How tech businesses can reset their comms to emerge stronger from COVID-19

20th July 2020

Hot takes from our recent tech trends webinar: Riding the new wave of disruption

As the ONS announces the largest monthly economic contraction on record, many quarters of the UK business landscape continue to reel from the onslaught of COVID-19.

In the world of tech, the reality is more complex and diversified.

Despite the obvious and far-reaching challenges, a positive picture is emerging of resilience, optimism and in some cases, even growth.

As we enter a new stage in the post-lockdown progression, we spoke to three leading experts representing different sections of the tech industry, to understand current sentiment and discuss how businesses can bounce back from the uncertainty and set themselves up for a prosperous future.

Our very own CEO, Lis Field, was joined for the panel debate by Natasha Lytton, Head of Brand & Network at Seedcamp, Elliot Wellsteed-Crook, Head of Communications at London Tech Week and Dr George Windsor, Head of Insights at Tech Nation.

There was a resounding feeling from our panel that amidst the tremendous disruption, the acceleration of digital trends that had begun pre-COVID are setting up the tech sector to emerge even stronger – with a heightened focus on purpose and people-focused action.

Let’s get into it.

Is this the start of a new dawn for the tech industry?

Despite the deep challenges resulting from COVID-19, a silver lining has been the opportunity for tech businesses to re-evaluate and demonstrate their value and commitment to society and communities – the impact of which is starting to pay off in terms of the sector’s reputation.

“We’ve seen a balance restored in terms of sentiment with regards to technology”, claimed Dr George Windsor.

This was a feeling shared by London Tech Week’s Head of Communications, Elliot Wellsteed-Crook: “Covid-19 has put the spotlight on technology companies to respond to the crisis that emerged and it’s provided a moment for technology companies to step up to the plate ultimately… after years of promise it’s finally been an opportunity to now deliver”.

Nonetheless, our panellists were clear that the learnings from the techlash won’t be forgotten by the public and policy makers any time soon. With the reliance that remote working has put on digital technologies, the debate around their role will continue.

As Windsor claims: “We will continue to see a healthy debate about the role of technology in our lives and the extent to which we trust technology companies.”

Ultimately, this will stand to make the sector stronger, as businesses are forced to think about boosting their transparency, ethics, data privacy and governance.

Natasha Lytton was quick to point out that “fundamentally everything is an evolution… new things are built to be an improvement on what’s come before. You only have to look at the last economic crash and see all the positive businesses that were built out of it.”

As technology companies have worked hard to demonstrate their commitment to supporting people and communities through the crisis, the shift in sentiment is clear. According to the latest Ipsos research, trust in tech is sharply rising, with 20% of the public having more trust in big tech firms such as Apple, Amazon and Google.

How can tech businesses stand out with an authentic voice?

Striking the right chord with the public over the last few months has certainly been a challenge.

As Lytton succinctly put it, brands had “nothing to really say but were all desperately trying to say something.

“No one had really thought about reframing their positioning in light of what was going on and what people wanted to hear from them, and whether people actually needed to hear from them”.

It’s an essential point and as we evolve into a new socially distanced world, it’s vital that tech businesses think hard before they speak or risk losing credibility.

“Listen to your audience. Everyone is so quick and eager to talk. Nowhere near enough brands are stopping, listening, and asking questions. What do consumers actually need from you as a brand?”

Wise words from our CEO, Lis Field, who followed this with five quick tips to finding an authentic voice:

  • Make sure you really understand your audience and what they need from you.
  • Don’t try to be something you’re not.
  • If you don’t have a legitimate opinion, just be quiet.
  • Don’t try and be all things to all people.
  • Be honest. Don’t always try and make it look amazing and meaningful if it’s not.

How can tech businesses reset their approach to attract funding?

Despite initial scare stories about funding drying up, the reality is not nearly as bleak.

For example, London continues to attract huge sums in investment. Companies based in the capital have raised $4 billion since the start of January – more than Paris, Berlin, Stockholm and Tel Aviv combined – according to latest figures from Tech Nation and Dealroom.

Our panellists provide a similar sentiment.

“At Seedcamp, we’re still very actively investing and nothing has changed in terms of our pre-seed investment forum and our focus and the number of deals we’re looking to do. We’re not seeing a slowdown from our side,” states Lytton.

Nonetheless, placing greater emphasis on profitability over growth, sustainability and purpose – a trend that began pre-COVID – has continued to accelerate.

Investors are doubling down on the businesses they’ve already invested in and investment will be directed at well-structured business models that can ultimately deliver good returns.

Flexibility in the current climate will continue to be essential, as outlined by Dr Windsor: “Be confident in your business model and your products and services but be willing to adapt and flex and respond to the current situation”.

Is this the end of ‘move fast and break things’? What are investors looking for in the current environment?

The quickening of pre-crisis trends is a recurring theme.

We’re seeing an “even bigger boom in digital health, which to be honest was already a growing trend…it’s about a doubling down on things that we’re building already”, claims Lytton.

Saying that, there are some practical logistics of seeking investment that have seen major barriers to progress. Lockdown and social distancing have made the process for investors to find and interact with tech firms highly challenging.

As Wellsteed-Crook states: “human moments are incredibly important” for investors looking for tech companies… that’s tough in a virtual setting”.

However, there are a number of actions you can take to make this process run more smoothly:

  • Choose the right platform to have those discussions. Video conferencing can be awkward at the best of times. Ensure you have the appropriate set up to maximise the main goal of the meeting, whether that’s presenting data in a meaningful way through to encouraging conversation.
  • Chair and moderate those conversations in the right way to make them fruitful. Having a confident and experienced moderator in place is essential. Someone with the tenacity to know when to move the conversation on, change direction and encourage further discussion in areas where more depth is required.
  • Provide space for those casual moments that can sometimes be more important than the formal discussion. This can only be achieved if you’ve delivered on the first two points successfully.

Are we entering a golden age of purpose-driven innovation?

It would seem so, but with that comes a requirement to be authentic or suffer the consequences.

“Covid-19 has provided a moment to show we are all so dependent on technology… how do we want to use that technology to improve the way we live and work.

“Tech for good is no longer a nice to have. It’s a complete demand of the 21st century”, states Wellsteed-Crook.

Dr Windsor concurs: “consumers are increasingly choosing companies that have that strong sense of purpose and I think we’re going to see that only increase.

“We’re going to have changed our perspective on the nature of companies and they’re engagement with people, societies, vulnerable groups, the environment, and consumers are going to start to make even more purpose-driven choices”.

 

What are your top tips for emerging stronger post-crisis?

We asked the panel for their single most important piece of advice for tech businesses looking to reset their comms and set themselves up for growth.

  • Focus efforts around hearts and minds

“Better understanding and refocusing efforts to understand consumers [is key]. Companies need to get back to the hearts and minds of their people who they’re serving”, stated Dr Windsor.

  • Practise what you preach

Field felt strongly that “understanding your audiences is vital. If you haven’t taken this period to stand back to think about who your audience is and what they’re going through, then I think you’re missing a trick.

“Be really consistent and be conscious about what you say outside your organisation as it directly effects how your business is run internally. Don’t think you can say one thing externally and ride rough shot over it internally, it just doesn’t work”.

  • Humanity has never been more vital

Wellsteed-Crook brought us back to earth: “Keep it real. Lean into empathy and humanity. Tech businesses will need to reassess their purpose and value and come out the other side leaner and stronger and more purposefully-driven in what they do”.

  • Focus on your long-term strategy

Lytton finished off the discussion with some wise words: “don’t get distracted by the shiny thing. Think about your positioning and what people will want from you in the long-term, not just in the here and now.”

You can listen to the full webinar here

If you want to find out how we can help you reset your communications approach to remain resilient in the current uncertainty, please drop me an email:

James Steward, Director: [email protected]

Or sign up to our newsletter