather the technology itself.
Question 3: How Can I Make That Happen?
After discovering what your business’s future is supposed to be, it’s time to focus on the details by asking one simple question - How can you make that happen?
As we know, walking the talk matters. While easier said than done, businesses will often find it confusing and difficult to tackle these digitalisation challenges presented in the new normal.
But thankfully, Malaysia is well-equipped to help them address those problems through various means such as:
1) SMEs Digitalisation Grant
MDEC, a government institution has launched a digitalisation grant to help brands and businesses (limited to first 100,000 SMEs) undergo their digital transformation within these seven areas:
- Digital Marketing & Sales
- Electronic Point Of Sales (e-POS) System
- ERP / Accounting & Tax
- HR Payroll System / CRM
- Remote Working
Through a matching grant, businesses will be able to digitalise those operations and processes that results in several benefits such as:
- Global marketing opportunities for SMEs’ products
- Product and service transformation to better serve customers
- Wider customer engagement (especially digital savvy ones)
- Increased operational efficiency (i.e. Workflow Management, Easier Data Access via Cloud Services, Process Optimization etc.)
This is done so by enlisting the help of various TSPs (technology solution providers), whose main goal is to help SMEs in their digital adoption journey while providing solutions in any of the seven areas.
Put simply, SMEs will need to source for a digital agency, technology company or business who specializes in providing a solution within those specified areas so your organization will realize those benefits.
However, businesses will need to meet several criteria in order to be eligible for this grant:
- SME Eligibility
- Submission of Required Documents
There are also application steps to be followed such as appointment of TSPs and financial T&Cs:
For the full guidelines on the SME Digitalisation Grant, click here.
2) Smart Automation Grant (SAG)
Another option for many brands and businesses in Malaysia is the Smart Automation Grant (SAG), which focuses on business process automation and digitalisation.
Compared to the first grant, this one doesn’t provide key digitalisation areas as it’s mainly an outcome-based initiative focused on automating your business operations to achieve one of these expected results:
- Increase in revenue
- Savings in business cost
- Reduction of process time cycle
- Reduce man hours
- Create new sources of growth
Put simply, businesses need to show how the technologies they adopted will result in those outcomes to be eligible for the grant.
Moreover, there’s a project timeline for a total of four (4) months:
- One (1) month for solution implementation to digitalise the operations.
- Three (3) months to monitor the project in achieving the desired outcomes.
Similarly, there are also various criterias that need to be met:
To apply for this matching grant, there are two (2) methods:
a) Specified Digitalisation Programmes under MDEC’s Business Digital Adoption Division
The first method is aimed at SMEs who have little to no experience in digitalising their business and require guidance on how they can undergo their own digital transformation, which will be provided by MDEC and its partners.
b) Direct Online Application
The second method is for SMEs who choose to undergo digital transformation in their own way.
They usually have experience with digitalising their business and are able to identify their pain-points and opportunities to be addressed through deploying various solutions.
Put simply, the first is for beginners who require hand-holding from start to finish while the second method is directed at businesses who want complete freedom in the way they digitalise their business operations.
Similarly, this grant requires TSPs to be appointed, but the second method allows businesses to choose the TSP outside of MDEC’s recommendation list, giving you full control over what digital solutions can be deployed based on your business’s individual requirements.
For the full details on the Smart Automation Grant (SAG), click here.
3) Non-Listed TSPs
If your business isn’t eligible or doesn’t qualify for the grant, there’s always the option of approaching other TSPs around Malaysia too.
While they aren’t found in MDEC’s recommendation list, that doesn’t mean they’re not as equally competent and effective in delivering digital solutions that achieve the same results.
Take ecommerce for example:
Most businesses often look for a web design company (or in some cases, a digital agency) to create a basic site for them to sell online.
But there lies the problem… you can’t expect strong online sales to happen with just a basic website for two reasons, even if the ‘people’ aspect was taken care of:
- User Experience
To further emphasize, we are constantly bombarded with an overwhelming choice for products and services wherever we go, which leads to the question - Who should I choose?
Thus, branding is what helps set a business apart in an overcrowded marketplace, while user experience focuses on creating an unforgettable product or service experience for customers everywhere.
In essence, that's what digital marketing agencies are for!
So, when businesses set out to digitalise their operations (i.e creating an ecommerce website), they have to consider the unseen challenges that come with it such as:
- Competitors - How do I get my business to stand out online?
- Customers - How do I get customers coming back for more?
- Employees - How do I make it easy for my team to utilize and optimize the site?
As such, finding a TSP who can not only deliver a solution for the sake of delivering it, but actually address those problems and create long-lasting financial and non-financial results are important.
For instance, this custom site was built to help a flooring business enhance the brand’s online presence while creating custom functionalities that offer customers a unique product and service experience.
But what about the criteria or eligibility? The great thing about this - there are none.
Like the SAG’s second method, you get to decide on the types of digital solutions needed with the added benefit of setting your own project outcomes, objectives and other relevant metrics.
As such, this creates a huge incentive for many brands and businesses as they get full control on how they want to digitalise their company.