How to Innovate During a Crisis



Innovation might not be the buzzword for these trying times, but it’s certainly the only real way to succeed in this new environment. 

We’re living in surreal times. Everyone is trying to find ways to stay safe, and stay in business at the same time. For many businesses, that means thinking way outside the box. Many people are working from home for the first time, and they’re rearranging their entire infrastructure to change the way they do business, relate to others, and hopefully—keep their sanity. 

So why should we talk about innovation, when everyone is just trying to survive? Because true innovation is finding ways to thrive when times are hard. Most people can innovate when times are good, but finding ways to persevere when it seems all of your avenues are closed —that’s the essence of innovation. That’s when a business has to get really creative, and that’s when extraordinary things happen. 

People are finding ways to thrive right now in this environment, and they’re facing the same challenges everyone else is facing. Let’s look at three examples of businesses that are doing an amazing job during the COVID crisis. Not only are they keeping business afloat, but they’re positively impacting their communities, and positioning themselves as leaders. 

#1 Front Porch Photography 

Photographers, like people in many other industries, are in a tough position right now. Here at Zen we’ve received a number of emails from photographers who don’t know how they can stay in business amidst social isolation. 

We agree that it’s difficult right now, but creative solutions can always be found if you look for them. For example, a local photographer has found a way to combine her skill set with current circumstances to create a solution that’s truly a blue ocean differentiator. 

She’s offering front porch photography. Driven by a passion to document this incredible time in history, she captures beautiful pictures of families outside their homes while keeping her social distance. It’s a great way for everyone to get out of the house, and do something as a family while remaining safe. What better time to get a family portrait, then while everyone is stuck together under one roof? Her strategy perfectly combines her passion with market demand. 

#2 Quarantine Cakes 

Restaurants and bakeries all over the country have been forced to close their doors, and many of them weren’t prepared to offer online ordering and pickup. So how can this industry continue to thrive in these trying times? The key is to act fast and seize opportunity before the moment passes. 

With everyone stuck at home, a local bakery saw an opportunity to appeal to peoples’ sweet tooth, and inject a little humor. Since people aren’t gathering in large groups, most people aren’t ordering full-sized cakes right now. So instead, they’re offering smaller cakes that are baked for one or two people, and they’re calling them “quarantine cakes.” They’re decorated with fun, relevant messaging such as, “don’t touch your face,” and people are loving them. 

This simple act of strategic creativity has not only allowed them to stay in business while many other bakeries are shutting down, but they’re also benefiting from massive press. Businesses that innovate in truly remarkable ways, get noticed for it. 

#3 Couch Parties 

Our third example comes from the music industry. In light of event cancellations, live music shows aren’t a possibility—so how can DJs continue generating hype and hosting parties? 

Just because people are stuck at home, doesn’t mean they don’t still crave novel experiences. DJ DNICE recognized the need for enjoyment and relaxation in the midst of social isolation, so he’s been putting out incredible music parties from the comfort of his home. These “couch parties” are available to anyone who wants to have a good time in their living rooms—and who doesn’t want to do that? Not surprisingly, these couch parties have become incredibly popular, and DNICE now has over 1.5 million followers on instagram. 

By transforming what would normally be a paid gig into a virtual experience to gain massive visibility, he’s ensuring that he’ll continue to thrive during and post-COVID-19. 

Your Turn To Innovate 

These are three examples of businesses that are truly innovating, and doing an amazing job of differentiating themselves from their competitors in today’s environment. Now it’s your turn. Whether we’re quarantined or not, now is your chance to try something new. 

Test out those ideas you’ve put on the backburner for so long. Think about how you can offer a virtual version of your service, an online class, or a live event that brings people together and keeps your business top of mind. 

Your brand is in the spotlight, and people are watching to see how you’ll respond to this crisis. If you’re having trouble innovating, here are a couple questions to ask yourself: 

  • How is COVID-19 shifting consumer demand and consumer behavior? How can you take advantage of those changes? For example, with people spending more time online and at home, shifting from brick and mortar to eCommerce can allow you to continue serving your customers. 
  • With consumers seeking guidance and advice, how can you use your expertise to your advantage? For example, a manufacturing company with decades of experience (one of our clients) is leveraging their expertise to position themselves as a thought leader, and guide other manufacturers in this time of difficulty. 
  • What channels are your customers on, and how can you captivate them? Depending on the demographics of your target market, you might find that your audience is mostly on Facebook or Instagram, or maybe they’re devouring articles and spending most of their time on LinkedIn. Find out where your audience can be reached, and start cranking out content to engage them. 

Innovating isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it. Companies that play it safe won’t be remembered. Consumers remember the disruptors—the brands that took risks. 

If you want to own your moment, now is the time to act. And if you don’t have the time to create virtual and online solutions, consider hiring an agency to help you reach your goals. 


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