No one wants to see something like the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus make headlines around the world, but it happens. It’s undeniable that the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus has had an impact not just on our everyday lives, but in the way that we do business. World markets have felt the impact as well as supply chains and to a lesser extent, consumers. And with the full impact of the virus still unknown, the economic impact could get worse before it gets better.
Now businesses can react to this impact in a few ways. Some businesses will conduct business as usual, operating as if the novel coronavirus will have little to no impact on what they do and how they operate. Other businesses will plan for the worst and lose sight of what they’re doing in the present.
And some businesses will see the novel coronavirus as the unfortunate business roadblock that it is. It’s something that exists whether we like it or not and we can either run from it or find a moral and ethical way to make sure our business comes out on the other side of it stronger.
Never take advantage of the customer
Before I get into the ways a business can overcome novel coronavirus and come out the other side stronger, I want to make sure people understand what I’m talking about. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that a business take advantage of the consumer. Price gouging, also called profiteering, is not only bad karma but it can be illegal.
If you own a company that makes hand sanitizer, by all means, advertise but don’t price gouge.
No matter what you do as a business, remember that human decency should always come first.
Do satisfy a new, temporary need
However, your business can still use a world issue like the novel coronavirus to its advantage. Ruth Fisher, economist and CEO of Quantaa says, “During pandemics and other such crises, people avoid crowds and public spaces. A company can commercialize on this by tailoring products or services to this situation: enable people to access or use the product or service at home or in a venue that’s physically separated from others.”
A great example of this is Netflix. As the New York Post reports, while the S&P 500 lost points in the final week of February, Netflix’s stock rose. Netflix is a company that’s specifically set up for people who want to seclude or quarantine themselves. “Social distancing” as a business model.
Think of this in terms of yourself. What would you do if you were stuck inside all day, whether it’s just for one day or a series of days? There’s a reason why companies like Amazon, Zoom Video, and Netflix as well as work applications like Slack are gaining so much attention during this outbreak.
Sometimes a temporary method becomes permanent
The spread of the novel coronavirus could be the opportunity a company needs to infiltrate a saturated market.
“When the pandemic subsides, a lot of people will have found that the stopgap (temporary) product/service fills their more general needs, and thus adopt that measure permanently,” says Fisher.
In particular, Fisher sees the novel coronavirus as having the potential to speed up current trends in home delivery of products and services, as well as employees working from home.
Sometimes your company is not in a position to fill a commercial need during a pandemic or crisis. That does not mean that you should pretend that the crisis does not apply to you.
“A company can earn reputational benefits or goodwill by putting the needs of its employees or the community ahead of its own,” says Fisher. “This will increase loyalty of employees or community. For there to be real value (and not just empty virtue signaling), however, the act must be costly to the company.”
Johnson & Johnson, for example, is a leader in the health industry. To date, the company has donated 1 million surgical masks to impacted areas of China, 48,000 bottles of alcohol, as well as money and other supplies necessary for battling the outbreak in China.
Companies like Facebook and Google, who don’t have the healthcare inventory that Johnson & Johnson does, can use its buying power to build company goodwill. According to CNBC, Google will donate $1 million to Mountain View organizations to support small businesses after the company canceled its annual Google I/O conference. Facebook is donating $500,000 in San Jose after canceling two of its conferences in the city. Both companies are also donating millions of dollars in free advertising to help the World Health Organization (WHO) battle misinformation on the internet.
As these actions show, goodwill doesn’t have to be a concept thrown around by valuation professionals, it can be real positive karma that your company builds by the actions it takes in the world.