Last week, Keir Starmer made his first big statement as the new leader of the UK’s Labour party. He called for ministers to set out a strategy for the return of schools and getting businesses back to work after the COVID-19 lockdown.
It is something we’re all anxious about, and in many ways. However, for businesses it’s a call that’s becoming increasingly urgent. We’ve done the initial running around with sandbags to try to stem the flood. We’re pivoting, holding the fort and doing our best, but there’s only so much resource in reserve, if any. Now we want to know when we’re going to reach port so we can restock and set sail again or, for many, risk sinking.
The bad news is, we’re still not really sure how this is going to play out. Strategy or not, there are still a lot of ifs and buts and maybes that no one really has the answer to. That said, there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel. This will end and the world will begin to turn again. If we didn’t know this through philosophy and the laws of probability, we can take some guidance from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China – countries where they are beginning to tentatively lift lockdown controls.
While we contemplate the trials and tribulations of COVID-19 today, there are signs that some sort of control over the situation is beginning to prevail. As a result, we can begin to set our sights on the future. After all, therein lies our economic salvation. Now is the time to stop disappearing down a Twitter hole of worst case scenarios and fear mongering, and responsibly, creatively and dynamically, prepare for the best.
So how do we prepare for business after COVID-19?
Clearly, there’s more than one way to prepare for the future after CODID-19. Anyone who tells you they have all the answers is either supremely arrogant or possibly suffering some sort of personality disorder. However, those of us who have been around long enough to have navigated other recessions, global crises and individual business challenges, have learned lessons along the way that have their applications now.
1) Build your brand value
In today’s world, your brand value runs through everything you do, from your customer service to your social media and even to some extent the personal lives of your Directors. It’s in the terminology in your emails, and the automated messages that your company currently has in place for anyone trying to phone your office. How you and your organisation are responding to the, and the narrative that you create around moving forward, that will have a significant impact on your brand value – both good and bad.
These are the circumstances that can make or break your brand, and not just because of the financial implications, but because of the little things. It matters that EasyJet’s automated voicemail hangs up on you without giving you the option to speak to someone because they’re ‘too busy’. It matters that the person on Victorian Plumbing’s customer service team didn’t preface their email with niceties and that it was littered with spelling and grammar errors. The little things matter. That’s not a mandate to get bogged down in minutiae, but it is a reason to think about a 360 degree approach to brand value now and moving forward, to think about how you are being perceived and how you would like to be perceived.
2) Where can you win?
The world has changed. Like anyone or anything who has been through trauma, you are not the same person you were two months ago, and your business is not the same business – even if it seems like it is on the surface. Perhaps your business has been so fundamentally impacted that where it needs to pivot has been entirely obvious. But perhaps the need for seismic change is not particularly urgent or evident.
While you have a moment where no one is emailing you and not very much is happening, use it to take a step back. Look at how this situation is changing us all in the short, medium and long term, and think about where the opportunities may be for you and your organisation. Perhaps you want to employ the reverse thinking technique to change your perspective. There are, and will be, opportunities from this. So think about where your organisation can pivot, diversify, bend and flex in order to find ways to not only survive, but to grow from this experience.
3) Don’t stop marketing
Bill Gates famously said: “If I was down to my last dollar I would spend it on PR”, and it’s more than just a tagline used by PR companies to highlight their relevance.
We will talk about the value of marketing in recession more in the coming weeks, and it goes without saying that choosing where you invest time, money and resources at the moment is a sensitive topic. However, history indicates that companies that continue to invest some resource in advertising, marketing and PR during recession, rather than indiscriminately cost cutting the lot, tend to see positive results. In an article, the Harvard Business Review noted:
Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.
If anything, these moments in time force us to look at where we spend our money more carefully. They can galvanise our thinking about how we market, the messages we truly believe in, encourage us to really listen to our customers, and to think about how we are presenting ourselves to the world.
While there is no magic trick to moving forward, focusing on finding a path to better days is imperative for our health, our wellbeing and our economy. It is not a call for naivety or bullishness, but it is a call for picking ourselves up and moving forward, or being prepared to do so as soon as we can.
One of the most valuable things we can do right now is to think. Sometimes that’s best done not at the computer, but when you’re out on your daily, government permitted walk, or as you sip your coffee gazing out of the window in the morning. Perhaps have an unscheduled brainstorming session with a colleague on Microsoft Teams, or speak to someone from outside your company to get a fresh perspective. Even if you spend time making those little grey cells work while you’re pottering about in the garden, use the remaining period in lockdown to plan and get your thoughts together, so that when the time comes you can press ‘go’ and run headlong into a positive future.
Find the support you need to create a strategy for the future