These are challenging times, and for most leaders this is an unprecedented experience in their careers. It’s rare that we find ourselves dealing with challenges that effect our employees as much at it affects our customers. Not to mention the adjustment to our personal lives as we adapt to social distancing and its wide-ranging social and domestic impact.
As my colleague Mat Zucker wrote in his recent article “Adjusting Your Marketing Priorities — Levers You Can Pull” “Now’s the time to find your voice, demonstrate empathy and reinforce relationships you’ve worked hard to build. This is marketing’s time.”
To lead through uncertain times, marketing leaders must demonstrate their resilience. Resilience has long been heralded as the key leadership trait when faced with adversity. For many they have learned to become resilient through their own experiences. We learn as a result of past failure, from overcoming challenges and from seizing opportunities.
A friend of mine, who is now in semi-retirement, has found himself in many conversations as he helps his business through these difficult times. Why now? Because he has been through several recessions, navigated messy mergers, launched some incredible products, and learned from his mistakes and led huge corporate transformations along the way. I don’t think he realizes it – but resilience is the very reason everyone is turning to him.
As a marketing leader, there are several key things you can do now to build and show resilience to our teams in this time of need:
You don’t need to paint a rosy picture, but you do need to communicate with your teams a sense of optimism. On a client town hall this week, I listened to various leaders talk through the financial and operational challenges of the crisis. It was the CMO who took the opportunistic approach, reminding staff of their values, the trust customers have for their brand, and how this is an opportunity for the business to learn new skills, develop new muscles and ultimately be better for it in the long run.
Some high-profile brands including J&J, IKEA and LVMH have made some sizable moves to demonstrate social responsibility. The challenges of this is the balance between continuing to operate the business through the crisis whilst supporting customers and communities in a responsible way.
The former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman who has been a long-time champion of responsible capitalism wrote this week, “Long-sighted firms who balance this demand with providing real help to other groups will see immense benefits in the months and years ahead.” He then goes on to say “These companies will be more resilient and better positioned to weather a prolonged economic storm.”
If you have not done so already you need to make sure all your customer communications show empathy for the customer from choice of channels through to messaging and tone. Most organizations quickly pulled some of their messaging, changed their tone and reoriented to show more empathy for what people are experiencing. I particularly like the pivot Nike has made through their ‘play inside’ messaging: ‘If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance.’
Remember to also show empathy to your teams. Their work life has been transformed over the past few weeks. Let them see that you are dealing with the same challenges they are. Find out how they are coping with the changes and be flexible about how and when they work.
You may well be spending 12+ hours a day in front of a screen on video calls right now. You need to show up with energy and passion, and that is hard to do if you forget to take care of your own wellness. Build in time for yourself, from walking the dog, or just taking some time away from the screen.
Keep reaching out to your team, peers and business partners. Use this time as a reason to check in. Staying aligned with your peers in product, supply and service has never been more important. Your customers’ needs and your ability to meet them will continue to change at pace. Making sure you can keep your promises and caring for your customers’ needs can only happen through close integration. If you are going to face difficulties in supply, staying connected via a smart communications strategy will help you get ahead.
Learn from mistakes
This is a time where we are going to need to shift budget, channels and communications. You’ll likely have to build new skills and try new things If your teams are not used to failure, now is a good time to learn. The rules we used to play by have changed, and you are going to make mistakes. The trick is to learn and apply them. As Henry Ford said “The only mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
Think about capabilities
You may find some of your time or the time of your teams gets a little more head room in the coming weeks. It might be a good time to think about some of the capabilities that will set you up well when we come out of the other side of this. Are there specific capabilities that you have been meaning to build out? There is a range of great online learning resources on subject like Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence, customer analytics and various components of digital marketing.
As a marketing leader this crisis will demand more from you than ever before, but by being resilient and responsible you will build a better team and consequently a healthier, more trusted brand.
Read more of Prophet’s perspectives on leading in a time of crisis.