You should practice social distancing. Your brand should not!
Looks like ‘Social Distancing’ is the word of 2020. To stop COVID19 from spreading and causing further damage, precautionary measures are taken. Social distancing is one of them and is a must, at least for sometime. What is Social distancing? The definition on Merriam Webster is “the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.”
If you’re running a business or a company this could be a nightmare. Chances are, your operations are completely or partially shut down. In a situation like this, a pandemic on the rise and people being asked to stay at home, thinking of selling anything is challenging apart from essential products. Even online businesses are affected. Without ‘selling’ there’s no business. Right?
Yes, maybe it’s true. Partially. I would say without a brand there’s no business. Your brand is not your product or service. Your brand, quoting Marty Neumeier, is the gut feeling people (customers, employees & everyone else) have about your company, business, product or service. What people say about your features and benefits is NOT the only thing that counts. As a business or a company, how are you responding to the situation? What are you communicating to your customers especially when they are not buying your products or availing your services? How are you going to communicate? What are you doing to stay relevant? How are you treating your employees? What do you stand for?
Many businesses / companies have vision & mission statements and a set of values. Sometimes they remain only on their websites and brand manuals. Do they practice them? Well, that’s a whole different matter. You may also have these sorted and may have practised while the business was operational. What about now? Are they still relevant?
You may have shut down operations but you can still connect with your customers, maybe even build an audience. Audience? Yes, there’s a difference between a customer and an audience which I will probably address in another blog. In short, customers are those who buy your products. Audience are the ones who follow you (Simply put, you have their attention). Thanks to technology, digital and social media, it’s possible to connect, stay relevant and build your brand.
What about your employees? While you practise social distancing don’t disconnect from them. Continue to empower, encourage and support them however possible. If they are asked to work from home give them time to get comfortable. If they are being laid off please do it sensitively. Maybe work out some compensations. I know a client who’ve communicated graciously about working from home and is paying half-salary until things get better, to which the employees have responded positively. Another client has asked ALL of their 1200 employees to work from home. Imagine the level of trust. There are many ways to do this. The important thing is to do it with compassion and wisdom. Dealing with employees is a topic by itself but it is relevant for branding and brand building. Remember, your brand is a gut-feeling PEOPLE have about your business or company.
Now, back to customers. This is the time to reinvent and redefine how you do business. Find new ways to connect with your customers and continue to add value. Stay relevant. Show that you care. It could be as simple as sending regular emails with relevant content that could help them. If you have a social media platform use it to educate your audience. Your voice will matter to them than a news channel. You could start an initiative partnering with an NGO or the local hospital. Of course, keep it genuine! The tools and methods can differ depending on your industry and audience but staying connected is crucial, especially now. You are free to look at new business opportunities but when you already have loyal customers or an audience following isn’t it worth staying connected? If ‘selling’ was the only way to stay afloat, maybe it’s time to rethink. Think about this, when life returns to normalcy (at least to a certain degree) will your customers and employees return to you?
Your brand matters!