Resilience is the new normal

By Marzena Reska

The global pandemic has put resiliency on the agenda of every company in the world. As they cope with the seismic changes brought about by COVID-19, businesses of all sizes and types have needed to adapt to remote work, reconfigured physical workspaces, and revised logistics and supply networks. They’ve also changed operating procedures to cope with the pandemic’s risks and effects.

But what do companies do now?

The reality is that supply chain shocks are usually impossible to predict but happen with frustrating regularity. That means real value is at stake.

The promising news is that organisations can both protect against downside risks, such as pandemics, and gain substantial economic returns from increased output and productivity. 

The successful organisations  today, and in the years ahead, will redesign their operations and their supply chains to protect against a wider and more acute range of potential shocks and disruptive events. Thus, there is a need for increased visibility on both the demand and supply side.

Supply chain digitization can enable organisations to have visibility across the whole value chain—from the production of raw materials to the end customer—and better meet the needs of their customers. A bonus: it improves the agility and responsiveness of operations without increasing costs. In fact, research by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with McKinsey, shows that companies often achieve significant and simultaneous improvements in multiple performance measures when they integrate advanced digital technologies across the value chain.

Marzena Reska
Marzena Reska

Before the coronavirus hit, most companies were already accelerating the digital transformation of their customer journeys and value chains. The expectation is digital technologies to be at the core of the new normal, enabling organisations to better meet the needs of their customers, and improving the agility and responsiveness of operations without increasing their costs. Companies often achieve significant and simultaneous improvements across multiple performance measures when they integrate advanced digital technologies across the value chain. This  also allows them to build  resilience which is an internal trait, but the disciplines and strategies that support it can also have a far wider reach.

During the crisis, many businesses have been able to overcome staff shortages by automating processes or developing self-service systems for customers. These approaches can accelerate workflows and reduce errors—and customers often prefer them. 

Digital approaches can transform customer experience and significantly boost enterprise value when applied end to end.

Also, technology-enabled methodologies can significantly accelerate cost-transparency work, compressing months of effort into weeks or days. These digital approaches include procurement-spending analysis and clean-sheeting, end-to-end inventory rebalancing, and capital-spend diagnostics and portfolio rationalization.  However, the businesses will need to be smart and careful in their approach. Leading organisations are adopting increasingly sophisticated techniques in their strategic planning, assessing each resource and opportunity very carefully as the environment changes and new data emerge.

Now, with the likelihood of prolonged uncertainty over supply, demand, and the availability of resources COVID-19  represents the trigger for operations functions to adopt an agile approach to transformation.

Useful articles

‘’Risk, Resilience, and rebalancing in global value chains’’, (2020), S. Lund; J. Manyika; J. Wotzel, E. Barribal; B. Krishnan; A. Knut; M.

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/coronavirus-leading-through-the-crisis

20 years’ smart city research marching on – what’s next?

Professor Fang Zhao, Associate Dean Research and Enterprise, Staffordshire Business School


By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in towns and cities, resulting in the consumption of over 70% of energy, and the emission of an equal amount of greenhouse gases (European Commission, 2019). The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the challenges that cities have already been facing from multiple fronts such as rapid urbanisation, digital disruptions, demographic, climate and environmental changes, economic restructuring and reforms. Covid-19 is changing how urban residents live, work and commute and reshaping economic structures and business models. In the current global battle against Covid-19, smart cities have a pivotal role to play in responding to the crisis in terms of track-and-trace of coronavirus cases using smart technologies, enforcing social distancing rules, getting homeless people off the streets, and special emergency measures for care homes, to give just a few examples.

The concept of a smart city has been seen as a strategy to tackle the grand challenges facing urban planning and development. Smart city is a fuzzy word with various terms being used – intelligent city, digital city, green city, knowledge city, and smart sustainable city. Research on smart city can be traced back to the 1990s, taking on many perspectives, mostly in four aspects: the technological aspect including the technological infrastructure and support network for building smart cities, the socio-cultural aspect, or citizen engagement, the political-institutional aspect, such as government support and policies, and the economic-business aspect, namely business models and profitability.

A team of researchers (Prof Zhao, Dr Olushola Fashola, Dr Tolulope Olarewaju and Dr Ijeoma Onwumere) at Staffordshire Business School have been investigating what has been done in smart city research over the past 20 years. After a systematic and comprehensive literature review, the research team found that smart city research tends to revolve around six key areas: digital technology diffusion, smart city strategy and implementation, supply chains and logistics, urban planning and governance, smart city entrepreneurship and innovation, and Smart city evaluation and measurement. The team also identified four major challenges for small city research: (a) smart city research is often fragmented and technology-driven; (b) many studies are on perceived benefits of smart cities and fewer on the downsides of the effect of technologies and failure projects; (c) there is a need to build new theories for smart city research; and (d) there is a lack of empirical testing of the conceptual frameworks developed in smart city research. Furthermore, the team found that there was very limited research on crisis management in smart city before 2020. However, the research landscape is changing with emerging literature investigating how smart cities respond to crises and pandemics, and exploring strategies that can be used to tackle swiftly the crisis effectively at both strategic and operational levels.

Directions for future research and practice in smart cities are proposed.  If you want to know more and/or seeking for collaboration, please contact Prof Fang Zhao – Associate Dean Research and Enterprise at fang.zhao@staffs.ac.uk.

Awareness and Corporate Social Responsibility

Storm Barratt, Course Director, Staffordshire Business School


Almost never a day goes by, when we aren’t reminded that “today” is National, International or even Global “something” awareness day or week or month. From the ever-popular Christmas Jumper day to my own particular favourite – National Squirrel Appreciation Day (!), from National Allotment week to Fairtrade fortnight to National Bed month.

All of these campaigns are designed to raise awareness and/or funds for some serious and not so serious issues. So, why as a business, would you want to know this?

Firstly, all businesses have basic ethical and legal responsibilities; however, the most successful businesses establish a strong foundation of corporate citizenship, showing a commitment to ethical behaviour by creating a balance between the needs of shareholders and the needs of the community and environment in the surrounding area. These practices help bring in consumers and establish brand and company loyalty.

It is considered normal for businesses to balance the other stakeholders’ needs with those of the shareholders during the decision-making process. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goes even further, making the general public a stakeholder and shows that the business wishes to actively improve things for everyone.

Image Source: www.growthbusiness.co.uk

For any business making a profit is still key and, of course, the needs of employees, customers and suppliers must be satisfied if the business is to survive. However, Corporate Social Responsibility has become far more important over the last few decades with consumers worrying about how the products they buy were made and how companies that they buy from are run. On many company websites there will be narratives of how they look after the environment and all the CSR initiatives of which they are a part.

Corporate social responsibility comes in many forms. Even the smallest company impacts social change by making a simple donation to a local food bank. Some of the most common examples of CSR include:

  • Reducing carbon footprints
  • Improving labour policies
  • Participating in Fairtrade
  • Charitable giving
  • Volunteering in the community
  • Corporate policies that benefit the environment
  • Socially and environmentally conscious investments

The growing popularity of National Awareness Days can tap into these initiatives helping a company both internally and externally.


One internal perspective is if your employees can see that the business is taking a caring approach, by raising funds for charity for instance, involving the staff may mean that they become more motivated to engage with each other working towards a common goal. In fact, whilst “Wear a Christmas Jumper to Work” day seems an opportunity to raise a smile amongst colleagues as we approach the long dark winter months, the serious aspect is that the jumper wearers are raising money for a great cause.

Another perspective is using “Awareness Days” to help a business promote their product or service (all the better if this can also highlight the CSR approach taken by the company). The issues can make an ideal marketing tool for a business, providing inspiration for marketing content.

By adding context to an awareness day, a business can plan their content by linking a day to their product or service, so for example an artisan baker could showcase their expertise and knowledge during Real Bread Week, or a nutritionist could use National Allotment Week to encourage healthy and organic eating whilst promoting their own healthy eating programme.

It’s not just about direct promotion though. Awareness days can provide a great opportunity for a business to engage in conversation with future consumers via social media using hashtags associated with the cause, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This will allow people to find and contact you, consequently building your audience.

From engaging with employees to good PR to corporate social responsibility, supporting a national awareness day is a great way to show which values are important to you and your business. It can differentiate you from your competitors and allow you to build partnerships with charities and organisations that share your beliefs. With the potential to build trust as well as give a little back, it’s a win-win situation for all.


Become a responsible leader of global business.

Do you want to be at the forefront of modern enterprise? Our BA (Hons) Business Management and Sustainability course challenges the traditional interpretations of enterprise and will open your mind to a broad range of contemporary themes in business.

Our emphasis on ethical business and sustainability will position you to create long-lasting value for your organisation and you will learn the practical skills needed to become a responsible business leader.

Innovation to survive and thrive Part 2

By Tanya Hemphill

Part 1 of Tanya’s article can be found here

STAGE TWO

Once you have used these initial basic filters to find the strongest ideas, the next stage is to use a more in-depth filter to make decisions on the remaining ideas. Day (2007) recommends using a risk matrix. The R-W-W matrix is based to three key questions:

  • Is it Real?
  • Can we Win?
  • Is it Worth doing?

This is expanded into the following set of questions:


Is it
real?

Is the market real?
Is there a need or desire
for the product?
Can the customer buy it?
Is the size of the
potential market
adequate?
Will the customer buy the
product?

Is the product real?
Is there a clear concept?
Can the product be made?
Will the final product satisfy
the market?

Can we
win?

Can the product be
competitive?

Does it have a competitive
advantage?
Can the advantage be
sustainable?
How will competitors
respond?

Can our company be
competitive?

Do we have superior
resources?
Do we have appropriate
management?
Can we understand and
respond to the market?

Is it worth doing?

Will the product be
profitable at an
acceptable risk?

Are forecasted returns
greater than costs?
Are the risks acceptable?

Does launching the product
make strategic sense?

Does the product fit our
overall growth strategy?
Will top management
support it?

STAGE THREE

Once a few viable marketing innovation ideas remain, the next stage is to consider the risks even further. This is where conducting a pre-mortem is a useful tool. This helps organisations identify the possible failures of a project before they happen and mitigate risk by pre-planning so that those failures don’t occur.

The following pre-mortem exercise has been adapted from Gray et al. (2010).

Activity
Step 1Imagine we are two years in the future.
Things have gone completely wrong.
What could have caused this? Generate a list of all the reassons failure occurred.

Step 2List all concerns and rank them to
deterimine priority
Step 3Address the 2 or 3 items of greatest
concern and list what actions you would
need to take to stop the issues
happening.

The list of risks and actions that need to be taken to mitigate the risk can be used as Critical Success Factors (CSFs) for an innovation or project launch.

Hopefully, this article has helped you think about the different types of innovation you can potentially pursue and how to evaluate the best route forward, using a systematic filtering process.

STOP PRESS -We are now recruting for cohort 5 of the Small Business Leadership Programme (free starts 30th March)

References

Day, G. (2007) Is it real? Can we win? Is it worth doing? Managing Risk and Reward in an Innovation Portfolio. [Online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2007/12/is-it-real-can-we-win-is-it-worth-doing-managing-risk-and-reward-in-an-innovation-portfolio (Accessed 11 February 2021).

Fisk, P. (2017). Gamechangers: Are you ready to change the World? Creating Innovative Strategies for Business and Brands. West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Gower, L. (2015) The Innovation Workout. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Gray, D., Brown, S. & Macanufo, J. (2010) Game Storming: A Playbook for Inovators, Rulebreakers, an Changemakers. Sebastopol: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Keeley, L., Pikkel, R., Quinn, B. and Walters, H. (2013). Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Free Small Business Leadership Programme – starts end of March

Supporting SME leaders to create resilience and manage uncertainty in 2021 and beyond

Access free ideas, guidance, peer & 121 support to help your business to manage the uncertainty of steering through the pandemic and impacts of Brexit for up to TWO leaders in your business.

Staffordshire Business School is supporting regional business by delivering free training in leadership and management to provide exactly what business needs most to build a resilient future.

This is cohort 5 of the SBLP and the positive impacts of previous cohorts are being felt across the region. Here is what Rhys from XP VR thought of the course

Why choose to be part of the Small Business Leadership Programme?
▪ Make your business more resilient
▪ Boost business performance and growth
▪ Create an innovative and agile organisation
▪ Recover from the impact of COVID-19
▪ Find solutions to the impact of Brexit
▪ Build leadership skills, confidence and effectiveness
▪ Plan for a solid future for your business
▪ Build lasting relationships with small business leaders
▪ Improve risk management and efficiency

When does the course start?
Tuesday the 30th March 2021 (1st webinar at 3pm)

If you would like to have a chat about the course then please email one of our experienced Entrepreneurs in Residence with your phone number and they will call you back,

Jane Pallister – Jane.Pallister@staffs.ac.uk
Emily Whitehead – emily@staffs.ac.uk
Jonathan Westlake – j.c.westlake@staffs.ac.uk

Here’s what another business thought of the course: Geoff Barton, General Manager of Canalside Farm in Great Haywood near Stafford said: “It’s allowed me to connect with other businesses, and I’ve learned much and managed to strengthen a few knowledge gaps and boost my handling of the business during these unique times.”

What’s involved?
Eligibility requirements
▪ Your business must be a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) based in England.
▪ Your business needs to employ between 5 and 249 people and have been operational for at least one year
▪ The participant should be a decision maker or member of the senior management team within the business with at least one person reporting directly to them.
▪ The participant must be able to commit to attending the full programme


Time commitment
The programme is designed to be manageable alongside full-time work and furloughed staff can join the programme.

Participants will attend 8×90- minute webinars across ten weeks, and complete up to 2 hours of independent development and peer-supported engagement per week.

Places are fully funded by the Government to support the resilience,
recovery and growth of SMEs during and after COVID-19. The programme
is completely free to attend but places are strictly limited.

Register Now
There are two ways to register.

  1. Email one of the Entrepreneurs in Residence as listed above and they
    will talk you through the process.
  2. Follow the simple instructions below (this takes 3 minutes) and we will
    be in touch:
    • Go to https://smallbusinesscharter.org/sblp-registration/
    • Choose ‘West Midlands’ from the pink vertical menu on the left
    • Scroll through the list of centres until you find Staffordshire University
    (start date 30th march) & click register

PLEASE NOTE: Your business can send up to two eligible delegates to this programme and delegates can be furloughed. Please do one registration for each person.

Innovation to Survive & Thrive: Part 1

By Tanya Hemphill, Senior Lecturer

Over the last few months we have been running a module on ‘Innovation, Value and Markets’ to over 70 Staffordshire business people, as part of our Small Business Leadership Programme.

During the workshops it was very clear that most small businesses have had to rethink their business model to adapt to massive shifts in consumer behaviour (and supply chains) because of Covid. The UK Government defines innovation as: The successful exploitation of new ideas. Innovation may involve an organisation’s:

  • Products and services
  • Processes (e.g. exploiting new technologies)
  • Business model (e.g. new income sources/ improved supply chain)

 Business Model Innovation

According to Fisk (2021) although there are an infinite number of potential business models some of the most common formats (applicable to nearly every type of business) are:

  • Advertising-based models. Services are free to users, whilst advertisers pay to engage with the audience attracted, e.g. Google, Facebook.
  • Razor-and-blades models. The facilitating item, like a razor, is sold cheaply, then accessories, like blades, at a premium, e.g. HP, Nespresso.
  • Added-value models. The facilitating item, like an iPad, is sold at a premium, then accessories, like apps, sold cheaply, e.g. Apple.
  • One-of-one models. The company donates a product to a charity, or person in need, for every product sold, e.g. Toms, Warby Parker.
  • Cashflow models. High volumes are generated at low margins, payments received quickly from customers, paid slowly to suppliers, e.g. Amazon, Dell.
  • Platform-based models. These bring buyers and suppliers together, typically charging both of them to connect and transact, e.g. Airbnb, Uber.
  • Subscription-based models. These charge a regular, e.g. monthly, fee for unlimited use of a product or service, e.g. Netflix, Zipcar.
  • Freemium models. These encourage trial or a basic level of usage for free, but charge for additional or premium options, e.g. Spotify, Fornite.
  • Direct to consumer models. Products which in the past would have been sold through intermediaries are sold direct, e.g. Allbirds, Casper.

 

10 Types of Innovation

If we want to expand the UK Government’s three categories of innovation, recent research has identified ten main types of innovation (Keeley et al., 2013):

  1. Profit Model: The way you make money (e.g. Netflix changed the video rental industry by implementing a subscription model)
  2. Network: Connections with others to create value (e.g. Target works with renowned designers to differentiate itself)
  3. Structure: Alignment of your talent assets (e.g. Whole Foods has built a robust feedback system for internal teams)
  4. Process: Signature of superior methods for doing your work (e.g. Zara’s ‘fast fashion’ strategy moves its clothing from sketch to shelf in record time)
  5. Product Performance: Distinguishing features and functionality (e.g. OXO Good Grips costs a premium but its ‘universal design’ has a loyal following)
  6. Product System: Complementary products and services (e.g. Nike+ partnered shoes, sensors, apps and devices into a sport lifestyle suite)
  7. Service: Support and enhancements that surround your offerings (e.g. Zappos “deliver WOW through service” is their #1 internal core value)
  8. Channel: How your offerings are delivered to customers and users (e.g. Nespresso locks in customers with its useful members only club)
  9. Brand: Representation of your offerings and business (e.g. Virgin extends its brand into sectors ranging from soft drinks to space travel)
  10. Customer Engagement: Distinctive interactions you foster (e.g. Wii’s experience draws more from the interactions in the room than from on-screen)

This framework is expanded further by list of possible tactics, which can be found here: https://doblin.com/dist/images/uploads/TenTypesInnovation.pdf

The ‘Business Model Canvas’ is one of the most used templates in business to map a business model (Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2010). This is a useful tool for rethinking the whole business, seeing connections and then innovating the business.

You can download a copy of the Business Model Canvas and view an overview video of the tool at https://www.strategyzer.com/canvas/business-model-canvas

Sign up to the next cohort of the Small Business Leadership Programme here – starts 30th March

References

Fisk, P. (2017). Gamechangers: Are you ready to change the World? Creating Innovative Strategies for Business and Brands. West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Keeley, L., Pikkel, R., Quinn, B. and Walters, H. (2013). Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Author

Tanya Hemphill can be found on twitter @DigitalTanya she has recently joined Staffordshire Business School. She teaches on the MSc in Digital Marketing Management which includes a credited workplacement.

Tanya Hemphill
Tanya Hemphill

Part 2 of this article will shortly be available

Global Entrepreneurship Week at Staffordshire Business School #GEW2020

Hazel Squire, Head of Department Staffordshire Business School


#GEW2019

Global Entrepreneurship Week is a collection of tens of thousands of activities, competitions and events aimed at making it easier for anyone, anywhere to start up and scale a company.

This November 16 – 22, as part of GEW 2020 Staffordshire Business School together with Staffordshire University Innovation Enterprise Zone will be hosting a range of activities aimed at both local businesses and students.

As a nation, the impact of COVID-19 means we are all seeking and finding new ways of doing things. In an effort, to build resilience and come together in leveraging the power of new ideas and innovation we will be launching our Innovation Enterprise Zone https://www.staffs.ac.uk/business-services that will give businesses access to:

  • Skills development and support
  • Researchers, student talent and experts
  • Grants and business support programmes
  • Innovation infrastructure and incubation facilitates

Announced last year, Staffordshire University was one of 20 University Enterprise Zones (UEZs), launched with a £20 million investment by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation. 

Furthermore, be inspired offers a full year of start-up support including: information, advice and guidance from an experienced team of business advisers, regular meetings with industry mentors of your choice, full business processes induction, industry-led specialist workshop sessions, networking opportunities, access to personal growth software, access to personalised legal documentation, a £3000 tax free grant and, as your idea grows, access to investment opportunities. Information detailing how to access all this help will be provided at the be inspired session on Friday 20th November.

Finally, Enterprise Education has never been more important, as it allows us to equip future generations with the skills and mindsets, they need to navigate a world of work that may not even exist yet. Through entrepreneurship activities, learners can gain key entrepreneurial skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, risk-taking and teamwork. Entrepreneurship can offer alternative pathways for young people, improving their skills, employability and life chances, while supporting wider economic and social development.

Thus, Enterprise Education is embedded in to all our courses and as part of GEW Staffordshire Business School will be providing a week of challenging enterprise activities working with guest speakers and the be inspired Graduate Start up Programme.

Here is a list of all our free and exciting activities – to book your place use the links provided in the table below:

MONDAY 16TH NOVEMBER

10-11am Being an ethical business: “Street Kids”
Presented by Dr Andrew Taylor
(Session open to all Staffordshire University students)
11-11.45am         Official Launch of the Innovation Enterprise Zone
See details below*
(Session open to all) 
11-12pm Improving the Customer Experience
Presented by Professor David Collins
(Session open to all Staffordshire University students)  
2-3pm Why SMART goals do NOT work! –
Goal setting to achieve more in challenging times
Presented by David Hyner
(Session open to all) 

*Our Innovation Enterprise Zone is one of the only 20 awards around the UK and is embedded at the heart of our campus, IEZ offers unprecedented access to specialist advanced materials, manufacturing and digital facilities, research, student talent and funding to support and accelerate innovation-led growth.

TUESDAY 17TH NOVEMBER

11-11.45am Advanced Materials Incubator & Accelerator Centre  
See details below*
(Session open to all) 
1-5pm Staffs Got Talent! – Innovation challenge  

*Introduction to our new Incubator and Accelerator facility, what it is and how it supports start-ups and SME’s. Delivered by Kelly Bradley. Programme Manager

WEDNESDAY 18TH NOVEMBER

10-11am The Pitch Competition – virtual workshop
Presented by Angela Lawrence, Associate Dean
(Session for Staffordshire Business School students in Level 5 & 6)  
11-11.45am          Advanced Manufacturing Prototyping & Innovation Demonstrator
See details below*
(Session open to all) 
11.30-12pm Digital Entrepreneurship Research and Practice
Fang Zhao, Associate Dean
(Session open to all Staffordshire University students)

*Whether you are looking for research and development advanced manufacturing techniques or process improvement – hear how we can help you succeed! Delivered by Rachel Wood. Programme Manager

THURSDAY 19TH NOVEMBER

*An outline of the programme, benefits of knowledge exchange and how to get involved. Delivered by Marc Wootton. Programme Manager

11-11.45amDigital Innovation Partnerships         
See details below*
(Session open to all) 
2-3pm Meet the Entrepreneurs: Panel with Q&A
Jane Pallister, Jonathan Westlake, Emily Whitehead
(Session open to all) 

FRIDAY 20th NOVEMBER

11-11.45am Intelligent Mobility Innovation Accelerator  
See details below*
(Session open to all) 
2-2.45pm The Small Business Leadership Programme: Meet the team & overview
Professor Jon Fairburn
(Session open to all)   

*This webinar is an introduction into our dedicated project SCIMIA and other wide support for businesses, Delivered by: Marek Hornak – Head of Employer Partnerships and Enterprise

#GEW2020      #ProudToBeStaffs     #StaffsGotTalent       #staffsinnovation

Preparing for the New Normal – How accommodation providers in France are rethinking and adapting their services and what can we learn from this?

Paul Dobson, Senior LEcturer,Staffordshire Business School


It’s been a challenging, confusing and worrying time for most industries during this current Coronavirus Crisis. But the hospitality sector in particular stands to be one of the hardest hit as it struggles to contemplate how it can continue to trade successfully keeping social distancing in mind, coupled with a rapidly shrinking economy.  As part of Staffordshire Business School’s support to organisations I’ve been supporting the local and international hospitality sector and as the French businesses are ahead of us in coming out of lockdown I’ve noted some points to help prepare UK organisations.

After 2 months enduring some of the strictest lockdown controls in Europe, France is slowly opening up its economy and society. And the vast, hugely varied accommodation sector, which historically welcomes visitors across the world, is undergoing a rapid and radical revolution to ensure it can continue to attract customers in these unprecedented times.

The newly forced need to keep distance and natural sense of personal safety has fallen well into the hands of some of the self-catering sector. Private homes and villas, especially those that can offer generous outside space as well as little or no contact with others, have seen a huge demand since the 11th of May when the French Prime Minister officially declared that travel up to 100km was now permitted. The public, who have been largely “imprisoned” with massively limited scope to be outside their own homes since the middle of March inevitably have an overwhelming desire for a change of scenery. However, this is not a universal permission and policy, and restricted zones still exist across France, and indeed many local governments, even in the less-infected “green regions” are enforcing the continuation of heavy trading restrictions and forced closures of accommodation providers. But where these rules do not apply, the flood gates have opened and demand, all from customers within the 100km radius, has been significant. Also worthy of note is that the average length of stay has seen a dramatic increase for this time of year.

That’s not to say that this is return to normal times for these accommodation owners. French hospitality organisations have had a massive increase in questions about sanitation, personal responsibility and uniform industry standards on cleanliness and contact that the UK accommodation businesses will need to be prepared for when lockdown restrictions are relaxed. As of today, these restrictions haven’t been totally clarified in France, and only “best practice” guides from local tourism authorities exist online. Some of the leading booking platforms and websites for this sub sector are advising “safety gaps” between customers of, for example, 24 hours to allow any surfaces to become less likely to cross contaminate in the future. What is apparent from discussions with French hospitality businesses is that there is an increased desire for customers to have  “direct online contact” with the service rather than through  online booking platforms.  This could be a welcome shift in attitude as this not only allows peace of mind for the customer, but also less commissions for the business owner to pay to the booking platforms which have come under much public criticism and scrutiny of late because of their high charges. One of the French businesses I’ve talked to has had an 800% increase in Facebook messages, their analytics has shown an increase in both mobile and desktop visitors to their website and the number of emails has increased by over 200% compared to last year.

The B&B (Chambres d’hote) and Hotel sector have reported an uphill challenge. With a mix of different guests under their roofs, all with potentially varying attitudes to respecting the new government guidelines, this poses a significant threat to their short- and medium-term existence. However, those that can offer genuine space, especially outside, have a clear advantage over those that cannot. Going from one restrictive box to another isn’t likely to be a great draw for the new discerning needs of the Covid-19 era traveller.  Forced confinement has brought about a new desire to be out and about in nature, and burn off all those excessive calories consumed since March.

But with the high season fast approaching during which these businesses would traditionally run at maximum occupancy, the reality is that these organisations will be forced to not only give “buffers” in between guests checking out and the next ones checking in, but also run at a lower occupancy to ensure that interaction between different customers is minimized. Therefore “Making Hay whilst the sun shines” will this year inevitably bring about a lower yield, and reduce the vital cashflow which sustains many of these businesses during the quieter months. 

An example of changes implemented is the hotelier Tim Bell and Ingrid Boyer in the Auvergne region of Central France. Tim has developed their website to include a link to their Covid-19 guidance on their home page (see https://chabanettes.com/). This is updated on a regular basis and outlines their commitment to client’s safety.  He implements rapid alterations to its usual offerings and has created the foundations for business continuity and customer confidence.  He has also set up a Facebook forum for like minded accommodation owners in Europe seeking support and advice. Tim collates industry data, statistics and best practice ideas from all over the accommodation sector and share his opinions and advice with the group.

The sector in which he operates is having to rethink more radically about its traditional services to ensure competitivity and customer confidence. This ranges from the provision of catering which is leaning initially more towards a “Room Service” culture to a complete overhaul of the check-in/check-out customer touch points, looking to technology and globally recognised physical safety barriers to reduce risk of viral spread. For an industry which relies heavily on close, personal contact for their reputation and overall experience, keeping a balance between customer satisfaction and safety is proving challenging, but not impossible. Clients now expect a more sterile and distanced world, with supermarkets leading the way in some innovation and rethinking of the customer journey that the hotels are learning from, such as one-way corridors.

Until the world is safely vaccinated against the virus, the accommodation industry will have to adapt quickly and radically to guidelines, legislation and customer fears. History has told us that businesses that do this will have the best chance of survival, and those that don’t not only fear a downturn in business, but also a very visible online reputation for ignoring what is now the number one priority for the 2020 traveller – Safety.

Recent changes in the Google’s algorithm can affect your page ranking and sales

Paul Dobson, Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire Business School


According to a number of reports Google has implemented a substantial search engine algorithm update in January, plus a number of smaller ones in February 2020 … But what does this mean for businesses?

The Google search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals to deliver webpages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs) and we’ve seen these changes have a direct impact on the Google Analytics results and effectiveness of the customer journey to gain sales for businesses. An example of this, is the page ranking has changed to be more themed based.  However, there are ways for businesses to enable their website to be high up in the SERP. These include :-

1.  Snippets Dominate More Search Clicks

Google has changed over recent years with the aim to deliver better search results for the reader, examples include providing the answers through featured Snippets which appear above the organic results. For example, I’ve search “how to walk in snow”

For your website to take advantage of this, you need to provide clear answers to commonly asked questions in your website area of interest. These featured Snippets are evaluated and boosted to the top depending on their quality, with the results that 54.68% of clicks from Google come from featured Snippets. There are various ways to create featured snippet at the top of the page but the key ways include :-

  • Create something better than the current Answer Card / Provide updated information, and Google will prioritise this ‘Freshness’
  • Take the most frequent People Also Asked questions, listed in the Google search, and create content to match*
  • Focus on the most frequently asked types of questions: “How”, “Is” and “Why”

2. Keywords no longer work

Trying to pack key words into landing pages is no longer effective.  Google is using more natural language and wants to independently rank websites and use them as quality data sources.  Your website needs to be written as a natural language rather than trying to pack key words at the top, and consider the long key words that readers may use to find your website.  In addition, you need to consider your website as an overall themed area rather than a mixture of items or topics, for example if you’re selling car parts do not include information blogs on other areas such as toys, or if you do include other areas setup robot.txt and sitemap.xml so that Google does not to index them and get confused. 

3. Mobile User Experience (UX) affects your ranking and Sales.

On some of the websites that we use for student demonstrations of Customer Experience, (CX) User Experience (UX) and Google Analytics (for example https://aubergedechabanettes.com/ ) we can see up to 80% of the hits to the websites are from smart-mobiles in some weeks. A website that is not mobile compatible will lose customers especially as mobile access is a growing trend. How people find information using their mobile devices is also getting more advanced, so your website must be easy to read, grab people’s attention and then can answer their questions or keep them entertained.   If you own a business based at a property such as a Hotel, Restaurant, Bar and Beauty Salon, local SEO is vitally important. Studies show that 4 in 5 consumers conduct local searches on search engines using their mobile devices. Google now allows customers, at a click of a button, to navigate to you, call you or even book directly. 

4. Websites Optimize for Voice Search such and Alexa and OK Google

With the growing use of mobile devices and home devices, voice searches are becoming an increasing trend. These searches are not only done on phones, but they can also be performed on home voice assistants such as the Amazon Echo, Samsung Smart TV, Voice Pod, etc.

Questions asked via voice instead of entering search queries are going to make short choppy keywords less relevant and therefore search terms have become more conversational and targeted. This increasing use of voice searches has already had an impact of Google’s algorithms and Artificial Intelligence systems since the search engine needs to do more work to get the relevant information that the user is looking for.

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the way forward.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an important technology behind Google to deliver better search results to its users to create personalized experiences for consumers.  The AI has been learning the characteristics of what makes websites of high quality or not, then classifies these web pages and determines their rankings.  Therefore, high-quality content is essential for effective SEO strategies. Users want content that is relevant, helpful, and timely, so Google tends to place websites with consistently themed high-quality content with higher search engine rankings.

If you’d like to know more about becoming an expert in using data driven strategies to lead businesses to success including how to use data to analyse, design and test elaborate customer experience systems in the customer journey to optimise growth, plus learning to work in development environments for Fitbit, Alexa and Google home and mobile devices/smartwatches/ smart home devices as well developing using cloud computing, have a look at our MSc in Customer and Data Analytics.


Author :-

Paul Dobson is a Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire Business School in Digital and Strategic Marketing. He is actively involved in supporting local and EU charities and businesses especially hospitality businesses such as hotels and restaurants. Further details can be seen at https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulmddobson/

What makes an entrepreneur?

June Dennis, Dean of Staffordshire Business School


We’ve been celebrating Global Enterprise Week at Staffordshire Business School this week and have welcomed some fantastic guest speakers.  What’s been very evident is that there is no one reason or way to start your own business – each guest speaker has had a uniquely individual journey and experience. In some instances, they have fallen into self-employment, in others, it was a well thought through and planned decision to do so.

So what makes a successful entrepreneur?

There are so many lists out there that can offer you the top 3 or 7 or 20 traits you must have to be a successful entrepreneur.  This is my list based on what our guest speakers shared this week!

Passion & determination – if you are to succeed, you need to be passionate about your business proposition.  What’s the point of setting up a business in something you don’t like or believe in?  However, passion alone will not be enough.  It really does help if you love what you do, but you need to be prepared for setbacks.  I can promise you that things won’t go as smoothly as you hoped. There will be times when you question whether you did the right thing.  That’s when you need to be resilient and, as they say, ‘keep calm and carry on’.

Strong work ethic & self starter – when you work for yourself, it’s very easy to have a lie-in when you don’t feel like working without realising that time is your most precious commodity.  Even when you don’t feel it, you have to push yourself to make that phonecall, finish the report or knock on the door.  You need to be disciplined.  One friend, when he didn’t have any work, used to go to the cinema or meet friends for a coffee.  Another friend would purposely post leaflets around the neighbourhood to promote his business.  Can you guess which one was most successful?

…but also a good finisher – basically, you won’t get paid until you finish the job.  And, you need to finish the job in good time.  So don’t procrastinate.  Sometimes, ‘good enough’ is better than not getting the job done in time. You won’t get repeat business if you don’t deliver on time.


Creativity – you don’t necessarily have to have a new-to-the-world invention or be able to design amazing advertising campaigns, but you do need to be a good problem solver and find ways around problems that come your way.  That’s being creative! 


Keep an eye out for opportunities – Be a purposeful networker.  You don’t have to be an extravert to develop a supportive network and you never know what’s around the corner!  Nearly every contract I received resulted in further business, either from the same organisation or as a result of them passing my details on to a third party.  For example, as a result of writing Mintel reports, I was contacted by the chief executive at the time asking if I could act as an expert witness in a court case.  The timing wasn’t great and I had to juggle domestic commitments and workload but saying yes to this one phone call provided me with the opportunity to be one of a handful of special marketing experts – and it paid well!

Know your worth – friends may ask for freebies or big discounts sometimes with the promise that you’ll get lots of publicity.  If they value you, they will pay for your services or goods.  Occasionally, they may be able to offer you something in kind, such as your first review or office space.  I got a free hair cut from my hairdresser when we spent the time it took to cut my hair discussing how he could improve his pricing policy.  It was win-win and neither of us took the other person’s services for granted. As an expert witness, I realised no one queried how much I was charging, so I increased my fees by £50-£75/day for each new quote.  I never got turned down….

And finally,

Be prepared to learn – constantly!   If you weren’t successful in getting a contract – find out why.  If you made a mistake, learn from it.  Get feedback whenever you can and look at ways to develop new skills.