By Gavin Gibbon
Stephen George, CEO and founder of Surkus and co-founder of Groupon believes current downturn presents plenty of opportunities
Businesses impacted by the current coronavirus crisis are being urged to continue building brand loyalty and exploit all digital tools at their disposal, according to Stephen George, CEO and founder of Surkus, an experiential marketing platform.
George is no stranger to operating during tough times, having co-launched discounting giant Groupon around the start of the global financial collapse in 2008.
Despite the world’s economy slipping into recession as countries implement widespread restrictions on travel and movement in a desperate bid to control the spread of the deadly Covid-19, George believed there are opportunities for businesses to prosper.
He told Arabian Business: “They need to be continuing to invest, not only in acquiring customers, but engaging with them and building that brand loyalty. It’s really just a transition and now, more than ever, there are the tools to allow that to happen.
“If you think of food and beverage, there’s all the delivery platforms out there to help brands make that transition, from walk-in, dine-in customers to take-away and delivery. If you think about any of the health and beauty products, there’s Noon and there’s Amazon, those platforms exist to help them make that transition.
“There’s so many tools that can be leveraged, looking back at maybe the last crisis, back in 2008 for example, not all those existed and ones that did they weren’t that mature, or as affordable or as easy to implement as they are now.”
Surkus, which also operates in Hong Kong and in the USA, launched in the UAE in October last year and has its headquarters in Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 start-up ecosystem.
The company aims to reduce wasted ad spend by allowing consumers access to events – including live music, fitness classes, luxury dining experiences, wellness sessions and beauty treatments – through the app, in exchange for engagement tasks set forth by the business.
While offline activations have obviously taken a hit from the increased restrictions, George revealed the digital side of the business has witnessed a notable rise.
“Since launch in October, we have been growing every month, but at that fifth month mark, in one month of launching the digital product, we doubled five months of growth that we saw from the SME product,” he said.
“We just transitioned from the offline product to the digital product and, frankly, we were able to accelerate our revenue growth because digital is such a high revenue growth product for us. It hasn’t negatively affected our business, it’s definitely changed how we have to have our clients, which are direct-to-consumer brands, how they’re interacting with customers.”
Last month the UAE boosted the size of its stimulus package to $34 billion. The cabinet approved an additional support package of AED16bn ($4.4bn), bringing the total size to AED126bn ($34.3bn).
While in the US, a $2 trillion stimulus package has been approved.
George, however, said any money handed out to businesses must be spent wisely.
He said: “I think businesses are going to be able to weather the storm because of the support that they’re getting. But the ones that are not thinking about the long-term relationships are just going to burn through any financial support they can get and they’re going to burn out as a brand regardless.”
George also believes influencers can still play a key role in marketing and brand advertising, but possibly different from those we knew prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.
He added: “I really believe that influencer marketing can be a valuable way to market, if you’re leveraging authenticity, honesty, transparency, understanding what the customers want. Right now is not the time to go and flaunt any sort of waste in the world, or risk in the world. It’s to come together as a community in the world, take care of people.
“You have to have the right type of influencer, whether it’s just a normal customer and I think that’s usually the best way to go about it, is to have your actual customers or have real, authentic people promoting your brand.”