A conversation with Clo Willaerts

She’s a digital marketing expert, published author, girl-geek, tech-optimist, keynote speaker, serial blogger and twitterer. She’s one of Belgian’s first tech influencers and, since 2 years, the program manager of Digital Business at the Karel de Grote-Hogeschool where she curates a post-graduate to help building bridges between digital marketing strategy and executable tangible results. A busy bee that still found the time to answer some of our burning questions.

Hi Clo! First of all, how are you doing in these weird Corona times?

I’m lucky to be able to work from home, and that my two adult kids live with me. So I keep busy. 

Did you see the lockdown from or did the measures surprise you?

I am an overthinker with a specialty in disaster scenarios. Yes, I’m one of those people who keep a Go Bag in their car. The measures don’t surprise me, since we have China and Italy to look at to get an idea of what’s coming here. 

Are you adapting your way of working to this situation? Are you approaching things differently?

Personally, I am very happy that working from home is now the norm. It took me a while to manage my time differently but to be honest: I am super relieved that I don’t have to waste time in traffic jams and looking for a parking space. But I can imagine that it’s very hard on parents with young kids, who constantly demand attention while the parent is trying to get some work done.

Any ideas that were already there that are/were suddenly gaining momentum?

20 years ago I switched to a career in internet because back then it was the only type of job you could do from home, while the babies were asleep. Back in 2003 I was also part of a project by Flemish minister Patricia Ceysens to promote the concept of e-working. So what kept companies from implementing it the past 15+ years? My guess it was mainly middle management, who were afraid their role in the company would become superfluous. 

What initiatives surprised you? Could you give some good examples (or bad ones) and why?

A good example is Originally made by volunteer web builders and social media experts, but eventually embraced by the government.

As for the bad examples… some companies were indeed slow to react or tone deaf to what was going on. When all this is over, people will look back and judge by your behavior in the middle of the crisis. For companies like Smartschool I wonder: is this really how you want to be remembered?

You’re the program manager of Digital Business at KDG, which focusses on digitalising of “doing business”. I guess that this confinement is a very interesting time, to say the least. What trends can you already see? Which business are making the switch to a “digital business” successfully? What industries are struggling? 

The events and hospitality industry are taking a hard hit. Most of those are small sized companies, with very little room for financial mishaps. The companies that are able to show that they care about their customers are the ones that have a better chance at surviving. Having a webshop helps, but also things like pivoting to producing hand gels or mouth masks. It’s no longer about profit, but about purpose.

Local businesses now have the support of the general population. But being able to order or book online or getting things home delivered will become a given.

Working from home will not stay the norm, but it will enable a shift from working for your boss to working in projects and in teams. 

Where do we go from here, do you think? Can we just return back to “normal”? Out of this new temporary reality what is here to stay and what should definitely go?

I don’t even want to go back to normal – especially not the traffic jams and people ordering from shady Chinese online shops instead of with local businesses.

Overnight all spaces needed to close, traditional meetings were replaced by zooms and hang-outs. Belgium (as well as the rest of the world) was forced into a digital revolution. How are we doing as a country? Are we embracing this force-fed-digitalisation?

I don’t think digitisation is being force fed. The pandemic has sped up the process of digital transformation, but I wouldn’t call it force feeding nor a revolution. Evolving towards digital platforms for many of the business processes has been inevitable for quite some years. And it’s not over yet: AI-driven applications will speed up the overall optimization of existing business processes. It’s not a matter of embracing it: you either go with the digital flow, or you are out of business or out of a job. I see a lot of people promote buying with local businesses. People who buy mouth masks with Alibaba or Amazon are scorned in facebook community groups for not buying locally. 

How will this confinement and the “lessons learned” be integrated in your program? Does this mean tabula rasa for your approach or were you on to something from the outset?

What is truly essential and what is not now has a completely different meaning. My big goal for the postgraduate Digital Business was to kill magical thinking and to teach the participants to focus on strategies and tactics that help them make more money in a sustainable way. Nobody has time now for fuzzy goals like “starting the conversation” or “go viral”.

The digitising of culture and digital art consumption is gaining momentum. Lots of museums offer digital expos and viewings. Do you think this is temporary or is this here to stay? 

Oh, I hope that it’s permanent! I absolutely love what the Flemish Masters did with their Facebook Live virtual tours. I felt like Queen Mathilde getting a VIP tour by the curator himself. Right now it was a solution to the frustration that lives with customers that had bought a ticket. I had tickets for a Nick Cave concert, too. Of course his live stream on YouTube doesn’t replace the real thing, but I appreciate the fact that he made this effort.

I am currently involved in a project to teach local artists and creatives on how to get the most out of the digital channels to reach a larger audience and to find digital revenue models for what they do. It will, obviously, use platforms like YouTube and Facebook Social Learning Groups to reach the target audience.

And finally, do you have any tips for our readers on how to pass their time?

Focus on what’s around you: groom your cat, clean out the attic, water the plants. Decide of all that stuff you’ve collected over the years what should go. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by what’s going on in the world, and focusing on the one thing I have control over (my house) calms me down. « Il faut cultiver notre jardin »

>> Stay in the loop. Follow Clo’s Twitter here!