Fear and Hope

This post will not end where you think it will based on the headline. So…

These two emotions have been at play a lot during the COVID situation. Individuals were fearful at the beginning as the situation grew progressively more hopeless. The health impact and death was going to be the worst in human history. Politicians blamed for doing too much or doing not enough. The situation changed on a daily basis.

Then the economic reality and impact resulted in disaster for countless businesses. Good friends saw their revenues plummet. Restaurants and food service closed. Hospitality got hammered. Wholesalers and distributors were caught with excess inventory. Contracts were cancelled or delayed indefinitely.

The bottom was nowhere in sight.

We were fearful and hopeless.

Lots of brilliant medical people and researchers were tasked with finding a way to stop the virus while we became “socially close and physically distant.” It seemed like this was how we could do our part

But the situation was changing daily. How can we overcome such a dramatic situation – worldwide, no less!!!

We switched the words and changed our mindset. Leaders took charge and made difficult decisions. Their leadership teams hunkered down and thought deeply about what was required.

Leaders and sales reps talked to clients more than ever. No selling – just questions, listening and compassion.

Marketers did real marketing – they learned about their target market, reinforced their company’s strength and differentiation, and created tactical responses to help their customers grow.

What did we flip?

We became FEARLESS…NOT hopeful.

We became like the Stoics. It is not what happens it is how you respond. Marcus Aurelius, led the Roman Empire through a worldwide pandemic. He led from the front. He met with the smartest doctors of the day.  He was ever present in government making decisions. The disease lasted 15 years and eventually took Aurelius’ life before  the end of this event.

Fast forward to today. It is no longer about what is happening to us, it is how we will react to the pandemic situation in all its areas. The creativity, thoughtfulness, support, and commitment that people display is unbelievable.

IT developers working almost 24 x 7 to complete an update to account for the federal government payroll support program. Winnipeg company.

IT developers working 24 x 7 to ensure that decisions on financing could be made even faster and provide support to manage the credit products was accomplished. Winnipeg company.

Looking forward and not living in the past. Thinking about what needs to change now, what will go back in the future and what the combination of virtual and real human contact will look like in 3, 6, 12+ months from now. Winnipeg companies.

All of this came from an understanding of their customer needs now and going forward (one week at a time). They were all acting like marketers because they asked and listened. They assessed and discussed these new insights within their companies. And they took bold steps to change and adjust and ADAPT.

FEARLESS!

Oh yes, there is a lot of anxiety. “What if” scenarios of good, bad and ugly allowed for grounding of expectations with an eye to what was going to be necessary to restart and expand when the governments lift restrictions impacting our economic engine.

And yet, we must soldier forward.

Experts, like CMC,  can help guide businesses to adapt their business models and see their customer needs more clearly. Subject Matter Experts (SME) apply discipline and rigor to assessment and tactics.

Nobody can predict the future, so we must prepare for the options. Better yet, we can lead through the challenges and reshape important ways we conduct business.

At the end of the day it comes down to people. Understanding them is essential to getting through this. Bill Bernbach, legendary ad man said ““It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

There will be adjustments – I cannot predict them. Think deeply about what Bernbach said and apply to your situation while you increase the knowledge of your customers and employees.

And do this fearlessly.

 

 

 

I know you care…so what?!

We have been bombarded by ads and emails by companies that show they care about us during the pandemic. This is nice and I’m glad.

But, I largely don’t care now.

Aside from pulling standard shots with the same tedious voice tone and music, what are you actually doing for me? In most cases, I have never been your customer. Not sure this messaging is moving me forward in my decision path in any measurable way.

Bob Hoffman, The AD Contrarian, had this link in his weekly newsletter:

 

Same old…same old…yawn…

There are some companies that are delivering messages on brand. ACE Hardware ran this ad last year:

 

Then they started to run this ad as a result of the pandemic:

 

Do you recognize a lot of the same images? The music and voiceover is positive. The message is consistent with their brand and the position they set out in their previous ads. This is a wonderful example of what to do.

Contrast this with the companies in the earlier clip Their current messaging is quite different from their previous messaging. Here are some questions you should consider asking yourself:

  • Can you see the bind they are in? What about you? How were you positioning your company and products/services before?
  • Is it a natural extension for you to move into the new COVID ads?
  • Do you garner confidence and trust, now as in the past?
  • What were you trying to be, before you felt it necessary to have somber piano music and a “we’re here for you” message? I hope you are here for me and everyone else! Tell me something useful, please!
  • How are you messaging people now? Have you sent emails to check in?
  • Have you made phone calls just to check in?
  • Do you have something relevant to talk about?
  • DO YOU REALLY CARE?!?!?!

Notice there is no “sales” messages in the questions about your email contact program. Focus on existing customers/clients. If you are doing any prospecting you must be very careful – it is a challenge to forge a new relationship at this time. Having said that, your product or service might be very useful and needed by some customers and you should let them know.

Balance in messaging and approach, and context for the situation your new contacts are experiencing, are essential. This is not the time to make people angry at you. At this time, anger will have a loooooong memory.

This also means that you need to be playing a tactical game as well as a loooong game. There is time for thinking and preparing how you can legitimately help people or organizations as we move forward through the pandemic.

Me? I am an opTIMist.  I practice opTIMism.  We will get through this crisis with innovation and sTIMulating new ideas.

Please stay safe. Practice physical distancing. Practice thoughtful actions.

And enjoy life!

 

Losing touch…Social distancing is wrong!

I bet there are a few that cannot wait to take my head off for this title. Well, too bad. Stop being presumptuous. You thin-sliced an opinion based on what is happening around the world. You have not given pause to discern the context of this post.

This phrase “social distancing” literally means separating from everyone. Mankind is gregarious by nature (yes, even introverts, just less than extroverts) and this distancing we are asked to practice is confusingly described as social gaps between people.

Think about this. We are really being asked to practice PHYSICAL DISTANCING. At the same time we are being asked to work from home and talk to friends and family via video tools.

Confused?

Words matter. Context matters. Clarity and accuracy each day is essential. I know that the medical data is changing regularly. Good news/bad news, and everything in between. I am not going to blast our politicians – they need support and ideas not useless bashing. I pray for their guidance and proper balance between health and safety and economic safety. Although I wonder if the politicians are taking a pay cut like many other leaders and their staff are doing???

The media can hold them to account and report the facts as they become known.

At this time social closeness is more important than ever. My classes have been moved online and I miss the in-person interaction with the students. Most are relatively new to Canada – bachelors and masters degrees and terrific enthusiasm. Young professionals. Some with young families. Some by themselves. One of my students said that they were a digital kid – this new “work from home” should be right up their alley. But, after a few weeks of isolation the digital connections are wearing thin.

This situation about “working remotely is the new normal…yadda yadda yadda” reminds me of how first, conference calls, second, web-tools for video-conferencing were going to eliminate the need for in person meetings. Lasted for a short while and folks got tired of the ability to connect in person. We have moved the pendulum, up until COVID, whereby use of zoom, Teams, Skype, etc. have become adopted and learned on an infrequent basis. We all know the drill.

This chart is courtesy of my good friend Peter:

No alternative text description for this image

I am quite certain that we have all experienced this situation and the reactions of colleagues. And now with people at home trying to work, you can get dogs barking, kids screaming/laughing/crying, etc. How are we going to manage all these aspects of real life and still remain productive? The long-term impact has not been determined. Leaders need to think like the front line staff in these situations – not from their spacious home with ample distance built-in.

What if the family had a single PC, which was just fine “in the old days.” Now with Mom and Dad and the kids all needing access, scheduling just became extremely important. How do you prioritize? Well, that is up to you. Be socially respectful or you will be distanced from your family when this is over.

I am becoming more interested in how companies are working to keep their customers and staff confident that this situation can be appropriately managed. The social side is more important than ever and we should NOT be social distancing. Physical distancing is needed. Social togetherness is mandatory.

Special thanks to all the front-line healthcare and first responders and those still working to support the rest of society in food, transportation and other areas.

At this time, the Stoics offer solid advice for us all. There are always things that are outside of our control and we should not worry about them. We need to control ourselves first and always so we can better serve others – especially family and friends during this time. Courage, justice, temperance, wisdom – the four tenets of stoicism can help us through.

Let’s connect socially now, virtually, while maintaining the necessary physical distance. Soon we will be able to connect socially – in person!

Make each day better than the one before.

 

Forged in Fire

First a confession – I am mechanically declined. I can do some things but I need time and no supervisor (dear). There are other areas of business and life where I have been able to apply my talents, such as they are.

My Dad was an incredibly handy and talented person. Woodwork, fix-it projects, MacGyver work-arounds, and a phenomenal artist. That gene went to my sisters (sorry bro, missed you too). I never applied myself to try and get better at handyman activities because it wasn’t as much of an interest growing up. I still only draw stick figures or worse 🙂

Forged_in_Fire

I am fascinated by the TV show “Forged in Fire” and usually watch an episode every week. The bladesmiths are tasked with creating a specific style of knife in the first two rounds that must meet certain physical dimensions and then work through various tests of strength and cutting ability. The judges are skilled in bladesmithing or weapons so it is also a history lesson. These tests are completed in the forge of the show and one smith is sent home after each of the first two rounds. For the final test, the two competitors must make a unique blade from history and they do it in their home forge, usually with 4 or 5 days to complete. They return for three final tests and the winner is crowned.

The skill and ingenuity displayed by these smiths (men and women) is amazing. Timed rounds, with sometimes challenging ingredients to craft a unique blade with a handle that meets specs. Very impressive.

I believe we need to be like these bladesmiths now as we assess what our businesses must do post-COVID 19. Our personal and company winning game plan needs to:

  • be clear about our objectives and make a plan – what is the knife we are making? Plan (or draw) your blade and handle and build from that plan
  • be confident in our skill and knowledge and expertise – stay in our wheel-house to start
  • be adaptable if what we do now is not needed or is needed in a different way. If a blade is warped, the smith must make a decision on what to do with time constraints and material factors impacting success or failure
  • be creative – if every smith makes the same blade you will not stand out. What can you do with materials, style and personalization that can help you achieve the objectives in a unique way
  • be respectful and pay attention – the judges are the experts and they provide feedback and direction as they see fit after each round. Your customers are giving clues about what they want to achieve an opportunity or what problem they are needing resolved
  • know the advantages and disadvantages of the materials you select. Your 4P’s of marketing (product, place, price, promotion) can provide the direction you need when applied properly and with discipline
  • be proud of your work, even if you don’t win the $10K and title of Forged in Fire champion. There are exceptional pieces of work that do not win each week. The smiths are very proud of their work and in other circumstances their piece might win. You might not win every customer, and you should keep trying to get better each time out. This aspect of kaizen (small, continuous improvement) can help you in the long term

Your customers are the judge of the quality of their interaction with you at every step of the buying (forging) process. You need to sharpen your skills and get ready to do damage to the competition.

Forged_in_Fire_3

OK, that was a bit too dramatic – but this is my blog 🙂

Over my career, I continued to hone my game planning skills. I have been fortunate to lead teams and companies to success because of a good plan and terrifically skilled people that did wonderful work. Each of us can be our own bladesmith and focus where our talents are needed now and tomorrow so we can keep moving forward in this new and strange environment.

Forge ahead!

 

Keeping Your Distance

Walking Trappar in the mornings is beginning to seem like I am the only person in Winnipeg on the August long weekend. And yet, at around 7 AM, the traffic picks up.

We might see one or two other dogs being walked and everyone stays well away from each other. Trappar, being the WalMart greeter, just can’t figure out why he can’t say “hi.”

Watching news clips of the streets of New York, Chicago and LA also have that spooky feeling of emptiness.

I had to run out for medical supplies last week and I was astounded at the volume of traffic. And I was concerned. Perhaps we want to seem invincible to this virus. And if so, why aren’t more people practicing social distancing and staying at home? Is everyone who is out working at a grocery store or distribution center?

When we have contained this contagion, I want to be confident that everyone has done the right thing so that commerce can get back to normal quickly.

Alas, I am concerned this will not be true.

The more stupid things people do to congregate and not isolate, the longer the isolation is required.

I am very concerned about businesses that are operating on a thread. Smart execs were prepared for some impact. I am not sure anyone was prepared for the magnitude and breadth of this economic impact. Serious cash flow management must happen now. The best organizations are working on 90 day cash flow plans. How are you doing?

The best organizations are investing (not spending) their time on learning more about their customers and their customers’ situations. Because different industries are affected in various negative and positive ways, great companies are learning everything they can to ensure their value statement accurately reflects what their customers need. Deep thinking and understanding is the starting point. Next, compassion and assistance is required.

Put your oxygen mask on first (airplane analogy) so that you can assist where required. If you are not mentally, physically and financially healthy, how can you be of value to anyone else?

I am not scolding anyone for their actions. Life must go on; albeit in an adjusted manner. I am imploring you to think about others.

The evening news in Winnipeg tonight had a story featuring our Premier about to blow his lid. And justifiably so. The news station had lots of video of groups of people – of all ages – engaged in outdoor activities. Why? What are you not understanding about the severity of this situation?

I have moved most of my current work to video platforms and more electronic communications. And I understand the impact on networks with more remote workers. For example, if mom and dad are now both at home, and their children are also being remotely schooled, this is a substantial strain on most normal internet connections. The providers likely never modeled such heavy use in a compact period.

I wonder when it breaks. The economic consequences could be dire. This is not fear-mongering, it is simply a statement of technical fact. Systems are built to carry signal via trunk lines with high capacity, and then distribute to the end user.

I do not know the state of readiness of the multi-tenant buildings as far as signal capacity. And for those now working at home that must enter their work networks via secure access, this is also a strain on VPNs and system capacity and linking.

We will survive and we will soon be thriving again. Memories of this pandemic will be discussed in business schools and halls of government. What will we learn? What will we change? How will remote working affect the human race – we are gregarious by nature.

I sure appreciate video communications. But I prefer a hearty handshake or warm embrace.

Let’s all act responsibly and shorten our time in storage.

Just like Trappar wants to say hi to the other dogs, I cannot wait until we can “release the hounds” and visit our friends, favorite restaurants and attractions.

That will be a celebration I want to be part of. And sooner than later.

Un-LinkedIn…Good

My LinkedIn account was hacked. A phishing message was sent to all my contacts. I was able to answer some of the return messages from my contacts. I posted a message that my account was hacked and I hope that people read that before the message. I do not have confidence this is happened.

I reset my account, new password and two-step authentication. And then LinkedIn restricted my account. I went through all their processes to regain control. But, in over 12 days my submission is still being reviewed. And because I cannot get into my account, I cannot send a message to the customer service team to get some update and, ideally, resolution. Alas, I am in customer service limbo.

This post is not about my situation, it is related to your customer contact processes and how you handle situations similar to mine. I added the word “good” to the headline because this problem has forced me to revisit many things. The COVID-19 pandemic should cause you to revisit things as well.

Let’s begin by asking if you actually know who your customers are. Your current customers, classified according to their importance as specified by you – could be revenue, frequency of purchase, share of wallet, number of products, etc – must be understood. How do they use your product or service to help them get a specific job done? This goes from something that is an input component, easier to visualize; to a service or commodity, that has a feeling of satisfaction as the job to be done. Some people get a smoothie in the morning instead of a traditional breakfast for convenience or maybe it is the protein content or just the unique flavours. Do you know why your product/service is selected?

Next, what does that customer journey look like across your interactions. How easy do you make it for someone to purchase from you? How do you handle their queries? What tools do you use to “be more efficient” when you are not solving the problem? I find some chatbots are horrible for serving customers. Does everyone in your organization have a customer first mindset that allows them to do the right thing for the customer at their touchpoint? And how do you know this? As leaders, CMO or CEO or COO, how much time do you spend “managing by walking around?” This was old school, but it is still a great school. Yogi Berra said, “you can observe a lot by watching.”

Image result for yogi berra you can see a lot by observing

With the impact of COVID-19 varying widely by industry (positive and negative impacts) there cannot be a one-sized solution. Some industries are shrinking, such as restaurants. Some industries are booming, such as food distribution. On a high level, the food supply chain is being buffeted in both directions. Only until you dig deeper can you determine if the result is good or bad. Context is key. Add in variances by company and their individual financial strengths, and you can see that an industry assessment can become confusing and frustrating to create meaningful groups.

And the result of the initial analyses is that you now might have to craft a number of messages for the splintered profiles that are compounded by the pandemic.

Gee, marketing is actually more difficult than just “making it pretty” and requires the skills of a behavioural scientist, a financial mindset to understand how to ensure you are offering profitable products/services, and a strategic thinker to consider future “what ifs” and a tactical mind that can focus on activities and actions in the next 12 months.

If Marketers are allowed to develop this deep insight and track it with the right measurements (key performance indicators) then operations can receive actionable intel about customer trends, needs, desires and wants.

Your goal is to create a position for your product/service that answers the following questions (thanks Professor Ritson):

  • What do customers want?
  • What can you deliver differently or better than your competitors?
  • Are you able to sell for a profit?

So, applying these statements to my current LinkedIn experience, the answers from my perspective are:

  • A response to service questions in a reasonable time
  • I am exploring other social platforms and going to revise my website as a result of this debacle
  • It will take a lot for me to want to upgrade to a paid LinkedIn  plan

Given this current climate of unrest there lies opportunities for assessment and deep thinking. Please take the time to get yourself ready for when the good times will inevitably roll again. They will probably be different times, but they will roll.

I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

Fighting a Virus

It is not what happens to you, it is how you react to what happens to you.

This phrase describes the essence of resilience. While it is good to know steps to take, I don’t believe you can develop resilience from any single source – you have to experience something and then rise up and get back into the fray.

The collective resilience of government leaders, executives and the entire population of our planet is put to the test with the responses to the COVID-19 virus. How we handle the current evaluation of people to determine if they are carrying the virus, how these people will be treated, and how we take steps to rise from the corresponding economic carnage occurring right now, will go a long way to determining what quality of life we will be leading in the years to come.

I heara a terrific phrase on a Jeffrey Gitomer zoom call this week – “are you ‘spending’ your time now (binge watching and wasting your self-distancing time) or are you ‘investing’ your time?” When recovery begins are you going to be ready to achieve greater success (TK: success defined by your own measures)?

This is a valuable opportunity to reset your marketing efforts – in your company and for yourself. Today, I will focus on your company.

I want to apply the 4P’s of marketing with an eye to “review, refocus and recharge” your business performance. And, regardless of some that think this model is outdated, please apply the 4P’s from a customer-centric perspective. Any model can be crafted to achieve what your objective is. If your objective is to strengthen your customer relationship, there is no time like the present to achieve this:

  • Product: What do you currently sell customers currently buy from you? I am going to refer to product as including a physical product or service. How does it truly differentiate from competitors or potential substitutes? Do you really understand the value that your customers receive with your overall product? When was the last time you were able to see your product in action? This will vary and can be more difficult for a service since it is intangible. And, you can measure the strength of these interactions to determine the value. Measures include: watching for ease of use, smiles of users, frustration shown by users (this lowers your value score), and completing independent research.
  • Place (distribution): How was your distribution channel affected by the shutdown and isolation measures? Were you able to adjust and maintain a level of customer contact (I realize this varies by industry – restaurants that closed do not need fresh ingredients…who else does, perhaps soup kitchens?) Were you able to send messages of support – not sales messages? Were you able to use technology like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to hold or participate in virtual meetings? Did you use your cell phone for the phone capability? How will these adaptations now allow you to be of better service in the future? Perhaps locking in some of these changes now will have you ready for takeoff when the green light is given and life gets back to normal.
  • Price: Unless you have materials in storage that have a shelf life, you might not have to lower your prices to move the inventory. With other adjustments to your business model, are you also able to adjust your pricing? Are you able to find extra value based on your assessment of product and place that your price can be maintained, with lower costs, so that you are more profitable? Is there a situation where you might have to share the financial burden in the short-term so that you keep, or strengthen a long term relationship? This “P” is often forgotten; please keep it top of mind now.
  • Promotion: This is the “P” that gets most of the focus because it includes advertising. Marketing is not advertising. Advertising is a component of marketing. What is the message you should convey today? Some products, and stores, are essential and advertising is an important tactic to keep customers accurately informed. Ensure your message is informative and positive. And there is nothing wrong with advertising so that you are positioned “top of mind” when life returns to normal. Please be respectful.

Life does not have to end. This situation gives everyone an opportunity to take stock of their position and make some changes to be prepared in advance of any similar future situation. You can develop fantastic resilience at this time and you are going to be better tomorrow than you are today.

This post may not make it to LinkedIn. My account was hacked on Monday. Despite my best efforts to recover the account, the hackers had sent a message to all 1600+ contacts asking them to click on a voice message. I do not know if this was a phishing scam. I was able to post a message about the situation on my account before LinkedIn locked my account. I actually no longer exist in LinkedIn right now. So, my email, voice and website become more important. LinkedIn has not been able to resolve the issue for me in nearly 4 days. While it is frustrating, I can only believe the people in that company are overwhlemed and dealing with many other issues.

As the Maxwell Smart character often said on the show, “Get Smart,” “If he only used his powers for good and not evil.” Too many other scams existing now are taking advantage of vulnerable members of our society. If I EVER find these bad guys…”To The Moon!