October 22, 2021
OK, I guess we have to talk about the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus in the room. Aside from just hating this $%^&ing virus, we can also start to identify the lessons that can be taken from a business standpoint. When we talk about a company’s need to be adaptive, what better example could there be than a sudden global pandemic? And when we say adapt, we don’t simply mean pivot, but rather true foundational change. You can pivot to curbside pickup, or expand your online presence, but this global crisis will have lasting effects, and your brand should be prepared to permanently change to survive in the so-called “new normal”.
As your business recovers and grows in this pandemic, we should consider the extent to which we want to “recover” our old ways of doing business. In the early days of the pandemic carbon dioxide emissions dropped dramatically; there were dolphins in Venice, and people living in Punjab could see the Himalayas. The global recovery, however, was so focused on regaining what had been lost that this small lesson in what could be may have been missed. Take this macrocosm as a warning to your business to not be tone-deaf to the lessons learned. This is to say that
if your business model was unprepared to weather the global pandemic, then it is not a business model that should be returned to.
Understand the difference between short-term and long-term changes. After 9/11 the air travel industry was temporarily limited, but societal attitudes toward privacy, security, and surveillance were irrevocably changed. In this pandemic, robbers have been able to take advantage of facial coverings, and telecom companies have become high-value targets. Companies like Rogers, for example, will only screen for covid for the short-term, but their security procedures, and customer identification before allowing entry, are now the new normal. Don’t get caught up in waiting for the short-term changes to end, your business should be prepared for sustained changes going forward.
You’ve no doubt already handled the pragmatics of a post (or mid) pandemic world: pivot your meetings to zoom, allow remote work where possible, increase your online presence, live streaming product demonstrations, curbside pickup, plexiglass, masks, covid screening at the door, taking down phone numbers for contact tracing, and a plan for how to cope with quarantined worker.
But these are all reactionary measures. It’s time to assume this can happen again, or something worse, or something equally unexpected and unprepared for. A six-month emergency fund has gone from a “would be nice” business practice, to an absolute necessity. This fund, however, is not meant to fuel adaptation, or reactionary measures. This fund is meant to keep your business afloat while your revenue takes a hit. The funding of adaptability, on the other hand, should occur in times of prosperity if your business is to be truly malleable against any circumstance.
Experiment outside of a global crisis.
How many businesses wish they had gone online before this all started, or that they had an established curbside procedure, or a work from home policy? These considerations will be second nature now, but there is always a new adaptation on the horizon, or new innovation, and it’s best to try implementing such innovations in financially stable times. These changes need not be permanent, but you need to test your adaptability; will these changes be possible if the time comes that they are needed? Be open to creativity and team-members’ input. Take a few risks, try things that may not work, but through just the act of trying you are also preparing. Things that don’t work well in stable times, may be your only recourse in unstable times (nobody wants heightened security measures or increased isolation from their customers). If certain innovations, or pivots, aren’t going to work well when it matters, it’s better to find out before they become necessary so you won’t be caught off guard.
If your business is already implementing safety procedures, moving online, and offering curbside pickups, this means that your customers are going to be relying on your business, and watching how it reacts to a global crisis. This is an integral issue of your brand, and a chance to highlight its consistency and values, while expanding on its story.
You’re hurting, your business is hurting, but so is your customer.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s still an opportunity to build a connection. In times when people may not be able to afford a product, they still want a story. You can still capture interest with your brand. Your story, a central pillar of your brand, is now irrevocably changed by Covid. That’s because everyone’s is. If you ignore the global situation, you risk the alienation of your brand. Instead lean into the crisis that we’re all going through, and make it apart of your story going forward. Your brand will remain accessible if it goes through the hardships with your customers. You may even find your customers relate more than they did before.
The way your brand responds to Covid, or a future crisis, will be dependent on your brand’s core values. In what ways does your brand respond to a community in crisis, and people that need help? Many businesses began giving discounts to frontline workers, nurses and hospital workers could skip the queue at many grocery stores, and adds applauding the tireless work of frontline workers became almost ubiquitous. What can your business do for the community? This doesn’t have to be a financial commitment. You have your customer’s ear, so you can keep them well informed.
Reach out to your customers by making communication and transparency pinnacles of your brand.
This will include a clear and consistent plan and protocols to deal with the crisis, which will help people feel safe when dealing with your brand. Keep a sense of humour when it’s called for. You don’t want doom and gloom to attach itself to your safety and preparedness. All of these measures when implemented will rely heavily on your brand’s consistency. You don’t want to take shortcuts, or have your employees become complacent; stability in times of crisis will be what your customers are looking for in a brand they trust.
It’s also essential that you take care of yourself and your employees throughout all of this. You can’t properly help your customer if you neglect your team. Be understanding. Everyone is working hard to adapt. Can employees work remotely? Can you make allowances that make their life easier? Suggest wellness practices (and follow your own suggestions!), even it it’s just a 20 minute walk a day, or celebrating minor milestones and successes. Let’s face it, coming through this pandemic is a milestone in and of itself.
Italo Calvino wrote a short story version of “The Count of Monte Cristo”, in which Dantès’ escape from prison is not reactionary (responding to each obstacle as it presents itself), rather, he performs a thought experiment, imagining a perfect prison, impossible from which to escape. When he compares this perfect prison to the one he finds himself in, the differences between them are his pathway to escape. Now, if we could imagine the perfect business, impervious to all obstacles, wouldn’t that be nice? The message behind this parable highlights the importance of forethought and planning. A strong business will be one prepared for eventualities that never transpire. A strong brand will be one prepared to weather the storm arm in arm with its community. I think we have all been shown to be reactionary against these covid times.
Whatever the crisis next time, can we be better prepared?
- Author: Greg Brown