Magical Thinking About The Future Doesn’t Work

Moving forward during a pandemic

The United States and the world have been in the COVID-19 pandemic for better than half a year (or perhaps longer when you read this.) Early on, people and businesses were abruptly closed in panic. Yet as the crisis wears on, entrepreneurs and leaders realize that planning for reopening and the future is critical to survival. We are entering the recovery phase.

Because of the COVID-19, great numbers of people have become ill and died. People have lost their jobs and livelihood. Industries have cratered. People are scared. The tragedy has altered the way we view the world outside our homes. 

The road ahead of us doesn’t look like the road behind us

Consumer spending has plummeted with dollars being allocated to fundamental goods and services that could be utilized from home. Spending on travel for business or pleasure stopped. Office workers ceased commuting and began logging in to the cloud to conduct business.The oil industry suffered losses in sales on top of record low oil prices. Spending on luxury services and goods took a vacation. Consumers decided to save their stimulus checks. Financially, they pulled back. To be sure, consumers are going to retain and be more comfortable with new habits and services they have adopted during the pandemic like spending on streaming media, ebooks, and other forms of online entertainment like gaming.

Hope for the future exists

Yet, there is hope for the future as scientists research and begin the development of vaccines. Business leaders are developing new ways of doing business. Ecommerce is flourishing. The human drive towards creativity and innovation is leading us forward. Industries are refining protocols to keep employees, vendors and customers safe. However, customers depending on the sector of your industry may not be comfortable resuming life as normal. Indeed, most people cannot envision “normal” in their future.

What is different going forward?

A recent poll conducted by financial services firm Cowen reports that the majority of the 2,500 individuals surveyed said they are not comfortable returning to their normal activities. As reported in AdWeek, consumers’ confidence (on a 1-10 point scale with 1 being no confidence and 10 being highly confident) has lowered with regards to returning to restaurants and bars, gyms, and concert venues. Half the people surveyed by Cowen report they expect their lives to be disrupted for more than six months and fully 22% expect their lives to be disrupted for 12 months.

Normal has a new look.

In this type of environment, doing nothing to build trust in your business is not an option. Magical thinking will not cut it. In fact, magical thinking will doom your business. This is the time to make a plan and implement a strategy that will help you find the future and achieve your goals. This is the time for agility and innovation.

As Chris Greenslade of Assurance Through Alliance (ATA) says, “As we transition our companies and ourselves to a post-pandemic world, we appreciate that the new normal for now is uncertainty, confusion and fear. A state of sheer panic and paralysis for some, where lack of action regarding forward planning can prove to be catastrophic. This is especially prevalent where hotel or vendor contracts, for example, have not been re-negotiated, exposing the client to potential damages and cancellation penalties.” Greenslade and his associates have come together, seeking an opportunity to form a new service to guide companies and leaders in a positive direction as they look forward to planning meetings and events.

A travel industry professional with whom we spoke knows that her customers may not desire to travel for a while, yet there are those who “want to get out there.” However, until she can assure herself and clients that every level of cleanliness and the prevention of disease / transmission has been addressed by her vendors, she cannot make a plan to resume regular operations. She is assessing opportunities to shift the type of business she does. Whether she may wish to do that or not has yet to be determined, but she is facing the reality with her eyes open and researching new types of small group travel and alternative ground transportation.

A business coach is resuming her small circle meetings after meeting with her clients in the park where they candidly discussed their fears and futures. Collectively, the group determined that they would wish to continue their gatherings, albeit in a safe environment, observing all recommended protocols to limit exposure.

A yoga studio is shifting the way they book classes and organize people in the studio space. They are limiting physical contact and asking class participants to sign up online. They are articulating the new procedures in emails to their students and on their social media. They are sharing their delight at getting students back on their mats and doing everything they can in a positive manner.

Looking ahead, not back, because that’s where opportunity lies

These wise entrepreneurs are moving forward. They know they must. They are communicating with their customers. They are seeking input from colleagues. They are assessing their options. They are not waiting and twiddling their thumbs. 

Writing for HBR, Patrick Viguerie and Alex Viguerie state, “Objectives for reopening must balance multiple and competing considerations. Clear thinking here will go a long way toward helping frame sensible action choices. Decision scientists call these “saddle point” problems, which typically involve minimizing one quantity and maximizing another.”

Only you and your business partners can make decisions. And make decisions you must. Not to decide your future is to give up. So, if you’re not giving up what are you going to do moving forward? 

Make your plan

Take time to assess and evaluate your options and think creatively about your future. In days past, we would call this a SWOT analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats.) Plot these on a quadrant and then break each one down. Be honest and clear with yourself, your business partners and vendors. Discuss all the roadblocks you can see. Make plans to address each one to reach a level of comfort with your intentions. Use your emotions positively to help you track down what you choose to commit to. 

The 4Rs of reopening in a pandemic world

Critical elements to evaluate and enumerate as you move forward towards a plan include:

  • Resources: assess your financial situation to determine if you can endure at a lowered volume; your personnel; governmental restrictions and guidelines where you operate; industry guidelines and best practices as well as ways to limit negative outcomes.
  • Roadblocks: What are the nogos? Where are the limits? 
  • Resiliency: assess your ability to shift, to pivot, to begin in a new manner or a modified manner. We will see many who become hybrids after understanding the new normal. What can you do differently and still operate in your core space?
  • Reality: Consumers’ habits have and will continue to shift. More are cooking at home, working from home and perhaps even undertaking home-schooling of their children. These consumers have a different set to preferences going forward. Have you clearly examined the mindset of those whom you serve? Will your services and products meet their need/s? Create a marketing plan based on this reality as well as the other items in this list.

Tell us about your reopening plans. What are you doing differently? How are you innovating?

Featured image credit to Diego Jimenez on Unsplash

Marketing and Management Tasks During Coronavirus and Social Distancing

Due to the spread of coronavirus, we are all experiencing slow downs in our businesses.

As people pull back from social contact and work from home their thoughts also turn to their families. New business is not top of mind these days and may not be for a while. Social distancing has limited face to face meetings and creative brainstorming sessions in the office. If you’re feeling a bit uninspired and lacking drive, we get it. But, there are some critical marketing tactics you can undertake to maintain contact with your customers.

Fine-tune your business now when you have the time

 If you have extra time on your hands, what can you do now that you haven’t been doing? What can you do to enhance your marketing? There are probably tasks which you’ve put off due to lack of time in the prior hectic months. Now is the time to get that list of “round to its’ out and dust it off and get to work accomplishing a whole array of tasks that will fine tune your customer outreach and improve your top of mind awareness.

Here are a number of projects you can work on now to enhance your marketing and business management.

  1. Work on your newsletter. People have more time on their hands right now and have time to  read and respond to your newsletters. If you have not told your clients what you are doing during this time of social distancing to support your staff, your vendors, and your customers your newsletter is a good vehicle for that. Have you changed your opening hours? Cut back on offerings? Changed your menu? Be sure your customers know.
  2. Survey the content on your website. When was the last time you reviewed your content with an eye to cleaning it up? How about the last time you reviewed which content was most consumed? Take this time to weed out low-performing content and observe your higher-performing content with an eye toward comprehending how you can replicate success for a related topic. Perhaps you’ve never created the content that you’ve always wanted to create for your website. Now is the time to do the research to find out what people search for when they’re seeking to solve a problem or issue for which your product or service is the perfect solution.
  3. Hold a Facebook Live event. Or InstagramTV event or post a video story on either Facebook or Instagram. People are spending more time on Facebook and other social media. Your followers get notification when you go live on Facebook and they might like to see and hear from you and get the news of what’s going on in your company. Since casual contacts at lunch or cocktails are curtailed for now, use the means you have to contact and connect with your clients.
  4. Create the YouTube video that you’ve always meant to create. Do you have a longer issue that you want to talk through? Or the solution for your customers most important issues? Create a video that can go on YouTube on your Channel. If you don’t have a channel now is the time to consider how people search for support and assistance on YouTube related to the products and services you sell. 
  5. Review your Google analytics data. Do you know what people consume when they visit your website? Do you know what order they go through your pages? How about what is your most important landing page? If you use the tools available to you with Google analytics you will get greater insights as to what content on your website is most helpful to your customers. 
  6. Review your search console data. Every website we build is connected to Google search console. Is yours? Within this tool you can find out exactly how people visit your website via search. You can find out what queries they use, what keywords they use, and where you rank for those. Maybe you’ve never taken a look at it before but now is the time to get familiar with it and learn more about this insightful data. 
  7. Add e-commerce to your website.  Now that people aren’t going shopping as much, what can you sell or offer on your website that people need and which you can deliver digitally or shop directly to them? In some cases you can simply embed an easy to use PayPal button to sell a single product. Or you might ask us to help you implement WooCommerce.
  8. Analyze your non-essential expenditures and cut back. With revenues slowing, it might be important for you to decide what expenditures your business can cut back on. It’s important to save money now.
  9. Revise your sales projections. Hopefully every quarter you review your expected income for the next quarter. Because none of us have a magic crystal ball, we can use our insights and our past experience to predict how the current situation may affect us.
  10.  Hold regular virtual staff meetings. In the absence of information people make up thoughts. Therefore, regular communication becomes vitally important in these times. Ensure your staff is continually well-informed.There are so many tools to allow you to hold online meetings but have you actually used them? If you have relied on face-to-face meetings to this point in time, now is the time to learn how to use virtual meeting platforms. From Zoom to Google Meet to GoToMeeting to join.me there’s a platform that will work for you. Some are free and some come at minimal cost. Test them out and figure which ones work best for you.

What else have you tried to keep on top of things during the coronavirus pandemic? Share your tactics and tasks so we may  learn from each other.

 

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Leaders must speak with one voice, have coordinated, unified message

Avoid confusion with a primary spokesperson

Have you ever heard that there are two sides to every story? Or multiple ways to answer a single question? No doubt you have. There are multiple perspectives for every situation. In life this can be good. When it comes to your business’s reputation, multiple perspectives and answers can be problematic if they do not mesh.

The goal when interacting with members of the media is to avoid contradictory information delivered by multiple individuals. If several sources give differing information to a media representative and these are used in a news story or online piece, how does the public know which information is correct? This inconsistency will lead to issues with credibility and can be damaging especially if sources offer contradictory thoughts or facts about a situation. The solution to minimize information confusion is to have a single person responsible for delivering information to members of the media.

Who communicates a message or speaks for your business?

When it comes to your business, it is always preferable to have a single person act as your company’s designated spokesperson and official media contact for your company. Your dedicated spokesperson must be media savvy, understanding how to interact with journalists accurately and communicate transparently.

For a small business, the designated spokesperson might be the CEO or the Director of Marketing, or may even be an external public relations firm representative.

When you have a critical situation in which you’re communicating technical information you may also want to have a subject matter expert speak in conjunction with your designated spokesperson. Subject matter experts can often convey a highly technical information in a way that bolsters the message and helps people understand complicated topics.

For larger firms there will be a communications team whose job it is to speak with members of the media. There may even be specific individuals who are aligned with the various publics or audiences of the corporation: customers, stockholders, employees. This team is coordinated, so they all deliver the cohesive information.

Unified messaging whether in a crisis situation or in regular PR and marketing communications is mandatory. When you have several people who communicate with the media without coordination, the result can be detrimental publicity which damages your reputation.

Multiple points of view help shape credible messages

When working out what to say and how to respond, every viewpoint of the potential audiences must be comprehended. These viewpoints shape the manner, tone and content of a response. Evaluate and utilize insights from all your constituencies in order that the resulting message does not open up a minefield of other issues.

You have seen this happen when leaders deliver tone-deaf messages which cause slights or insult various members of the public. As an example there is the apology type I call “sorry, not sorry”. A classic example is United Airlines’ 2017 contrasting initial public response and employee directed response to the involuntary removal of a passenger from their plane. [Read the story on PR News Online.]

Annual communications audits and training

Annually your communications team or corporate spokesperson needs to work with the company leaders to identify key messages. They also must identify potential vulnerabilities and outline for the team how those vulnerabilities — if they become occurrences — might impact your business. After having identified potential threats, whether it’s a customer complaint which goes viral via social media, violence in the workplace or a storm which disrupts business, you can outline an initial message and points of response. Keeping these points fresh and updated allows you to respond with nimbleness to an immediate situation.

The foundation of these plans will include who will speak in each given situation and who has the responsibility of communicating on behalf of the business. As noted earlier, in some situations you may be able to benefit from having subject matter experts partnered with your designated spokesperson.

How will frontline staff interact with the media?

When members of the media visit your business locations and attempt to speak with people who are not designated to speak with the voice of the company, it’s critical that frontline staff understand how to react as well the appropriate method for providing contact information for the designated spokesperson. One of the simplest ways to do this is to have the unit manager meet the media person if they are in the store or speak with them on the phone and provide the contact information or the business card for the spokesperson.

It is the staff member’s responsibility to then communicate the journalist’s name, contact information and affiliation which they got during their interaction to the communications person or team. Doing so in this manner means that both the journalist and the spokesperson know about the contact. Most PR people will go ahead and reach out to the journalist, rather than wait on the media contact to reach out.

Training for frontline staff members needs to be a part of their orientation when they join the firm. Regular review of this topic with employees to keep everyone familiar with how they direct inquiries will ensure that when a media representative contacts your business, the person who greets them will know what to do, and do it well.

If you follow this simple outline of how to get your message coordinated, you can avoid multiple messages which may lead to confusion, or damage to your business reputation.

What if you do not have someone who capable of serving as a spokesperson?

A public relations firm such as Charleston PR & Design can provide identification of vulnerabilities, message development, spokesperson training, and can act as a spokesperson in critical situations. We can also provide training to your frontline staff around interaction with the media. Don’t wait until it’s too late, plan ahead and be certain that your messages are coordinated and represent your business with clarity and unity and that your designated spokesperson is ready, able and can respond with authority.
 

Photo Copyright: microgen / 123RF Stock Photo