Published: 20 April 2020
Whichever current world view you subscribe to there is one certainty that we can all bank on. Things will return to normal. Now that word ‘normal’ is getting a hard time at the moment and when competing with unprecedented, unparalleled and unimaginable its easy to see why.
While we are riding the emotional rollercoaster - confused by conspiracy theorists, shocked by global news reports, proud of our front-line workers and fearful for family and loved ones its been quite easy to take a bleak outlook and succumb to the darkness.
But let’s take a step back for a minute. I’m a firm believer in the concept that the ‘night is darkest just before dawn’ and Thomas Fuller’s words have never been truer than right now.
This strange period, whatever our circumstances may be, is an opportunity to reflect and figure out what’s next for us. Because what’s coming is normality. As a species and society, we are drawn to consistency through rules, laws and systems. Among our hierarchy of needs are health, relationships, food, exercise and work and we’ll do almost anything to restore balance. And that’s what is about to happen.
All the horrifying stats will blend into the loss and injustice that surrounds us daily. Markets will adjust to another recessionary period - the type that gave us IBM, Disney, Microsoft and Electronic Arts. Customers will go back to buying all the same stuff they have for decades plus some new things like a family zoom account and a loo roll stash. Whether we like it or not we are about to enter a period of extreme hustling. There will be no slow ramp up through 2021. Desperate times require desperate measures and every business that has felt the squeeze needs to saddle up before your breakfast gets eaten from under you.
Just last week France, our nearest cousin, started to speak of relaxing movement in mid-may and my guess is we will follow a fortnight after in early June. Judging by my inbox the business world has woken up from its slumber and realised the game is back on. No matter how your brand was performing before the pandemic, the rules of catching up, keeping up and staying ahead of the competition will apply more now than ever.
“I should’ve listened to Mark Ritson” will adorn many a page in your moleskin notebooks.
So I’ll keep my advice as succinct as possible. If you cut through all the COVID-related content and frame your challenge in pure business terms, the same two universal forces and expected imperatives emerge. Customer and Brand. Normality will resume for both but remember that normality is not static. Normal has change baked-in.
Your existing and potential customers are still there. The only shift you have to be ready for is that, in quite a ‘normal’ way, they’ve discovered, by blunt corona force trauma, that digital tools are bloody useful. Nothing new to report here except your audience has had weeks or months to test how useful you are digitally and research if their money is better spent with your competitors (global and local). The quality of comms, speed of refunds, accommodating interfaces and added value will separate the haves and have-nots.
Strong brands with their compelling propositions and useful products are still there. The only shift you have to be ready for is discovering who, in quite a ‘normal’ way, has protected their budget or better still sourced further investment to spend money communicating, marketing and advertising. Those on the front foot will gain an exponential advantage over the next 18-24 months. Nothing new here either but you cannot allow your brand to shrink through fear, watching others accelerating away while just praying that things will be different this recession. The careful ones might be rewarded this time? Spoiler alert - They won’t be.
You only need to consider five things that will get you out of this mess:
- Optimise conversion - If you truly believe you’re going to have fewer customers then get them to return more often. If you think you’ll have more then control the flow so that it suits your business priorities and make every interaction count.
- Deliver a good user experience - I bet you’ve had to queue online during lockdown right? Hopefully, you hated it? Strive to remove friction for your customers as they’ll always thank you for ease and punish others for wasting their valuable time.
- Do brand marketing - whether its as simple as making sure you’re number one in organic and paid search, creating more engaging video content or cranking up your media schedule and ad frequency - visibility is a major priority. Find a way to do it because if you spend while others save you’ll get twice the bang for your buck.
- Turn functionality on - the majority of brands buy serious website tech (DXPs) but the last few months have shown us that they aren’t leveraging them to fulfil their potential - few do e-commerce properly, most don’t switch on even the most basic personalisation, and some have still not realised the benefits of elastic load balancing via cloud services.
- Make yourself a promise - that you’ll never forget this horrific globally shared experience, and make sure your brand and business, and the ones you represent in the future, are always seizing every opportunity and are ready for the next ‘unprecedented’ challenge.
Use this opportunity to catch up, keep up or simply stay ahead. There are many ways to ‘skin a cat’ so whether it's support in building business cases, pro bono reviews to help you assess the new challenge, finding alternative ways to pay and unlock VAT or designing project plans that help your replanned trajectory talk to your trusted partners and find the best way forward. Even better talk to us… you know where I am - at home :)