Throughout the Covid19 pandemic and subsequent economic and social global crisis, few people have mentioned that within crisis lies great opportunity. It’s a truth, albeit one that is hard to see when putting out fires daily.
We are simultaneously living through one of the greatest pandemics in human history and the biggest civil rights uprising of our generation (in the U.S., at least), and that’s before the looming threat of global recession. How are businesses supposed to navigate this?
The hard truth is no matter how badly we are affected, we are going to have to weather this storm for some time – it’s a long term and most likely irreversible change felt by customers, employees and industries. Stability, recovery and success depend on adaptability. In times like this businesses should prepare to reinvent themselves, and sometimes more than once.
Here are a few ground rules to help you prepare for an uncertain future:
Communicate with transparency
Your employees may currently be concerned about their future, and rightfully so. It’s hard to work effectively with job security at an all time low. Despite not having all the answers take steps to ensure your crisis plans and its implications are communicated to your teams with maximum transparency.
As an executive you must lead your team through this period of uncertainty by communicating clearly and often, setting an example of positive behavior and projecting confidence, be it via video calls, Slack or email.
Running a fully remote agency I quickly learned that in distributed teams it’s always better to over communicate than not. This is ever more important when teams have been forced to work this way. Talk to your employees.
But what about your customers? Much like employees they will appreciate confidence, empathy and consistency. In times of crisis consistent messaging across all channels will have a positive, calming effect and provide a much needed feeling of security.
Selling your product or service during a crisis is not shameful: people are still seeking solutions to their problems and they’ll appreciate the service you’re offering and the value you bring. Do not forget about meeting your customers on their terms: physically, mentally and emotionally. And adopt a supportive rather than aggressive approach to communication and selling.
Adopt a growth mindset
As sarcastic as it may sound, now is a good time to explore alternative growth opportunities. A decrease in sales can be the wake up call your business needs to reinvent itself.
First, take a look at those long-term tasks you know can improve your business but sit at the bottom of your to-do list as they don’t bring instant revenue. I bet you’ll find items such as website revamp, new service packages, product line upgrades, or that glaring “test new marketing strategies” action which has been stuck in your Evernote since 2016.
Try thinking through two possible paths:
1) What can you offer during the crisis to keep your business afloat and maintain sales?
2) How can you prepare your business to be front and centre when activities pick back up?
The existing crisis is pushing many businesses to consider their digital transformation: from digitally native brands to global corporations, companies are tapping into tech to survive. A recent McKinsey global consumer survey revealed consumers will continue to avoid shopping in physical stores for anything but groceries. Companies with online capabilities are therefore better positioned for a quick recovery in the future.
Be there for the world
Times are tough, but we are tougher. Now is not the time to hide and wait. It’s the time to form unbreakable bonds, show kindness and compassion and be creative. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon: brands actively supporting their customers, employees and causes are already reaping the awards; take a look at the rise of Zoom or the story of Salesforce’s 30% sales increase.
Millennials and younger consumers will stand by brands that are not afraid to take a stand. Brands that are community- and cause-centric. Through the current BLM civil rights uprising thousands of brands defined their positions clearly and early and were supported by their communities: from supportive newsletters circulated by The Wing, AngelList, LinkedIn and hundreds of tech companies to Ben & Jerry’s expressing their position loud and clear. Which brings us to the next point….
Lead with empathy
In uncertain times empathy is a strong differentiator on multiple levels. The ability to put yourself in the shoes of your customers brings increased sales and loyalty. Being able to relate and empathize with your employees improves collaboration and productivity within your business.
You don’t have to be large or well-funded to take a stance and provide support. My agency’s response to the Covid19 crisis was to launch Wunderline – a free professional hotline that my team tended 2 hours a day, every day, for a month: providing advice on branding, websites, pitching and remote work to founders and young professionals (you can still register but slots are limited). It paid off in gratitude, connections, learning and even quite a few new clients (though the latter was unexpected).
Reach out to your clients. Show them you’re available. Ask how they are doing. Re-focus your marketing activities to meet your clients and community where they are and be prepared to listen, acknowledge what is going on and provide support where you can.
Many of your prospective clients are using this time to reset and address tasks they’ve been putting off. How can you adapt to their new hierarchy of needs?
Stay true to yourself
Get creative and be agile. Test new audiences, products and offerings. The actions you take today can help secure business for years to come. For example, VSCO used this time to launch a new storytelling feature that encourages human connection and shows their stance. Canlis, my favorite family-owned restaurant in Seattle, launched virtual bingo nights and released family meals with cocktail kits and free delivery.
New services or product lines will bring change to your brand; your content and messaging will have to adapt to the current moment, so use your voice to communicate change with care. Stay true to yourself as a brand and provide consistent and continuous value to your customers – in these times they need a friend to rely on. Moving forward, consider revisiting your company’s mission and purpose in order to create a plan for how to serve, communicate and activate your community.
No matter how tough it gets, don’t let it paralyze you or your business. Be active. Be seen. Offer value. And have good intentions at heart.