Mind your language when coming out!

As we are officially coming out of lockdown (too slowly for some / too quickly for others) the tendency amongst some business leaders will be, to get back to work and get back fast; with the immediate responsibility falling on the those in marketing to let the world know that they are now “open for business.”

Some leaders will have followed the 3R’s and reviewed their business plan, reforecast their finances and refocused their people on what now needs to be done in the context of their scenario and contingency planning; and how best to approach the likely shape of their sector recovery curve be it:  U- shape, V-shape, W-shape, Flat-lined or the Extended-spike for those sectors that have experienced unprecedented growth during this unprecedented time.

If the company’s communication fails to resonate and engage with their audience, the best plans and strategic decisions will fail, and the only thing that will be guaranteed is the cost. So, before you sign-off your “coming-out-activity”, use the following 4A’s to sense check your language.

  • Awareness
  • Alienation
  • Authenticity
  • Attraction

 #1 Awareness

Check the atmosphere – emotions will still be heightened by personal experiences and by the daily news feeds we’ve become accustomed to either avoiding or consuming on everything C-19: the application of the science, the war rhetoric, failure of getting PPE to the front line, irrelevant testing targets, the slow start, and of care homes falling off and under the Cobra table. Emotions will still be heightened by personal experiences, and opinions on the: spirit of care and kindness, community and pulling-together, tears and laughter, the resourcefulness and innovation of our people, and the commitment and sacrifices of our front line NHS and Care staff.

The humanitarian toll in cases and deaths, closures and restrictions, salaries and shortages has unsettled many emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Socially conscious values have come to the fore, local shops and local companies will retain their popularity and custom. Time spent forming new habits will in a large part remain – homeworking parents, homework studies, home deliveries, fewer but bigger food shops, zoom interactions, virtual conversations, virtual workouts, virtual lectures (at Cambridge Uni until June 2021), gardening, regular exercise, and the increased frequency of checking in on family, friends, and neighbours.

Self-care and mental health care will remain a priority and affect all sorts of decisions from how to get to and from work, to work life priorities.

Everyone coming out of Covid 19 will have an opinion on what should have happened and what should happen next, how some companies and organisations behaved and how companies and organisations should behave in the future.

Analyse your customers – our behaviours as people shifted during Covid 19 whether enforced or voluntary, they will  have changed, and you can be sure that customer behaviours won’t necessarily be the same coming out as they were going into Covid 19.

Take online shopping for instance, something most of the population were doing for convenience before the lockdown, they are now far more engaged with being online as a result of lockdown and it’s not just for food items and hair clippers. Opinions have been formed based on their online experiences, determined by ease of use, breadth of choice, and the ability to deliver on time and in full – without a whiff of profiteering. Companies who developed their online propositions whilst in lockdown are unlikely to fully return to their previous model. Others will need to follow changes in their customers behaviours to maintain their custom, especially in the non-essential retail, hotel, pub, arts, and sporting sectors.

To stay relevant companies, need to reach these customers!

A McKinsey’s report on consumer sentiment in Australia during Covid 19 shows that “the economy is a concern for most Australians. Forty percent of all households are adjusting to a decline in household income, with Generation Z (born 1996–2012) and Millennials (born 1980–95) the most affected and least confident of a recovery. Shoppers expect to reduce their discretionary spending across most purchase categories, except for grocery and household products. They will make more deliberate shopping choices in terms of the what when and where.”

In uncertain times of second waves, testing and vaccines the propensity to save will be greater than the propensity to spend.

To stay relevant companies, need to provide added value!

 Secure your Alliancesconsider the above analysis, emotions, and experiences in the context of the people who pre-Covid 19 “were” aligned to the delivery of your strategy – your staff, suppliers, and stakeholders and consult with them to gain / regain / retain their support through the coming-out phase and beyond, as there will be more difficult times ahead.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak has already warned that it is “very likely that the UK economy will face a significant recession this year”. Other economists suggest that the excellent government furlough scheme is simply delaying redundancies rather than saving jobs.

 #2 Avoid Alienation

We may all be in the same boat, but some are sailing first class in balcony suites and others are below deck in steerage, our differing experiences attributed to location, sector, job, finances, age, weight and ethnicity.

Some of the highest death rates have been amongst security guards and bus drivers, home schooling and zoom truancy rates vary from school to school, seasonal seaside towns are suffering more than inland towns, those aged between 18 -24 have experienced the biggest income drops, unemployment has risen by 69% to 2.1m the largest monthly rise since records began in 1971; and business modelling suggests there will be tens of thousands affected by redundancy in the arts, hospitality, retail, airlines and manufacturing.

Yet there are some encouraging stats on income retention suggesting over 70% of the population have thus far avoided financial difficulties:  51% of the UK workforce are still working on full income and 22% of the UK workforce are furloughed on 80%+ income

McKinsey UK Employment Survey April 2020 (% employed)

17%      Essential workers
14%      Non-Essential workers at normal place of work
20%      Non-Essential workers working remotely
22%      Furloughed workers
3%        Off sick or in Isolation
4%         Unemployed
20%      Includes students, long term sick, family carers, retired etc

What’s Appropriate – only you can decide what’s appropriate for your customers, sector, location, people, product and processes. But whatever you decide, please make your communication clear, unlike our Government’s recent go back to work / back to school  just don’t go there on public transport / only for early years and year 10  statements, which based on the questions still being asked was clearly at odds with many peoples circumstances.

  • Consider jewellery which could understandably be described as “probably the most non-essential, of the non-essentials”. Yet it is also THE gift of emotion and in these difficult and emotional times birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, deaths, and births have all continued and as we come out it might just be appropriate to gift jewellery as a token of thanks, appreciation and love.
  • Consider office furniture or indeed office space – will we still need as much, once out of lockdown or will we be looking to invest more in its quality to protect the mental health and well-being of our people.
  • Consider car sales – April was the lowest month for car sales on record, but showrooms were closed. Will people have got use to making fewer journeys and decide not to renew and make do. What affect will the green halo have on future car sales as all of us have enjoyed lower pollution levels. OR like the Chinese car sales post lockdown will they increase by 67% as people avoid going on public transport.
  • Consider restaurants – with continued social distancing “rules” will they be able to open let alone survive with 80% of their usual seats in storage or will those with space do what a Dutch restaurant has done and install and set green-houses for two, out on the street.

What was appropriate before Covid 19 will not necessarily be appropriate post lockdown.

#3 Authenticity

With people being more deliberate and conscious about their purchasing, how are you delivering on brand and service promises to become their first choice?

Remind yourself of your company or organisations mission otherwise known as your constant purpose (for this purpose).

Step 1: Review

  1. How did you demonstrate your constant purpose during lockdown?
  2. Was it genuine and true to your brand?
  3. How were your values reflected in your people, product, and process?
  4. How did you seek to meet the values of your customers?

The McKinsey’s report on Australian consumer sentiment during Covid 19 highlighted a desire for a true connectivity “Despite the ‘always on’ nature of popular online social platforms and digital communication technologies, we observed among our families a desire for true social connectivity, underpinned by direct human-to-human contact, and to some extent, a decoupling from our digital self.”

Step2: Refocus

What if anything, needs to be tweaked to reflect the change in your customers, staff and stakeholders’ opinions, emotions, habits, and behaviours or to attract new customers, staff, and stakeholders?

#4 Action for Attraction

Any communication should be focused on attracting existing, lapsed, and new customers to your business.

Cheaney Shoes “see the marketing function and messaging as something we have got to keep live at the moment, in terms of getting our name out there… predominantly by social media, not paid-for media. There are things we’ve done, and plan to do, but I think there is going to be a lot of back-pedalling… the brand is unlikely to be advertising in any glossy fashion magazines for a while.”

GoDaddy, (a web provider) said that 20% of micro-businesses (those with under nine employees) have set up an online presence for the first time due to Covid 19 in order to retain a market presence. In the absence of your brand during lockdown customers may have gone elsewhere so there will be an urgent need to re-engage ASAP.

By following the 4A’s to sense check your language, business leaders can learn from the sentiments, opinions and behaviours of their customers, staff, and stakeholders and take decisions about the future of the business rather than just hope for a return to a pre-Covid 19 normal.

The language you and your company adopt as we come out will be critical – chose your words wisely.

Since 2013 I have been helping ambitious SMEs with their Strategic and Leadership challenges.

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Posted in Brand Values, communication, Marketing, Purpose, Values
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