By Conor Fitzpatrick
At the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic, my colleagues at New Markets Advisors wrote about various scenarios for how the pandemic could unfold in the months ahead. Back then, the path forward was fraught with uncertainty. Predicting the speed of the US’s economic and public health recovery, or the unexpected higher-order effects, was simply postulation. Since then, little has changed.
One scenario we suggested was a W-shaped recovery, where the virus resurges and causes a second recession of the economy. This seems to be the current scenario underway in the US, albeit at the regional level. Businesses in high-contact industries are particularly at risk to these contours of the recovery, as we have seen recently in some US states. For example, restaurants have been particularly hard-hit, and while there has been some recovery, those gains have backslid in states with a resurgence of the virus, like Texas and Florida.
OpenTable reservation app data and Google Searches for restaurant reservations, relative to the prior year
Since the shutdowns began, high-contact industries have been hardest-hit. For example, US restaurants experienced a month with zero diners due to the shutdowns, and since reopening their recovery has levelled off at only 50% of their typical occupancy. States with recently high caseloads, such as TX and FL, have seen recoveries in high-contact industries reverse (Google Trends,
OpenTable) (Dashed line shows normal levels)
The message to take away from these developments is loud and clear: companies need to adapt to consumers’ persistent concerns about the pandemic for the long-haul. The changes they need to make do not necessarily have to do with their products, but rather with their customers’ key Jobs to Be Done – customers’ needs and impulses undergirding their product considerations. Focusing on customer experience can help to alleviate their customers’ new concerns around the pandemic and its effects. Companies can adapt to the pandemic by making the customer experience feel safer while satisfying their other needs around quarantine. Successful adaptation will require companies to understand how the pandemic affects their specific customers on a deep level.
Among the high-contact industries throttled by the pandemic is the hairstyling business. Like restaurants, hair salons and barber shops have also seen a steep decline in occupancy, though they have recovered more fully in regions with less recent pandemic spread.
1 year of Google Searches for hairstylist venues and D.I.Y. haircuts, relative to the prior 4 years
Hair salons and barber shops seem to have recovered after steep declines in occupancy in March and April, according to Google search interest and the New York Times. However, it is likely that some consumers have continued staying away from barber shops, cutting their own hair instead. Moreover, Texas and Florida—two regions recently hard-hit by the virus—have seen search interest in hairstylists wane more than other areas lately (Google Trends) (Dashed line shows normal levels)
Barbicide, whose jars of translucent blue cleaner you instantly recognize from your local barber shop, is a company whose business is founded on selling its products to hairstylists. With their customer base at risk of permanently shuttering their businesses due to secondary lockdowns and depressed demand, Barbicide found itself in a particularly vulnerable position.
Seeing this disastrous possibility, Barbicide has taken a proactive role during the pandemic. Over the course of a few weeks, they introduced a COVID-19 training certification. This not only led traffic to their website, but also drove a large spike in sales, despite the extreme circumstances their clients found themselves in. But how did they do it?
Businesses can attain Barbicide’s success by taking 3 key steps to adapt to changing circumstances in the pandemic: 1) uncover customers’ Jobs to Be Done; 2) ideate actionable solutions for those Jobs; and 3) prioritize those ideas for quick and competitive product development.
The 3 Steps Barbicide Took to Adapt to the Pandemic
Uncovering Customers’ Jobs to Be Done
The first thing businesses like Barbicide do to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances is to understand how they affect the Jobs to Be Done of the customer. Companies can use three simple concepts from New Markets’ Jobs Atlas--Jobs, Job Drivers, and Success Criteria—to start brainstorming customer needs before they begin ideating solutions.
Jobs are the underlying tasks that consumers are trying to get done in their lives. For example, a common Job to Be Done during the Coronavirus Pandemic is to feel safe in public spaces.
Success Criteria are the metrics by which customers evaluate whether a Job is satisfied—the proof points at which customers know a product accomplished a Job. Many customers would feel safe in a store if they knew the owner was taking precautions for their patrons’ health. This Job would be further satisfied if they felt those precautions were very effective and legitimate. During events like a pandemic, Success Criteria around customer experience in stores and places of business are critical to convincing customers to buy.
Job Drivers are the circumstances by which customers prioritize their Jobs. Feeling safe outside would normally be less important to customers. But with the pandemic, it has become a top issue for people - even more so among at-risk populations, like the elderly, or those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. So, a feeling of safety becomes an important driver where previously it was not a concern. The pandemic also constrains how, for example, coworkers can interact with one another virtually, so there would be a higher priority on finding new ways to mingle and communicate.
Ideate Actionable Solutions
Once companies understand their end customers’ underlying needs, and the Success Criteria by which customers judge their offerings, they can ideate around those key factors. It is also critical to consider the different Job Drivers customers may have, such as having kids to take care of and entertain without social contact and its accompanying risk of infection.
A simple chart can organize Jobs and Success Criteria, thereby helping ideate a broad set of potential ways to address customers’ needs. That way you can clearly map solution concepts to Jobs and features to Success Criteria. The chart below gives you an idea of the breadth of the customer needs and offerings that Barbicide had to consider.
Prioritize Quick and Competitive Ideas
During a pandemic, speed is paramount-especially in personal service industries like hairstyling. Small businesses often have limited cash to continue their operations—many have only 3 weeks’ worth in reserves. So, several strategic considerations are needed for a successful product launch when quickly going-to-market. These strategy concerns are in addition to considerations about whether the potential offering would bring in substantial revenue. Below are some factors that Barbicide may have been considering at the start of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 certification concept clearly came out on top of our hypothetical list - and for good reason. The major threat Barbicide faces during the pandemic is that its clients cannot afford disinfectant. Barbicide chose to launch its COVID-19 Certification in March of 2020, offering the course online, free of charge, and issuing a physical certificate upon completion for the certified business to post on their wall. This offering led more traffic to their website, increased sales, and created a feeling of safety for not only their main clients, but also to their clients’ customers.
Barbicide’s COVID-19 Certificate, launched in March of 2020. Web traffic to barbicide.com spiked 90X since the pandemic and the launch of their COVID-19 certification
Barbicide made the right decision in choosing to make a COVID-19 certification, and we can learn many lessons from their striking success. By focusing on end consumers’ Jobs to be Done, Barbicide was able to understand the threat COVID-19 posed to hairstyling businesses and define how to combat that threat. Barbicide was then able to ideate around Jobs to be Done and their related Success Criteria, staying firmly rooted in customers’ needs. Finally, Barbicide deployed a new product that could go to market very quickly, leveraging key preexisting competencies, and help drive revenues through the pandemic. From this approach, Barbicide saw considerable success, and so can other businesses who take these steps.
Conor Fitzpatrick is a Senior Associate at New Markets Advisors. He has advised clients from industries including consumer financials and healthcare on growth strategy, innovation, and Jobs to Be Done.
About New Markets
New Markets Advisors specializes in generating insights like the ones Barbicide had. Take a look at our product offering on Jobs to Be Done analysis here.