Your Boat in this Storm
Don't wait for everything to be back to normal because normal will be radically different. 4/27/2020 | Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective

As the days of “safer at home” orders stretch into weeks and months, it feels as if this nightmare we are all living through may never cease. Each day thoughtlessly blends into the next with little variation. From the incessant zoom meetings and virtual happy hours to the grim economic news, from being physically isolated from people you love to not knowing when we can get back to something even resembling normal.

We are at the precipice of an unknown future. While we pine to get back to what was “normal,” the cold, hard truth is that life as we knew it only two months ago, is over. When we do come out of this, many things will change radically with both the obvious (travel) and not-so-obvious (marketing).

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I’m not about to tell you how to market your business as we inch closer to having this pandemic in the rear-view mirror. That would require a crystal ball to look into the future, and as I’m neither a wizard nor a member of the rock band Styx, I don’t have access to such a predictive device. What I do hope to do is help the synapses of your brain begin to fire because now is the time to start thinking about what a post-COVID-19 economy will be.

I’ve found it interesting to watch marketing – both in and out of the promotional products industry – over the past 45 days as companies scramble with connecting to their target audiences without being overly salesy or tone-deaf. What I find interesting is that nearly every single one of them has the same theme: we will get through this together.

While safe, I believe that the message is fundamentally incorrect as it implies we are all in the same boat and will weather the storm the same way. The reality is a bit more complicated than that: while we are all in the same storm, we are most certainly not in the same boat. Many are scrambling for unemployment while others are fortunate enough to still receive a paycheck.  Some people have closed their businesses while others are allowed to operate as essential. Millions are working with creditors to defer mortgage and other debt payments just as others are affluent enough to maintain their current lifestyles for months, perhaps years. Too many are quarantined alone, while others are sheltered with a healthy support system. Again, we are all in different boats.

Just as we are all in different boats during this hurricane, so is your target audience. As such, they have radically differing needs today than they did two months ago. It’s also safe to assume that their needs will be different once we do find a safe shore from the current upheaval. It’s a delicate balance to strike between maintaining awareness and preference of your brand and trying to drive sales to ensure a revenue stream. As I look at how to market today, I think in terms of how history will judge those decisions as I believe companies who miss the mark will suffer significantly in the post-COVID-19 landscape. With that in mind, I find the following to create a marketing harmony that will leave a positive impression with your clients:

  • Be Authentic – Now is NOT the time to put on a brave face and pretend you are operating your business “as usual” because no one is. Share your struggles, the hard decisions you’ve had to make, and how you plan on moving forward. More than any other time, transparent authenticity will create a sense of understanding between you and your clients.
  • Be Available – There’s no shame in being open for business as our industry continues to provide incredible and valuable resources during this crisis: masks, social distancing signage, thermometers, face shields for first responders, and much more. Providing such critical products can – and should – be a source of pride for our industry.
  • Be Flexible – NOW is the time to pivot your business and/or your personal brand. There has been no more significant opportunity to redefine who you are, what you stand for, and leverage your creativity to strengthen your position once the pandemic is over. Fortune will always favor the bold, and times of crisis are no different.
  • Be a Compassionate Communicator – Hard decisions are being made in every industry, especially as it relates to people. For every person who has been laid off or furloughed, there is one who is fortunate enough to be working, but worries every day will be their last. Communicate with your team often and always do it with compassion. There are few things more frightening than the unknown.

This storm we are in is nothing short of horrifying, and we will look back on this time as one that fundamentally changed how we live our lives moving forward. Each one of us has a different boat, and some are better prepared weather the storm than others. However, that doesn’t matter now; what does matter is how we are going to guide our boats safely to shore. From a marketing perspective, being authentic, available, flexible, and communicating compassionately will go a long way to ensure that your professional boat will be something to be proud of many years from now.

Don't wait for everything to be back to normal because normal will be radically different. The best time to decide your legacy and your future is today.

Bill is president of PromoCorner, a digital marketing, media, and advertising agency, and has over 20 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, and immediate past president of the Regional Association Council (RAC) board, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, and developing branding that resonates with a target audience. He can be reached at bill@promocorner.com.


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