I think we can all agree that the events of the past few weeks have put many of us on a roller coaster of emotions. We are all feeling the effects of COVID-19 and while much is still unknown about the virus, most people seem to agree that life will not be the same any time soon.
With our everyday routines turned upside down the idea of your personal brand, namely your reputation, might not be at the forefront of your thoughts. But it should be. Whether you are working from home, working non-stop for the benefit of others, or unfortunately out of work due to the pandemic, now is the time to be thinking about your own brand – specifically how you communicate, present yourself, engage with others, and behave online.
When the dust settles from this current storm your customers, clients, and coworkers will remember how you are behaving right now. If you represent a brand publicly or you are a professional employed by someone else, you cannot afford to be complacent or worse, irrational, during these difficult times.
Small business owners, service providers, and hourly workers are some of the first to suffer financially from this global health – and economic – crisis; but they will not be the last. In my own career I’ve been laid-off twice. The first time during the global financial crisis in 2009. Nothing prepares you for the demoralizing news that you are suddenly out of a paycheck you are counting on to survive. The psychological effects of having a large part of your identity suddenly taken from you can be crippling. This is already happening around the world and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. Today’s top trend on Twitter is #saveworkers and it’s no surprise.
Some of my favorite brands and public figures are making critical mistakes in their communication strategies and brand management right now – and I like them less for it. To everyone representing a brand right now, big or small, be mindful of your actions and thoughtful in your words. Yes, these events will eventually blow over, but your customers and coworkers will not forget the choices you’re making right now.
The best way for anyone to build their brand right now is to protect it. How? Read on below for a few effective strategies. If you’re a business owner needing to pivot your services or a working professional suddenly in need of a new job, these steps below will help.
Check your behavior. Most of us are feeling, and possibly behaving, out of the ordinary right now. But that’s not an excuse to behave badly. People act differently when they’re stressed or scared, and while I do believe we should be accepting of each other now more than ever, that’s not a pass to behave like an 8-year-old when you’re a grown adult. Now is the time to focus on the basics when it comes to behavior management. Think before you speak, bite your tongue, maybe even ask someone you trust if you’re behaving rationally before you respond to something.
This feels like a tip I shouldn’t have to write but I have already seen too many examples in my personal life and on-line that prove we all need this reminder right now. Take a breath, take a pause, and picture yourself in the future. If you are a public figure, those insensitive tweets you’re posting will hurt your business in the long-term. This is a chance to show people who you are – what do you want to be known for?
Communication is everything. Communications is a broad category when we’re talking about marketing and branding and I typically focus on something specific when I’m giving advice, but in this case, I really mean communication in the broadest sense.
Think about your communication skills – how are you delivering information to others? If you’re a business owner, how are you connecting with your customers? This is an opportunity to go above and beyond business as usual communications to provide additional value. Or just to let people know you care. If you’re still thinking of your customers as a number instead of humans who are anxious, scared, tired just like you, then you’re making a big mistake.
Your communication skills are important in your personal relationships right now, too. You don’t have to have it all together right now. In fact, I really appreciate the people who are being honest in my business and personal relationships. It’s ok to feel uncertain, frustrated, or confused. Did you take a day off in the middle of the week to decompress? Did you find yourself crying at your computer in the middle of the day because it all felt like too much? I appreciate the vulnerability and honesty, and by being honest with each other we can build a stronger foundation of trust and open communication in the future. Not just in our personal relationships but in our business relationships and marketing as well.
Think about your communication channels. This advice is for business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals with some sort of a public brand. You need to address your communication channels holistically. I’ve seen a lot of business leaders putting out great content on one channel, such as Instagram or LinkedIn, and then ignoring the others. When your business as usual marketing strategy is multi-pronged, meaning you typically engage with your followers via multiple channels such as email, your website, and different social media channels; you are making a huge mistake right now by only showing up for people on one channel. If you’re only focused on one channel right now there are cracks in your brand’s foundation. Take some time to fix them now before the chasm is too great to overcome.
Do your due diligence when sharing information. Make sure you take a minute to think about what you’re sharing, especially if it’s a news item or related “tip.” Make sure you are doing your due diligence by reviewing the source of the information your consuming and sharing with others. Is it from an original, credible source?
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ultimate goal in any crisis situation is to manage the message and contain the damage. This means it is prudent to consume news with a critical eye. Remember in situations like these what we are told today could be revised tomorrow. For example, if there is a press release from your local government that says there is no lock down in your area today, do not take this to mean that there will not be a lock down. It’s imperative that you prepare your business, and personal life, for the worst-case scenario. I’m not writing this to stoke panic or encouraging you to go out and buy everything you need for the next year. I’m just reminding you that it is up to all of us to remain rational and well informed and make decisions that set-up our business and careers for success in the future. It’s time to move beyond the shock and denial phase of this turmoil and move on to action and preparedness for the future.
Be helpful. This feels like one I shouldn’t have to write but I’m going for it anyway. Be a good human – at home and at work. Think beyond yourself right now, whatever your situation. I’m encouraged by the number of people doing nice things for others, just because. But there is still a lot we can all do. If you’re coworking with a partner at home, why not do the dishes with those 5 minutes you have between conference calls? If you’re single and you know your friends are overwhelmed balancing work and family right now, get creative and offer some help. Can you video chat with their kids so your friend can make dinner? Can you offer to organize something a friend would normally take care of? Take a few minutes to send an encouraging text to a friend who you know is working all hours just trying to keep up.
Apply these same ideas to your business life. Are there colleagues you can help because they have less flexibility than you? Do you manage someone who seems to be struggling right now? How can you help them? If you’re an entrepreneur, what can you do to support others? A little bit goes a long way right now.
“Be helpful” might sound basic, but it’s good for our relationships. At the end of the day, that’s what brand building is all about. Now is an opportunity to show people who you really are, and who you are working on becoming. You can embrace the opportunity and put your best self out there, or you can let people decide for themselves. The choice is yours.