Like nearly anyone offering a few words of reflection on the Coronavirus phenomenon, I’m far from an expert on the matter. I have tried for weeks to write this blog, and every two days the situation has changed so rapidly that I’ve had to essentially start over.
While I can’t offer any advice on how to assuage the public health, mental health, or economic threat this pandemic has affected, the process of learning, acknowledging, adapting and persevering that these few months have mandated from all of us is something I believe we should all take a moment to consider and to find great value in.
Like many, my first connection to Covid-19 was watching the virus take grip of China from the (physically) safe haven of Twitter, wondering along with everyone else whether what we were seeing was an authoritarian overreaction to assert political power or a global crisis exploding before our eyes.
When it burst through the border and put Italy under lockdown, I felt the emotional stress of being limited to FaceTime updates from my brother living 45 minutes from the country’s outbreak center with his wife and two kids – who as of this writing, we still understand to be healthy and safe.
When SXSW along with the City of Austin – where I live – canceled the event last minute, it felt like the most significant public acknowledgment that this crisis wasn’t just a blip on the radar or concern of only a foreign ‘other’.
Now, as we hunker down with our frozen pizzas, 1000-piece puzzles and the most organized junk drawers the world has ever seen, it’s provided the time to contextualize the moment and think about where we go from here and the lessons we should take with us.
The benefit of being proactive
While I’m bummed that SXSW was canceled, it has proven to already be the right decision. The same goes for our clients who have had to cancel or postpone their customer events at their own expense.
Some things are just bigger than the bottom line, and I applaud the companies and executives being proactive about their broader long-term role in society even when they do so to their own short-term detriment. Their foresight and compassion had a massive effect on our ability to dampen the barrage.
It’s not always about being first to market with a new gadget or service. It’s not about being a fast follower. It’s not about taking credit as a pioneer in your field. The value comes from being quick to adapt and change to new conditions, for the betterment of all.
Flash vs substance
Having worked so closely with retail technology vendors for the past four years, it’s been very clear that most of the emphasis for building a modern retail business has been on customer engagement. When engaged, shoppers are likely to take desired actions.
We think about personalized marketing, same-day shipping, on-demand merchandise and endless aisle assortments. We talk about hyper-localization within a global economy and dynamic pricing in stores. It all sounds pretty wonderful, and it is.
But engagement doesn’t come from an innovation lab alone. It comes from personal understanding and connection to shoppers. For example, personalized marketing can only be done once you build real relationships with customers and learn enough about them to know what they want, when they want it.
If you can’t deliver on a shopper’s fundamental needs, all the work you’ve done to create new conveniences and ‘engagement’ is for naught.
Relationships and values are everything
What we’ve seen in recent weeks emphasizes this point. Families are paying more attention to grandparents than ever before. Businesses are finding ways to create more flexible, human-centric employee schedules. Dogs are getting more walks and parents are spending more playtime with their kids.
In times of crisis, we gravitate towards comfort and connection. We are drawn towards truth and fulfilling our fundamental needs. We realize more clearly what matters to us and what has been a distraction. And we see that much of our time and attention is dominated by clutter.
But who we are and what we mean to others is eternal.
When considering the future of business – all other considerations of financial management, product value, and bailouts aside – I’m sure that the companies who fare best and emerge from this with momentum will be those that have always emphasized building a brand and a culture of authenticity and responsibility, and actively cultivated customer and employee loyalty above all else.
Because when everything else gets called into question, our identity, our values – and what others know of them – are all you can rely on. It’s not only in times of stress that they matter, but it’s as good a time as any to realize the depth of their impact.
A most helpful Covid-19 legal resource:
Our client, national law firm Foley & Lardner, is offering a terrific library of support for companies navigating the complex legal ramifications of business disruption. If you’d like to get in touch with them, let us know!