Pivoting For A Need: Why Brands Are Changing Their Narrative In 2020 There is a long road ahead in creating a more inclusive world, but one thing is for sure: businesses that keep offering solutions which put people over profits will be welcomed back with open arms, once the dust settles, and the masks come off.

By Carla Saliba

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Life in these times is anything but certain. Coupled with the latest developments around the globe concerning the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Lebanon's worsening economic crisis, as well as mounting fears of a second outbreak, it's becoming increasingly clear that we're a long way off from what we once deemed "normal."

The COVID-19 crisis has forced everyone to pause and reflect for a moment, and in doing so, it has revealed a much larger problem, namely how woefully uninformed/ignorant we are as to what is going on in the wider world. Perhaps we needed a reality check, something to shake us from the insulation of everyday life? I wouldn't have chosen a global pandemic as the catalyst for this change, but what is done is done. We must make the most of the cards we have been dealt, both personally and professionally moving forward, reassessing what is most important and, as clichéd as it may sound, look to help others, as well as ourselves.

Being an SME during this time has been exceptionally tough. Overnight, business has evaporated. Budgets cut, and projects put on hold indefinitely as companies look to wait out the crisis, becoming ever more cautious in doing so. Consequently, 70% of businesses across Dubai expect they will close in the next six months; three-quarters of this figure are small businesses, according to a report by the Financial Times. World trade is expected to fall by between 13% and 32% in 2020, according to the World Trade Organization.

Companies, much like Infographic.ly, have had to diversify their offering, responding to the changing needs of clients as the situation unfolded. I've spoken before about the benefits of a remote workforce in ensuring a nimble enterprise; however, if clients are hitting the pause button for an indefinite amount of time, how do you keep top of mind, whilst finding a way to add value to the wider world?

Pivoting for a need

Businesses that didn't have much of an online offering prior to lockdown have since found a way to digitize their company, whether that's shifting to e-commerce, moving from a wholesale to direct-to-consumer (DTC) model, leveraging emerging business functions within social media (WhatsApp and Instagram, in particular), or embracing Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet to stay connected to both client and consumer. GoToWebinar, ClickMeeting, and WebEx have seen their platform numbers increase as events move online and webinars become commonplace across the world. This shows resilience on the part of everyone from the big corporates, to the SMEs to the "one-man-band entrepreneur," all finding a way to reach clients and offer a message of solidarity in isolation.

As a result, content, largely informative and educational became available en masse. For free. The race, incidentally, was no longer to convert quickly, but to garner loyalty in the short term in the hope that sales followed later down the line. Of course, this is a shift that has been coming for a while, with overt selling techniques dismissed in favor of creating useful and helpful content instead which answers a need.

In the wake of COVID-19, this accelerated even more. Brands took their cue from their audiences as to how and when they wanted to interact, a first if you consider how online advertising has evolved to anticipate, rather than react, to a user's particular need. In our case, we knew that our usual services may not be required on a corporate level during the pandemic, but there was still a need to serve the wider public with accurate and easy to understand information.

As such, we created a series of infographics sourcing data from credible sources and disseminated this content in a visually appealing, straightforward, and impactful way. This wasn't a kneejerk reaction or calculated response to the crisis, far from it; this was a way we could help, and we used our skills and experience to do so- a view echoed by most businesses, both big and small. For example, LVMH, Hunter, and Dyson shifted their manufacturing to produce hand sanitizer, personal protection equipment (PPE), and ventilators to support hospitals around the world, whilst activewear brand Lululemon created free online workouts to promote self-care and help minimize anxiety. We all had a part to play.

Related: Going The Distance: Why Remote Working Is The Key To A Flexible Future

Part of the series of infographics released by Infographic.ly. Source: Infogrpahic.ly

Now that the economy is opening up again, the challenge will be in turning this community goodwill into something that can be profitable; if not straight away, then at least over time. Budgets are still tight, and luxury is not a necessity anymore, which means continuing to produce content with a DIY element that still keeps you top of mind. You may not be servicing clients right now, but you are passing on knowledge; a valuable commodity as the landscape continues to shift post COVID-19.

Ultimately, the things that consumers engaged with and found useful during lockdown won't suddenly become unimportant. Instead we could see a similar approach to how publishers are showcasing their content online right now; a pay per play service, where paywalls and subscriptions allow you full access. Think of it this way: the pandemic provided consumers with a taster of what a brand could offer; so if successful, why wouldn't they pay for continued use?

Part of the series of infographics released by Infogrpahic.ly. Source: Infogrpahic.ly

Invest now for future growth

It's so tempting to forgo investing in your own business when times are tough. Aiming to stay afloat is what so many SMEs settle for, when instead we should be fighting to stay visible amid increasing competition. I'm not talking about spending thousands of dirhams on billboard ads here, but rather about gravitating to where your audience is. Even now as lockdowns lift, and people go back to work, behaviors have undoubtedly changed. The online world is now more important than ever.

Consumers are actively seeking a connection right now, as they want to interact with their favorite brand communities in lieu of real life interactions. Now is the perfect time to seize this opportunity and capture their attention with content that inspires and plants the seed for new business in the future. It's not about soliciting, but about changing the narrative to appeal during these times. Whether that's quick ads appearing on a social feed, or running video tutorials and webinars to aid struggling businesses during this time, so be it.

Content doesn't have to be throwaway or designed for single use either, and if anything, this pandemic has shown how we can repurpose or repackage existing assets to appeal to an audience now completely captivated by video. Revisiting animation, for example, is one way to cut through the clutter online, cut into small snippets, and teased across multiple platforms to create intrigue and help you stand out from the crowd.

There's a lot of life lessons to be learnt as we exit lockdown, not least in helping us all reassess what's a luxury and a necessity in our everyday lives. As a small business owner, I'm used to wearing many hats, juggling everything from client servicing and project management, to project execution and even accounting. I can learn on the go. I can figure things out as they come up, but for bigger enterprises, they will have undoubtedly been caught out and as a result, responded slower to the crisis. It's a trend we're seeing emulate itself with the BLM protests right now.

Still, if anything comes out of this change of tone globally, it's that things have (finally) reached breaking point. We needed something to stop us in our tracks, and it just so happens that everything converged at once. Figuring out where we all go next isn't so clear cut. There is a long road ahead in creating a more inclusive world, but one thing is for sure: businesses that keep offering solutions which put people over profits will be welcomed back with open arms, once the dust settles and the masks come off.

Related: Creating Content That Resonates With Your Audience

Carla Saliba

Founder and CEO, infographic.ly

Carla Saliba is the founder of Infographic.ly, a data-design and visualization agency based in Dubai, supporting companies communicate data to its stakeholders clearly and effectively. 

Since launching Infographic.ly in 2013, Carla’s unique ability to make sense of complex information has piqued the interest of global brands. Her list of clients includes MasterCard, TED, Reebok, and Mercedes-Benz, among others. Carla’s work has also been featured in international publications, such as Wired Magazine, and Entrepreneur, in which she regularly contributes on the subjects of business, design, start-up culture and leadership. Although a trained architect for over nine years, and a 17 year career in design-related disciplines, it was upon completing her Master in Business Design at Domus Academy in Milan that she discovered her passion for infographics and entrepreneurial ambition to launch her own agency.

Carla’s expertise has afforded her invitations to speak at international conferences, as well as train government and educational institutions across the GCC to build design capabilities in-house. Her work with translating information through design has gained the attention of Apple for which she delivered an inspiring and educating sessions for business professionals to delve into creativity as part of the ‘Today at Apple’ series. Carla also devotes her time to local initiatives she is passionate about. She sits on the board of Omneyat, and is a Responsible Leader Alumni for the BMW Foundation.



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