I advise many people to think about beginning a blog to communicate their expertise and build credibility in their industry, and up until now I have not taken the step myself - So this article, written during the COVID 2020 pandemic, marks the beginning of my blog:
Business As Usual.
A phrase many organisations are desperately longing to use, but right now, feels light years away and perhaps our businesses have adapted to survive to such a degree we are redefining "usual".
At this stage, we have all accepted that we are facing inconceivable and unprecedented circumstances.
With the introduction of social distancing restrictions; temporary premises closures; limited client contact; no supply chain; transport and logistic challenges; furloughed members of the team; staff working from home; home schooling; childcare; no cash flow; low reserves; over-stretched borrowing and more, it is easy to panic and not see the wood for the trees.
The experiences and stories I have heard during this time, within many of the businesses I come into contact with, provide an interesting landscape.
In order to protect our reputations, right now surely caution should preceed action? Most of us have worked so hard over the years, to build values and ethics around our brands - what if, within one course of action, we accidentally undermine it all?
It is essential that now more than ever, we draw upon our core brand beliefs and remember what we value as a business. Ask; What foundation is our reputation built upon? How does our business help, support and improve the lives of our customers?
There have been a few brand reactions in the form of social media campaigns and TV adverts, which clearly resonate with a target audience. These are carefully and wisely crafted to say thank you, or designed to give fans a feeling of solidarity. If they get it right they offer reassurance and a welcome virtual cuddle, through these socially distant times.
Brand and Marketing teams who jump on the band wagon, eager to churn out sickly, distasteful commercials with the underlying message that their business and products are the single saviour of the COVID pandemic - maybe need to think again.
As a colleague pointed out, while I’m sure your mattresses are very comfortable, and yes we do all need our sleep during these turbulent times - an exhausted nurse working all hours or anyone who has lost a loved one, in reality, is not going to sleep any better in one of your beds.
And, what does “when doing the right thing is more important now more than ever” have to do with a coffee machine?
Allow your customers more credence - they will see straight though this kind of message and that will leave a bitter after taste.
The below compilation demonstrates how, by knee jerking to produce these kind of ads, your message gets lost in a sea of irrelevant mediocrity.
There is a marked difference between these examples and those brands who are getting it right - giving back, donating what they can or really supporting specific areas of the community - all because 1) they recognise have the means to help and 2) helping people is genuinely at the heart of their brand.
One Of Your Biggest Brand Ambassadors: Your Team
The “Furlough Culture” - absolutely needs to come with a full staff briefing, if not alongside some in-depth training.
We are seeing senior and middle management left holding the reigns (maybe with a pay cut to boot) bubbling over with resentment. Outstanding people skills employed in normal circumstances, can easily go out the window. In this COVID world, those still working and “taking all the flak” often from cluttered, makeshift, home offices - will inevitably snipe at furloughed colleagues - those considered “at home with their feet up” and on 80% of their wages”.
Then, there’s the odd team catch up via zoom etc or a keep in touch text, or trip into the socially distant office, where remarks are made about enjoying the sun and tend to remind the furlough-ee, that unlike themselves they are not so key to the company, not as valued or even somehow dead wood. The implication that, if you were key, you wouldn’t have been furloughed in the first place and if things get worse - guess who’s first inline for the chop?
Leaders who usually pride themselves on the transparency within their organisation can act with less clarity under the pressure of uncertainty, especially when they themselves don’t know what each day brings. However, lack of communication and clarity shifts the company culture towards second guessing and hidden agendas amongst the wider team.
Your company culture is synonymous with your brand; disconnected, undervalued and resentful team members will deliver a service to match. You need to ensure your team members, furloughed or working, feel equally valued and part of the brand culture. They need to understand what you are striving to achieve and what you stand for as a business, so that they can be your most prized brand ambassadors.
Keep in touch, check in and keep everyone well informed about as much as you can, ask for their suggestions and ideas, and give feedback. Directly thank and openly congratulate individuals when they come up with something that gets rolled out. Share support when working from a home environment. Talk about wish lists and future plans for training and development, encourage new business ideas. You may not be able to invest right now, but it will be reassuring for team members to know it's something that still means a lot to your business, even in testing times. Who knows, with the right encouragement and open forum, anyone of your team could come up with a revolutionary working practice or product or service because they are living in unusual times. This could strengthen your brand through Covid and beyond.
There is a lot to be learned from corporates such as British Airways who are perhaps suffering damage to their reputation after a whole so called "Betrayal" campaign has now been set up against them.
Of course we need to be checking costs, tightening our belts, looking at team structures and readdressing how we work etc but this can be done in a positive, transitional way that keeps everyone in the loop, whatever the possible "bad news". This needs to be filtered down through your organisation, and when things start to look up, as inevitably they will, share this upturn, even if it requires some further thought to previous decisions, try to be compassionate and brief your working team to be inclusive of those who feel less connected or removed from the core of the business.
It can mean you can come out stronger, maintaining your integrity and with a reputation that's intact.
Identify Your Loyal Suppliers.
Some general advice I've heard from a number of accountants - “Do not pay anyone”
And, just like that, we are instantly in a world with no staff or supplier loyalty.
Your people and your supply chain are two indispensable ambassadors for your brand - with an incredible influence on its success.
Who are the people that respond to you in a heartbeat when you put unreasonable demands on them? Who goes the full hog to give you the best customer service and takes the strain when your client puts the pressure on you? These people value your business, and respect you for paying them regularly and on time. This relationship is based on trust and even if you can’t place a new order right now, keep in touch, organise a payment schedule - they will remember you when you enabled them to pay their suppliers.
I recently attended a rather enlightening DBA zoom webinar with Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer @ PepsiCo, he was discussing how design leadership has changed in the past two months. He made a great point and said the most innovative leaders will come out of this pandemic with a sense that society as a whole, is now refocusing, and everything that we do, services we provide, products we make, technology we develop is now truly focused around human beings.
Yes there are tough decisions to be made for every business, and most organisations are not taking them lightly, but my tale of caution is to remember when we are out the other side there will be survivors.
Businesses will need good people, who we value.
“People will forget what you did, and what you said,
but people will never forget how you made them feel”
When protecting our brands, this is as relevant to our team and suppliers, as it is to our customers.