As miserable and devastating as coronavirus is, there is exceptional creativity happening around us. When we finally arrive at the other side of a national vaccine, we will see a changed brand-business world of remarkable new ideas. What is amazing is that some of this innovation is already underway.
Innovation is the development of new customer value through solutions that address expressed needs, unarticulated needs in new ways. This means offering different, superior, or more effective new products, services and technologies.
Renovation improves the performance (look and feel) of existing products, services and experiences. Renovation is a lower risk activity and should happen continuously. Innovation and renovation are the lifeblood of a business. These keep the business relevant and contemporary and in sync with changing customer needs, behaviors.
Restaurants have been some of the hardest-hit businesses during coronavirus. Some restaurants closed for a good while others figured out how to survive. There are a lot of innovative ideas being tested in the restaurant industry to keep businesses alive.
Although meal kits, such as HelloFresh and Blue Apron offer boxes of to-be-assembled-meals, the more creative restaurants are offering full-blown experiences.
As described in tastecooking.com, many restaurant brands now provide meal boxes that “… offer more than just meals – they are cooking lessons, interactive experiences, and approximations of the restaurant setting wrapped into a single purchase.” As defined by tastecooking.com, these restaurant offerings bring the brand experience into your home.
An example described by tastecooking.com is the award-winning Boston restaurant Mei Mei. Its owner created an experience that is doable yet instructive as with its dumpling kit. The filling is premade, but the home chef must fold the dumpling wrapper and either boil or fry the filled, folded dumpling. The dumpling kit arrives with YouTube videos to inspire more intuitive cooking. One Washington D.C. restaurant sends its meal kit with a Spotify playlist to complement the dinner. A cocktail bar sells cocktail kits “that include a beeswax-lined Mason jar for doing gin infusions at home.”
The Wall Street Journal reported similar innovations among restaurateurs. As the Journal points out, this is not ordering a burrito from Chipotle, not ordering the $29.99 Einstein Bagel brunch box of bagels, cream cheese egg sandwiches, blueberry muffins, and hash browns nor is it the same as a bucket of original recipe chicken with sides from KFC. The Wall Street Journal defines these new ideas as similar to fine dining catering. For example, a restaurant in Minneapolis will provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a midnight snack for two people for an entire week for $360. Included are flowers, a candle, and access to an online flower arranging class.
New York based Baldor Specialty Foods is a food intermediary delivering high quality ingredients to restaurants. When the restaurants closed, Baldor was left with warehouses of exceptional foodstuffs. Rather than let these rot, Baldor decided to create boxes of chef-quality home deliveries. According to Baldor, “We needed to reinvent ourselves… and we’re looking at retail more closely and foodservice will not be the same. We are asking our restaurants to do the same and they know they need to.”
With all of its chef-driven ingredients, Baldor worked with restaurants to create boxes called Restaurant Series whereby customers can recreate their favorite dishes from the same ingredients their favorite chefs use. At the moment, according to Eat This, Not That!, there are 7 different New York restaurants with a signature meal box available through Baldor: Shake Shack, Hearth Restaurant, Jeffrey’s Grocery, Crown Shy, Hill Country Barbeque, Momofuko, ABC Kitchen, Russ & Daughters.
Fast food chains are also focusing on innovation and renovation. For example, Wendy’s announced that it is upgrading and improving its chicken sandwich to better compete with Chick-fil-A’s offerings as well as Popeye’s wildly popular chicken sandwich. Rumors are that KFC and McDonald’s are also focusing on improved chicken sandwich offerings.
Dunkin’ has been innovating beverages since the beginning of the summer. Dunkin’ research indicated that although the morning commute coffee fix was almost negligible, people, especially Generation-Z, were treating themselves to drinks they cannot make at home. Over the summer, Dunkin’ introduced many new beverages that are “treat” tastes, such as its Refreshers fruit-infused green tea. Younger individuals especially females have been treating themselves with different test drinks such as Coconut Cocoa Infused Cold Brew and Layered ice Tea. Speaking to CNBC, Dunkin’s director of global culinary innovation said, “We kept the ball rolling and didn’t stop.” Continuing, he added, “… makeshift labs were a staple in the homes of those on the R&D team.”
But, it is not just restaurants where innovative ways of matching customers’ new behaviors are de rigeur, The Wall Street Journal reports that mall landlords with huge parking lots are making “asphalt” a “hot commodity.” Shopping mall parking lots and parking garages are becoming bigger draws than the anchor stores to which they are attached.
South Coast Plaza Mall in Costa Mesa, California turned parts of the parking garage into outdoor “open-air stores” for its retailers such as Balenciaga and Givenchy. Other parking lots are hosting “job fairs, voting stations, and drive-through Covid-19 testing. It is what real estate people are calling “maximizing their exterior storefronts and parking areas.” And, with Halloween approaching, some lots and garages are hosting themed events that customers access while staying in their vehicles. Instead of rooftop or indoor events, the parking lot has become the new asphalt acreage for festivities.
Coronavirus has spiked our collective interest in sustainability. With hurricanes, fires, and plague, we recognize that we can do a better job of protecting our planet. This viewpoint is especially rampant among younger cohorts who view sustainability as a reason to purchase a brand… or not. Businesses are taking notice and responding with innovative approaches.
IKEA is instituting a buy-back program whereby customers will be able to sell their used furniture in exchange for store credit. IKEA will give participating shoppers vouchers worth up to 50% of the original value: value assessment depends on the piece’s condition. The returned items will be available for sale sold as second-hand. Not only does this help shoppers save money, but also buying the second-hand items permits shoppers to reduce waste.
Burger King is also innovating around sustainability. As part of its Restaurant Brands for Good framework, Burger King is testing reusable packaging in conjunction with TerraCycle’s circular packaging service, Loop. The idea is to have a closed-loop system with zero-waste packaging that can be safely cleaned, refilled, and reused continuously. Customers can return the packaging to their Burger King restaurant where the cups and containers will be sent for washing and cleaning. The chief of Innovation and Sustainability at Burger King said in an interview with waste360.com, “As part of our Restaurant Brands for Good plan, we’re investing in the development of sustainable packaging solutions that will help push the foodservice industry forward in reducing packaging waste. The Loop system gives us the confidence in a reusable solution that meets our high safety standards, while also offering convenience for our guests on the go.”
Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, recently announced a multiyear “special collaboration” with Sir Jonathan Ive, the famous British designer who is known for his work on the Apple iPhone. The collaboration will focus on redesigning Airbnb’s systems, creating new products, and reimaging the home rental site. In an email sent to Mr. Chesky and reported on by Financial Times, Sir Jonathan wrote, “I love that we both look at the world with such curiosity and care so deeply about the creative process and new ideas. We have learned that despite the inherent fragility of ideas, they can be developed to become profound and powerful.”
Innovation is a critical element when assessing a brand’s power. Innovations breathe life into brands. Continuous innovation and renovation are imperatives for success leading to enduring profitable growth, especially now as brand-businesses must reconfigure and re-strategize to find new ways to meet customer needs now and post-pandemic. As we find new ways to survive with Covid-19 all around, brand-businesses are exploring innovative and improved ways to meet our needs.