My first job out of college was at an ad agency in New York called Ammirati Puris Lintas. At the time, we were the 5th largest agency in the world. I was on the new business pitch team and vividly remember the Head of Media telling us in an all-hands that we were changing the business of advertising, pivoting to help companies “build their brands.” It was 1998 and we were at the height of the dot com bubble. We had just spun up a sister company - APL Digital - to help companies start to build their first websites. This leader saw the writing on the wall - that websites were going to allow businesses to create easily-consumable personalities in a 1:1 way with consumers. But in a time when product-centric advertising was the norm, this strategic approach was unheard of. It was this visionary gamble that ultimately led to the company’s downfall and acquisition by Lowe & Partners. The world wasn’t quite ready for it. Now strategic branding is the backbone of many, many companies’ marketing efforts.
I wonder if Covid-19 isn’t ushering in a similar seismic change. I wonder how, in ten years, we’ll look back on 2020 and interpret how so many companies went out of business, and how the fabric of daily office life changed. I feel like the ground is shifting beneath us right now, and no one knows what it will look like when "things go back to normal." But here are three strategic intentions that I think can set any business on the path to resilience and growth in 2021.
Be Likeable Online.
There’s an old sales adage that says that when it comes down to it, people do business with people who they like - even when it means they are paying more or sacrificing features. In a time when Covid-19 is prompting social distancing, limited in-person interactions, and even shelter in place orders, it’s more important than ever to make sure the people and personality behind your brand shine through digitally. It’s a good time to (if you haven’t already) think hard about your core values and codify them, then make sure that your digital voice is loud and clear. If you use social media, take a quick recheck of your strategy, and make sure the voice, tone, and content aligns with these core values. Being consistent across all your touch points will build an authentic and personal brand. At the end of the day, your customers are looking for connection and they want to be comfortable doing business with you. Time to double down on that context.
Embrace Your Changing Customer.
Even if you haven’t had to completely change your delivery model to virtual or contactless, your customers have changed since Covid-19 hit. Their expectations have changed and their needs have definitely changed. Staying on top of how “the new normal” is transforming your customer’s psychographic profiles will help you tweak your offering to remain relevant. I’m not talking about huge pivots here (though many businesses have gone through those). I’m talking about really understanding what your customers are going through now - what new pain points they have and can you adjust to accommodate?
Think about how your takeout is delivered now versus in January. You place an order online or on the phone. Restaurant cooks food. Delivery person brings it to your house and gives it to you. Since Covid-19? Exact same experience, only the delivery person places the food on your door mat, rings the doorbell, and takes 5 big steps back. Those 5 steps are the difference between feeling comfortable ordering takeout or making pasta (again). It’s a tiny change, but it acknowledges that the customers’ needs have shifted.
One big caveat with this intention. I firmly believe that “the customer is always right” is wrong. “The *right* customer is always right” - now that I can get behind. You’re never going to be everything to everyone. If your business was hit particularly hard by Covid-19, then it’s easy to find your brand in an existential crisis. Be intentional about your Ideal Customer Profile and listen fervently to them. (And know that you may have to adjust that definition, particularly if your Total Addressable Market has changed.) Embrace your best customers and evolve with them. And be cognizant of the distracting noise of poor-fit prospects when considering your strategic plans.
Everyone Can Have the Corner Office on Zoom.
It doesn’t matter what it says on your business card or what department you sit in - Zoom has been the great equalizer of 2020. And as workforces are decentralized and many working from home, the old, rigid, hierarchical org chart won’t serve you well. It’s time to empower your team members to get creative. We’re in a “all hands on deck” situation as teams are running lean and change is the norm. Encourage psychological safety more than ever - haven’t we all misinterpreted an email or slack message because tone is hard to read digitally. Check in with your teammates. Be open and honest and make sure they feel they have ownership of your collective success. Foster collaboration regularly to keep employees connected to each other. It will take more work as a manager to do this, but as a manager, isn’t your most important job to empower your teammates to do their best work? If you’ve hired wisely, their personal investment and commitment will add layers of resilience to your business unit. (And did you know psychological safety is the #1 contributor to employee happiness? Bonus points - it’ll help you keep the employees you have.)
How are you thinking about positioning your business for success in an uncertain 2021? We’d love to talk to you about it. Reach out to me anytime - email@example.com.