In the words of the Billy Ocean song, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s exactly what businesses all across Australia are doing right now as they as they dig deep to find sustainability and profitability in an environment of economic and social upheaval. These are tough times to be sure and people are finding creative ways to respond to constantly changing business conditions.
But what of the future? There will surely be a time when we can move beyond the crisis phase of COVID-19. What then?
As an avid news media consumer, I’ve been heartened to see the conversation turning ever so slightly towards the future, to discussions about planning for a post-virus environment. Front and centre in these discussions has been the issue of customer engagement and communication.
The recent weeks and months of COVID-19 have again reinforced the critical nature of communication for business at any scale, and there may be many leaders who may be regretting the lack of crisis planning in quieter times.
However, despite the current extraordinary demands on executives, their marketing communications and new business teams, there is only one time to plan for the post-virus environment, and that is NOW.
The seeds planted now – thoughtful planning, careful consideration of unique value propositions and key messaging – will be reaped in the form of profitable market positioning, brand visibility and sales when we are ‘on the other side’.
So, what should business do now to set up for growth and success? Here are our top three things…
1. Refresh your Story
The game has changed significantly. Those who were your competitors before may not be after.
There may be new players in your market who may be leaner, hungrier, more agile and telling a more compelling story than you are.
During the 2008 recession in the United States, some massive brands were born and completely disrupted the market… Groupon (2008), Uber (2009), Slack (2009), Square (2009), WhatsApp (2009), Instagram (2010).
These brands built global business on a strong consumer offer and a great story. This is a warning to us all.
The opportunity here is to rethink the way we connect with audiences – the narrative we use to engage with them and without doubt, the mechanisms we use to speak with them. And, if anyone was ever unsure as to the power of digital communication before COVID-19 they surely will not be now.
- Look closely at your competitors and examine what they’re doing and how they are engaging with their customers. Also, are their new brands on your patch?
- Critique your narrative against theirs and really asses the offer being put forward. Are you telling a strong story in comparison? Does the language and tone suit the business you want to be? Is it the story that will make a difference to your customers and cause them to act?
- Is your story being told well through your website, in your print material and verbally by your greatest advocates… your people? Do you need to sharpen the message?
2. Plan now for the Bounce Back
With no map, you’re at the mercy of the winding road. It is important to grasp opportunities but it’s critical to plan for the future you want. Even though your executive team will be excruciatingly busy dealing with the here and now, it is essential that resources are assigned to future planning.
Maintain a watch on current conditions but be really active in building for the future so that you are well positioned to bounce back when the health crisis is resolved.
- Take every and any opportunity build awareness for your brand and service offering, and profile for your people. Businesses which let their brand presence fall whilst dealing with a crisis cannot expect to maintain their market position, let alone grow it. Crises have a habit of distracting us from our well-considered plans. Communicating for growth must be at the core of strategy.
- Fight the temptation to hold off ‘until things improve’. Investments made early will deliver bottom line rewards sooner. Choose cost-efficient activities, like digital content campaigns, clever direct to consumer communication and good ‘ol publicity. These can keep your business ‘in the news’ and ‘in the black’.
3. Invest in People
If the ‘physical distancing’ rules of COVID-19 have taught us one thing, it’s that humans actually need social interaction. People still need and crave human contact (admittedly some more than others) and investing in these so-called ‘soft’ skills for your team will be important in not only the current circumstances but also beyond.
It’s not unheard of for engineering-type firms to provide coaching to their people on ‘how to give good email’. Yes, I’m serious. Being warm and engaging in writing does not come naturally to many people. A poorly worded email can do untold damage to a previously solid relationship.
Similarly, presenting to a group in person is one thing but doing it via Zoom or Webex requires a completely different set of skills and sensibilities.
If you can manage it, consider putting some key people through communication-related training such as presentation skills, media interviewing and yes ‘how to give good email’.