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Embrace the Panic

The world has changed. The COVID-19 virus is just one of the recent shocks to destabilise the world as we know it. COVID-19 is a human and economic tragedy. The fear is real, but if you panic you lose. You have to stay in control. Look ahead and constantly reframe your efforts, and prepare for a faster recovery than you expect.

It may seem trite to talk about opportunity, but a crisis creates an opportunity. Initial panic gives way to sense-making then a recovery strategy, and opportunities can reveal themselves. Now is the perfect time to turn towards positive action. 

"In the middle of every difficulty, lies opportunity."  — Albert Einstein

The economic downturn from this pandemic will unravel many businesses.The knee-jerk reaction is to reduce costs. And, many brands will withdraw, cancel or postpone their next milestone, or vacillate between bravado and self-imposed isolation. Any actions to reduce customer experience may yield short-term gains, but will also introduce serious long-term risks. Stay close to your customers and demonstrate purpose. It’s sink or swim time.

"You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." — Warren Buffett

History has shown us that a crisis can be a good time to invest in a brand. The resilience that a crisis endows on brands is critical to their longevity. The fact that many of the world’s top 100 brands are over 100 years old is significant in this context. Some of the most successful brand campaigns in past decades began during economically challenging times. The marketing literature is full of examples of the power of brand promotion during times of economic crisis, and capitalising on competitors’ pulling back. Many international brands, such as Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, have maintained a philosophy of not reducing marketing spend during hard times and they have continued to make progress during every one of the major economic set-backs.

What is coming out of this event, so far, is the need to create distance between ourselves and others. The requisite is that we need to ramp up our processes and procedures to ensure our organisations can run optimally on a remote or distributed basis. We must ensure that we preserve and build community throughout what could be a prolonged social and economic interruption, by having a detailed plan on how to stay connected as the crisis unfolds — work with your IT professionals, resource your employees to work remotely, and interface with your clients and vendors on how you can support their business continuity plans. Seize the opportunity to do good. Now is the time to express your brand and amplify your humanity. Take a leadership position to demonstrate your core values to the people who matter most.

During times of adversity many brands become cautious and clam up; at the very time they should be communicating more. In a quieter space your voice can be heard. Don’t quit listening either as this is a time when the market is speaking at its loudest.

Fine-tune your messaging. Be upbeat in your approach. Clients and customers alike are overwhelmed, so a positive voice is key. Reassuring authentic messages reinforce emotional connection with your brand and demonstrates empathy. The deeper and more prolonged the crisis the greater the likelihood there will be a profound shift in consumers’ attitudes and values. Your commitment must be to act in society’s best interests by putting people at your heart and nurturing shared values, culture, and identity.

As we socially distance ourselves from our customers and workforce, we should not be disconnecting. As the pandemic continues to keep our people away there will be a dramatic shift in the application of online tools. This is the time to initiate ecommerce options, social engagement, and a community activation plan, to keep your brand at the forefront and help stem potential isolation, bought about by a government mandated quarantine.

Social media is an unstoppable force, especially in times of crisis, it can help communities come-together and grow genuine excitement around your brand.

A crisis also makes room for disruption. After the 2008 crash, unicorn companies, such as Airbnb and Uber, were born. Both found ways to disrupt old business models by empowering everyday people to find new and viable revenue streams.

In a downturn you have time to address your business constraints. Innovation thrives when it has no other choice. Apply iterative design thinking to devise a course of action to design your future beyond the crisis. The advantage of a design thinking approach is that it encourages us to remove our blinkers and explore new pathways and ideas. During downturns new customer segments emerge. The ability to respond nimbly to business, societal and environmental changes, will serve you well as the economy recovers.

The coronavirus crisis is a story with an unclear ending, but just as viruses morph and adapt, so can you. Grit, resilience, adaptability, and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking are all popular buzzwords, so take this opportunity to live them, plan, and meticulously organise a crisis response. Once the authorities give the “all clear”, invite your stakeholders back to the new normal. Come back stronger than before.

These are strange days. Give your brand some credit as a viable long-term entity.