By Karina Malhotra, founder and MD, Acumentice
As lockdowns ease and restrictions start to relax, businesses are wrestling with the realisation that not only will there be a so-called new normal, but that they will need new methods with which to conduct their businesses in order to be successful.
In the current landscape, being able to innovate is undoubtedly increased in importance, and that is true across the board – whether in healthcare, entertainment, community services, hospitality or any other sector. Innovation is, however, easier said than done.
When we talk about innovation, and examples of innovative businesses, the same names often come up – the likes of Apple, Netflix, or Amazon. It is true that when sector giants, or those that straddle several industries, do something slightly different, it has a significant impact. Yet quite often, what these multinationals have to their advantage is not necessarily innovation, but scale. The ability to invest in new content, or improve user experience, or offer same day-deliveries across huge geographical areas requires vision, but more importantly the resources to make it happen.
That might support large organisations to ride out whatever comes after the pandemic, but what does that mean for SME entrepreneurs and start-ups, or those sectors without global giants? Are they doomed to fall by the wayside, to lose out on customers and potentially fold as so many others have?
Not necessarily. There is an argument to be made that in the current climate, and the unique situation of the post-pandemic world, being niche is key to true innovation.
Three reasons why niche is the future of innovation
Firstly, one of the more inspiring trends of the pandemic was that it stimulated a much greater, more visible sense of community – both socially and in supporting small businesses. According to the ONS, over two thirds of the population thought people are doing more to help others since the outbreak, while another study reported that 55% want to increase their support of small, local businesses as a result of the lockdown.
For niche entrepreneurs, this offers an opportunity if their operations serve a particular community, locality or sector and they can tap into that sense of support and helping smaller operations.
Secondly, smaller operators, with their industry specialism, can uncover and identify greater depth of insights, which can in turn be translated into user experiences that outperform larger competitors. This ties back to the first point about linking into the upswell in community spirit – if businesses can offer a highly relevant and personalised service at a localised level, they should see a dramatic uptake from relevant audiences.
Thirdly, businesses with razor-sharp focus, particularly new ones, have a higher degree of agility than more established operators. This ability to move fast is going to be critical in the new normal, particularly if the future includes waves of lockdowns, whether regional or national, and companies need to be able to pivot quickly to maintain service continuity and protect revenue streams.
A tech formula for innovation
Digital technologies will be a key enabler to achieving innovation. As mentioned before, global businesses succeed through scale as much as anything, something small businesses naturally may not have. Tech offers them that ability, to a degree – it cannot replicate thousands of employees and established production lines, but it can help them reach more people, to automate critical tasks, to provide a premium experience without the upfront investment. Cloud and as-a-service-based solutions unlock capabilities that once required million-pound budgets at a fraction of a price, and on a subscription basis, breaking down the barriers of entry for small businesses.
This then, is a successful formula for innovation: Take deep industry knowledge, add new technologies and digital tools, and the result is a platform to create new approaches, new solutions and new experiences that help both companies and their customers in a bespoke and agile way.
It is already happening in a number of sectors. For instance, the NHS encourages clinical entrepreneurship programmes as it believes these schemes are the best approach to innovation in healthcare – it aims to combine sector expertise with commercial know-how and digital operations. The most successful can take their learnings and sell them back to the wider industry, alongside their products, helping to continuously stimulate innovation mindsets.
The world is going to be a very different place by the time the worst of the coronavirus pandemic has passed. With so much changing, even pre-COVID-19 approaches to innovation may not be enough. What this new normal calls for are businesses and organisations that can tap into the trends that sprung up out of the crisis, and marry them with expert industry understanding and the latest digital tools. Do this, and they will be well placed to deliver true innovation.