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Broadcasting executive Donald McGannon famously said that, “Leadership is an action, not a position.” As the world continues navigating uncharted territory due to COVID-19, deciphering what action to take and which path to forge has become understandably difficult. “Our path forward will soon move from the current uncomfortable extreme into a reasonable measure of comfort,” Orange Label CEO Wes Phillips says. “What we choose to learn now will better prepare us for the next inevitable extreme.” In order for brand leaders to be effective, especially during a crisis, Orange Label President Rochelle Reiter shares that it’s important to communicate openly and often, remain engaged and flexible to new ways of thinking, and behave in alignment with company values and culture. Amidst the hourly changes in circumstances, here are some examples of each to think about when creating or adapting your plan of action.

What we choose to learn now will better prepare us for the next inevitable extreme. - Wes Phillips Click To Tweet

Communicate Openly and Often – Internally and Externally 

Open and consistent communication is the best foundation for any strong business relationship. In today’s uncertain times, addressing the changing climate in a transparent, sensitive and empathetic manner helps to humanize your brand and encourage connections that are ever-important at this moment in history.

Internally 

In a recent webinar, AdWeek shared this sound advice, “Employees are your most powerful champions — give them the information they need to be great representatives of your brand.” Communicating clear expectations with team members and providing open accessibility will help them feel guided, supported and cared for.

As human beings are social by nature, Forbes states that our brains react negatively when we feel isolated or excluded due to a primal need for connection. Therefore, daily check-ins with the team not only ensure that each individual remains engaged and in alignment with your brand’s strategy at this time, but that their well-being is also cared for.

For those of us who are working remotely, video conferencing resources, such as GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts, allow for a more personalized form of connection than simply emailing or messaging. Part of being a leader is being a listener. Allowing the space for each team member to share their insights, ideas and concerns in video calls is especially important, because it can be easy for individuals to fade into the background for fear of interrupting someone else or not being heard. To enhance interactivity and collaboration in video calls, inviting each team member to speak allows everyone to contribute to the conversation.

Externally

During the first several weeks of COVID-19, consumers witnessed a bombardment of email blasts, texts and other forms of communication. In addition to an outpouring of messages, many of those that were sent out were general – focusing on the companies themselves and omitting the consumer. A better tactic is to give examples and clear action-items of how you’re helping and how this affects “business as usual,” rather than just saying you are. Here are some examples to further develop and showcase the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) consumer proposition:

-Free shipping: Communicate anticipated shipping and delivery dates, include disclaimer on changes in shipping when necessary and provide tracking, if possible.

-Curbside pick-up or delivery options: Provide clear instructions and delivery/pick-up times to help make transactions as smooth as possible.

-Promotions, discounts and offers: Consider promotions that have performed well in the past, upcoming holidays and what consumers may need at this time.

-Virtual tours: These can provide a temporary substitution for in-person demos in multiple industries, including real estate and healthcare.

-How-to-videos or virtual demonstrations: As we continue practicing social distancing, virtual demos can assist individuals in the business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) and healthcare industries.

-Cross promotion: Joining forces with different partners can help present individuals with special promotions and offers they normally would not have been exposed to.

-Education opportunities: Webinars, blogs, whitepapers and continuing medical education (CME) are each excellent opportunities to lend a helping hand to your audience and provide them with productive, valuable ways to spend their time, all while showcasing your business.

Remain Engaged and Flexible to New Ways of Thinking

Sometimes in order for brand leaders to act, they must first adapt. With today’s changing landscapes, industries across the globe are coming up with new and inventive ways to not only continue business, but to help people.

How will your unique selling proposition (USP) be affected? 

As author and marketing expert Bernadette Jiwa asked in her recent blog post, “What can you do now to keep doing what you’ve always done?” Meaning, your USP and strategy can remain the same, but your tactics may need to change for the time being. Lazy Dog, a restaurant that serves up “memorable family favorites reinterpreted with bold new flavors and served with small-town hospitality” repositioned its focus from serving food with hometown hospitality to serving food for your home. The restaurant is now offering free delivery on orders of $25+, family meals starting at $25 and a home essentials package, which includes chicken, eggs, whole milk, bread, toilet paper and more.

With 46% of US consumers concerned about not being able to get the supplies they need due to COVID-19, many companies, like Lazy Dog, are offering solutions during a trying time. Over the past month, we’ve seen grocery stores open up an hour early to let the most vulnerable individuals shop first, conferences and events shift to webinars, distilleries make hand sanitizer, gyms post online workouts, theatres release movies for at-home viewing and the list goes on. Each of these are excellent examples of embracing change, while staying true to brand values.

Should you shift your brand messaging?  

To highlight your USP and tactics amidst these changing circumstances, it’s necessary to update your brand messaging to match. “The most powerful brand leaders will review their brand messaging to ensure they are adapting to the evolving market landscape. This is especially important on social channels, because of the real-time nature of the communication,” Rochelle says. E-commerce clothing company Revolve, known for its social media marketing and trendy influencer events, adapted its marketing campaign from #RevolveAroundTheWorld to #RevolveAroundTheHouse and its website copy to include various shopping tabs that match the current marketplace, including WFH Chic and Date Night In. These simple alterations to brand messaging can show consumers that you’re in touch with what’s happening and catering to their needs at this time. Omitting such care and continuing to run campaigns that don’t meet today’s marketplace can run the risk of appearing insensitive and result in underperformance.

The most powerful brand leaders will review their brand messaging to ensure they are adapting to the evolving market landscape. - Rochelle Reiter Click To Tweet

Behave in Alignment with Company Values and Culture

With consistent updates from the media and landscapes that change hour by hour, day by day, the important thing to remember is that we have the ability to shape our future in any given circumstance. Connecting with what your consumers need in this state of emergency and being mindful of the ways you can contribute, consistent with your company values and culture, will make all the difference down the line. “Some choices may be difficult, but brands that support their customers and make sacrifices for them will be valued that much more once this crisis passes,” says Orange Label Client Success Director Michelle Torr.

Take healthcare app Headspace, for example. Known for promoting peace and mindfulness through meditation, the company’s three core values include selfless drive, courageous hearts and curious minds. Embodying these core values and its mission to “improve the health and happiness of the world,” the company launched a free series of meditation resources called “Weathering the Storm” to provide support at this time. They’re also offering healthcare professionals free access to its premium service, Headspace Plus, in order to “help those who care for us, care for themselves,” as declared on its website. Whatever your company values include, from customer commitment to trust, what can you do at this moment to bring those to light?

Continue Reporting on Performance Metrics 

While it may be tempting in this changing climate to let reporting fall to the wayside, it’s more critical than ever that marketing metrics are reported upon so that companies can see what their audiences are responding to. In the instance of Headspace’s new, complimentary release, the company will likely track website clicks from various social media platforms and email newsletters through UTM (urchin tracking module) codes to assess how the campaign is performing, who it’s reaching and which meditations were most used.

Other key performance indicators (KPIs)—including sales revenue, customer acquisition cost, customer retention rate, lead-to-customer ratio and return on investment (ROI)—can help illustrate where there are anticipated lulls in performance, and where you could be channeling your focus and marketing dollars at this time to best meet your company values. For example, if the majority of your spend tends to go toward out-of-home advertising, now would be a good time to focus more on social media, with TechCrunch reporting a 40% increase in Instagram and Facebook usage as a result of COVID-19. Depending on your industry, these metrics should be evaluated on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Maintain Your Company Culture

In addition to checking in on performance metrics and KPIs, leaders should check in with team members to ensure that they have the support they need to fulfill their goals. Boosting company morale and culture can help teams feel united, positive and productive. Participating in spirit days such as “crazy hat day” during video chats, challenging each other to stand up and walk around every couple hours, or simply leaving space for “water cooler chats” with virtual coffee hours can help the team feel connected and keep your culture alive, even when you aren’t physically near your team.

It’s normal for there to be discomfort, pushback and confusion when unfamiliar situations arise. In this instance, the entire world is working through a major moment in history together, while remaining physically apart. As humans are inherently social beings, this goes against the norm that many of us are used to, but like Bernadette Jiwa says, the tactics may change for the time being but the strategy remains the same. “While there is no sure-fire strategy to handle rapidly changing circumstances, there are principles we can use as a ‘Leadership Roadmap,’” Wes explains. Remaining engaged with your team and consumers through frequent communication, maintaining a willingness to adapt, and behaving in alignment with company values can help leaders do what they do best — lead.

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Founded in 1972

As Orange County’s longest-standing, privately held response marketing agency, we have witnessed dynamic shifts in the world of marketing. Through it all, we have ensured our clients stay at the forefront of communication and technology, driving response and value with every new endeavor.