In a 1000 years nothing will substitute for the POWER OF GATHERING.
Online will never replace on-site. I have a serious advice for entrepreneurs who are currently devaluing their products and services in bid to hurriedly claim a spot in the online landscape at this critical time. If you’re not careful the way you go about it, you will pay through your nose to restore your brand’s value and market-share when life returns to normal.
For a lot of SMEs and social enterprises, being online should be a business engineering and marketing tool and an add-on services platform, not a place to premise your entire existence. Except you’re an IT firm, like Facebook, Zoom, or an e-Commerce, the current situation is not enough reason to take a product or service you were delivering on-site for $100 and offer for $20 online. You will regret it when life returns to normal. You will have to prove to me all over again, with lots of hardwork, why I should buy it for $100.
We are in an ackward situation, a bad one. Trying to live our lives online will not change that fact. It should simply help us cope and ameliorate our discomfort while we hope and pray our lives return to normal soonest. So don’t think transitioning online will help your customers and followers completely get over the need or demand for in-person services. In fact, the human mind works in reverse; the more you’re deprived of a thing, the more you crave for it.
My recommendation from experience:
1. If you must play online at this time, adopt what is called product differentiation. Differentiate between the products and services you’re offering online and the ones you sell in-person. Even if they deliver similar value, brand them differently and price them differently. That way you can always keep the demand and brand value perception of your in-person products and services fairly stable when things get back to normal. For instance, I will advise a Church who holds physical Bible Studies not to tag same Program “Bible Study” online. Also, it might hold same day and time, but it shouldn’t last for same duration (should be obviously shorter).
2. The online marketplace is an over-saturated playing ground, there’s abundant and excess supply of everything. If you must play, play to win. Stand out in quality, value proposition and service delivery. This is why you shouldn’t rush into it. Depending on your kind of business, sometimes it takes over a year to develop a robust and reputable online presence. If you hurriedly launch due to pressure from current circumstances, you stand the chance of losing the credibility you’ve built over the years of your in-person existence.
3. Know for certain, online will never replace on-site. So don’t get your followers or customers saturated. Don’t over do it. Release the online products and services at a pace that your target market can consume and digest. Thirst or demand for something should be a crucial consideration in its supply. Also, constantly remind your base that your presence here online is not replacing your in-person functionality. In advance, create exciting programs and activations against when you re-open and share it with your customers in a very engaging manner.
4. And the most important tip of them all. Your biggest priority right now should be attending to the clients or followers you had prior to the lockdown. They are your core constituency. Attend to them individually, confirm from them how you could serve or be of help to them at this time. Sustain their interest and focus through custom-tailored services, engagements and support. If you work hard to get them all back, or at least majority of them when life gets back to normal, you won’t struggle to remain in business. You will be just fine.
In summary be reminded that nothing will replace the “power of gathering” and community spirit. We all miss it, that’s the real deal. The Online Space will never be a substitute.
~ Akapo Emmanuel