A tale of small innovations in the face of adversity

When every part of our personal and professional lives continues to be buffeted by the impacts of the pandemic, it’s helpful to notice the moments of positivity.

Small innovations – by which I mean the implementation of a new idea or practice – happen every day, often unobserved. And yet, they could be the moments of positivity that become a catalyst for human resourcefulness; small ripples in the pond of lasting change.

I’d like to share a story that illustrates this from Target’s experience in the past few months, with a few learnings thrown in for good measure.

Is anybody out there?

Discovering new routes to market and a means of feeding the sales pipeline has been a massive challenge during lockdown. So, we tried a new online lead generation service and, as we sifted through the relentless stream of irrelevant enquiries and were about to write it off, we came across a little gem.

Lesson one:
Try something new. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work straightaway.

Sam was looking for social media support, promoting White Rose for sales of handpicked recycled fashion. Intrigued, I picked up the phone and had a conversation with Sam. It was clear they were doing something amazing (more of that later) and that our team was in a position to help. He’s told me since that he was really impressed by our professional and personal approach; all we’d done at this point was talk, ask and listen.

Lesson two:
Online messages are very useful, but it’s often personal interaction (even socially-distanced) that kindles relationships.

What if?

There’s something quite liberating about the ‘rules’ changing; it’s like being granted permission to ask, ‘what if?’ with regards to pretty much anything.

What if we didn’t do what we did last time or what’s expected?

Sam asked if we could send him a proposal. We’ve prepared countless proposals through the years, always with care and attention. But this time, without the opportunity to meet, we wanted to find a ‘personal’ and creative way to communicate our ideas.

So, we made a short video. Making use of the very skills we wanted to demonstrate, a couple of our team created a beautifully crafted animated presentation, incorporating video, graphics and music. In seven minutes, we were conveying the essence of Target, our understanding of their needs, and suggestions of how we could help. And it meant Sam could share it with his colleagues, all working remotely, each experiencing a little Target magic.

Lesson three:
Experiment. Give your team permission – and encouragement – to re-imagine the way you communicate with other businesspeople in a socially-distanced world.

From retail to etail

After a couple of Zoom meetings, we were thrilled to be appointed by White Rose; our first client-win during a pandemic, one for the Target record books.

White Rose is a remarkable organisation. In just a few short years, they’ve created a unique fashion brand, selling handpicked, quality items of women’s and men’s clothing and accessories – all second hand. Celebrating the individuality of upcycled second-hand style, one store has grown to seven in the thriving student-city of Nottingham.

On the cusp of opening new stores in other cities, lockdown changed their business overnight. With stores closed, the business moved online. Having always intended opening an online shop at some point, the White Rose team turned disaster into opportunity. Now, they could take their brand to a wider audience in the UK and beyond. An e-commerce site was launched in just a couple of weeks, and a new era of White Rose began.

Lesson four:
Possessing the agility to adapt quickly can save a business. In the short time we’ve known White Rose, we can see this agility stems from passion, purpose, teamwork, talent and strong leadership.

Having a purpose

There’s something else that’s exceptional about White Rose. Every fashion item sold is supporting the work of Aegis Trust, a charity working with communities around the world that have experienced genocide. They’re helping people rebuild their lives in the wake of atrocities, supporting and empowering individuals to choose peace over retribution, and helping new generations to understand the lessons of the past.

‘Oh, it’s a charity shop’ you say? No. It’s a fashion brand with inbuilt purpose. In every thread, with every product sold, they are showing it’s possible to #fashionpeace.

It’s this sense of purpose that drives the teamwork and passion of its staff and volunteers, in the shops, the warehouse and behind the scenes. It channels them towards the goals of every business; to drive income, to reach new audiences, to give amazing customer service. It inspires us too, as new members of their virtual social media team.

Lesson five:
Purpose drives teamwork towards a common goal, which in turn creates many positive social impacts and drives financial success.

Conversations with customers

The final part of my story brings us to the work we’re doing now, providing counsel, content and hands-on creative help to their in-house team, as they strive to accelerate engagement on social media in order to drive online sales, grow brand awareness and rebuild the income streams for Aegis Trust.

With a deep understanding of their customers – young women and men who love fashion, individuality, and care about the environment and world issues – the White Rose team was already engaging with the customers they’d got to know in store through Instagram and Facebook too. Now, more than ever, social media offers a deeply personal way to interact with specific audiences, if we can get the tone and targeting right.

In the rush to react they were creating beautiful content, but the process was frenetic, making it difficult to manage, which is why the White Rose team asked for help. Our team is bringing some structure and simplicity. Social media management, particularly with limited resources, requires focus. But we’re also helping them to step back and consider how sales messages and brand awareness sit alongside their unique story of purpose.

Lesson six
Producing social media content and engaging with audiences can overwhelm your resources, without careful planning and management. It’s important to know when to ask for help.

So, that’s where I’ll leave this tale of small innovations in the face of adversity. Like all good stories, to be continued….

Sarah Bryars
Target Chief Executive