Three months into the pandemic, we finally have a cause for cautious optimism. The latest stats suggest that the coronavirus has started to loosen its grip.
As devastating as this crisis has been, it has also presented opportunities for reevaluating your efforts and strategies. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my clients about business and marketing self-reinvention.
Find New Angles for Your Story
Most successful brands have a signature story that explains its origins and articulates its mission. It sends a clear and powerful message about a company’s ethos, connecting customers to its vision and values.
If your brand does not have a signature story, think about the one you casually tell others. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve probably already told this story a hundred times. How would you describe your business to your friends? What inspired the idea for it? How about the steps you’ve thought of taking to scale it? Surely you’ve talked about the challenges you faced. Now try to recall your friends’ reactions. Which version of your story resonated with them the most? These intimate moments with friends or family help you discover your true values, and by extension, the core of your brand. For some reason, many entrepreneurs or their PR teams leave the soul out of their story once they begin drafting it, as though it’s no longer welcome.
Your story should present a challenge your customers might face and show how your product provides a solution. For example, the founder of the organic honey production company, Apiterra, often talks about his experience of growing up in Belarus (former USSR) with his dad (a beekeeper) and having a spoon of healthy raw honey every day. He was shocked when he came to New York and realized all the honey here is processed and lacking in nutrients. He started importing and then producing honey in the US, which now sells in the world’s largest natural food supermarket chain, Whole Foods. This brief account of the company’s origins gives you an idea of its values, its background, and its product.
Even if you drafted your story many years ago, now is a good time to take another look and ask: Is it as good as it was? Or could it use a twist? Maybe you’ve overcome another interesting challenge since then, like adjusting to confinement during the pandemic. Your clients and partners want to know how your company has weathered a crisis.
While working on your story, ask yourself these questions: What’s the biggest struggle for you as a CEO and for your company right now? Have you joined the fight against the coronavirus by donating time, resources, or money? Have you reached out to local communities? What health and safety measures have you introduced? What lessons has your company learned going forward?
Your answers to these and other questions can be woven into your brand story and used to better connect with your audience. Read David Aaker’s Creating Signature Stories: Strategic Messaging that Energizes” and Donald Miller’s “Storybook” for inspiration.
Strengthen Your Community
Now more than ever, it is vital to show both your team and your customers how much they mean to the company and how important it is to work together. Your efforts to build stronger and more resilient communities during this crisis will pay off in the future, when consumers resume their normal spending habits.
Right now, traditional communications tactics like conferences, exclusive events, and pop-up stores are out of reach. A great way to get around this problem is by organizing free webinars for your community members. For example, we recently helped Travelpayouts in collaboration with our media partner Affiliate Valley to host a webinar for travel bloggers around the world. The participants discussed how COVID-19 has affected their way of living and their business.
These free initiatives, which you can now host on Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, and professional webinar platforms, make people feel seen, heard, and supported — especially in such trying times. A human approach to your customers and partners will go a long way and help your brand in the long term.
Empower Your Team
Being there for your team is just as important as supporting your clients and external partners. Whether your employees work from home or have to show up at the office every day, you need to empower and motivate them.
Perhaps the best way to do that in these uncertain times is by being honest. As a leader, you have had to make difficult decisions in the past few weeks. More such decisions will likely follow soon. However, beating yourself up about not knowing what to do will get you nowhere.
Instead, focus on building trust in your team members. Be open about the challenges you are facing in this extraordinary situation. Make it clear that you, too, are having a hard time. The heartbreaking letter from Airbnb’s founder to the employees he had to lay off is a good example of how to communicate your values to your team. During such times, it’s crucial to let people know you care about them — those who are leaving and those who are staying — to help maintain a healthy and trusting environment.
You might want to encourage your employees to suggest ideas on how to move forward as a team. In a time when no one has all the answers, every contribution is valuable.
Spend Time on Search Engine Optimization and Email Lists
As more people and companies are going online, you want to reach as many potential clients as possible. I recently interviewed the founder of Sweetwater Labs about how his company is handling the crisis. Sweetwater opened a new location in the Oculus World Trade Center right before the lockdown. Like most public places, it too was shut down, so the company had to change its strategy quickly. Being forced to go online, he realized it was the first time in five years that he could reach a higher percentage of clients more quickly. His team enhanced their website with SEO and email lists, yielding amazing results right away.
With most normal business activity on hold, now is the perfect time to reevaluate your approach to SEO. This will have a tremendous impact on your online presence. And make sure to include earned media and reviews in your updated strategy. A growing number of consumers rely on word-of-mouth recommendations, so update your Google company page, ask partners to review your services on sites like Trustpilot. What’s more, your marketing budget might experience serious cuts in the coming months. You want to make use of free advertising as much as you can.
Embrace Personal Branding through Altruism
In a recent piece for Business Insider, Professor Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of Business says that how each of us reacts to the current crisis will define how we are remembered for generations to come. He claims that, instead of giving in to our primal instincts of egoism and panic, we should aim to remain calm, collected, disciplined, and reasonable.
That is precisely the type of leader and company you want to be right now. Rather than be seen panicking over how to achieve last year’s profit margins, reach out to the broader community. Think of ways in which you could support your employees, your customers, and their families. Extend a helping hand to first responders or small local businesses that might be struggling — the opportunities are virtually endless.
However, tread carefully. Here again, there is a fine line between doing what is right and good, and overdoing it just for the sake of your personal branding.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in modern history, it is not the first and certainly won’t be the last crisis the world is facing. The tools, strategies, and communities we build now will determine how we respond to the next global challenge. I believe now is the best time to shift focus on creating resilient businesses and robust support networks for employees, clients, and partners.