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Guiding your brand and stakeholders through times of uncertainty

We are living through unprecedented and uncertain times as we face the COVID-19 crisis. Businesses of all types and sizes are experiencing significant disruptions that force them to re-think their entire go to market strategy and approach.

We’re all in this together.

In the midst of a global “stand still,” businesses must adapt faster than ever before to keep key stakeholders engaged and supported. Meanwhile, marketing teams and budgets are feeling significant pressure to create all new communications – quickly – despite necessary reductions in budgets and headcount.

It’s a very challenging time – but it’s also a critical time (and even an opportunity!) to thoughtfully and proactively guide your brand and stakeholder relationships. Our team of CMOs has come together in this blog to provide recommendations that we hope will help you move forward with greater clarity and confidence.

And if you need a bit more help or guidance, please ask! We’ve created this “Ask a CMO” form to route your questions to someone on our team – or within our ally network of marketing experts – who will be happy to provide some free advice, and offer very flexible support. It is going to take a global village to get through the days, weeks and months ahead. We would be honored to be part of your village.


Right now, it’s not about selling.

Having great relationships with both prospects and customers is key to keeping your business going and will accelerate your upturn when we come out the other side.

Focus your efforts on how to provide value to them during this difficult time. Send and post content that is all about helping them improve their capabilities – both their company and themselves. Topics like new industry trends, techniques for improving their business, leveraging empathy in their business to improve employee engagement, how to reach out to their customers in the “New Normal”, etc. The key is don’t try to sell anything. Right now, it is all about serving.

– Steve Grady, Authentic Brand CMO

Be as helpful and as kind as possible.

This is a great time to focus on relationships and how to be as helpful and as kind as possible now. How we show up depends on what we can do for the market. 

I work with an events business that has seen a near stoppage in activity and income this week. The team is focused on what they can do to help their customers set things right after major travel and event disruptions. After that, they’ll do what they can to connect with clients and help them get their story out. We know that eventually they will start writing orders again- not least because they are so focused on the customer now.

Another client sells a software that enables business continuity. The team is pausing direct mail and outbound calls to avoid distracting their prospects, which gives them time to reframe the narrative. By developing content that places the solution in the context of the current crisis, we can demonstrate how upgrading systems now will help a firm be stronger if something like this happens again.

– Katie Walter, Authentic Brand CMO

Make three marketing buckets: continue, stop, and start.

Hyper-focus on your most important product or service offering, while de-prioritizing others. This will help shine a bright light on what to keep and cut. Identify the key people you need to get you through the downturn and out the other side. Take a balanced approach to ensure you’ve got people with broad skills and a can-do attitude, along with key players who align with your focus.

Then examine marketing and other business needs in three buckets: continue, stop and start. This will help you and your key players think through what’s needed now and in the future. You’ll want to start, if you’re not already, communicating more not less. Be transparent. Live your values out loud now more than ever. Your brand needs you.

– Tracy Steeno, Authentic Brand CMO

Exemplify your brand values. Be present, authentic, helpful, and service-oriented.

Great brands build their equity during crisis by exemplifying their brand values and treating their customers and employees as the north star. Focusing on longer-term brand building initiatives and deepening relationships with current customers by understanding and helping should be the priority.

Performance marketing will not be successful in these conditions. Businesses and consumers are understandably focused elsewhere – business continuity, employee well-being, childcare, family health and caring for sick family members. But, when we turn the corner (which we will), consumers will return and businesses will look for trusted and valued partners more than ever. Being present now, in an authentic, helpful and service-oriented way, will ensure they look to you now and in the future. 

Here’s where to focus now:

  1. Understand and empathize with your customers like never before by creating real-time listening efforts: reach out, get feedback from your customer-facing teams and pay attention to overall customer sentiment. Use your learnings to create helpful tools and communications during this difficult time.
  2. Pause short-term promotional efforts and focus on longer-term initiatives to support the brand and make your brand top-of-mind when customers are ready to re-engage. Ensure your value proposition is solid and relevant in the face of new business realities. Build the foundation for programs like demand generation and lead generation to ensure your brand is present, helpful and considered when business returns. 
  3. Dust off your internal communication methods and activate. It is important for your employees to know how you are serving your customers – what you are saying, how you are saying it, when you are saying it and where you are saying it. It is also important for your employees to hear customer feedback during uncertain times. Create feedback loops for your employees to provide their thoughts on your strategy and approach – being of service to your customers is not the role of just certain individuals and departments.

No doubt there will continue to be change, there will be uncertainty, but we will get through these challenging times. Trusted leaders who bravely lead their organizations with consistency and clarity will help get us there. 

– Kate Simek, Authentic Brand CMO

Protect people.

This crisis has instantaneously changed every business’ go to market strategy. It is imperative that key customers be contacted so that they know you will do whatever possible to help them.  Depending on the client relationship (how much of your business do they represent), the proverbial “top to top” phone call might be an extremely easy and zero cost way to maintain a positive relationship in these uneasy times.

It is also important to do the right thing for your client/customer, always.  In the early 1980’s Tylenol was the leading OTC product in the country. Unfortunately, someone tampered with the product at retail and people – Tylenol customers – died. The CEO of Johnson and Johnson, James Burke, mandated that his company’s primary reaction was “How do we protect people?” The secondary focus was “How do we save the product?” Needless to say, this strategy worked and became a textbook way to respond to a crisis.  Today, the more business owners can help “protect their customers (people),” the more positive the short term and long-term results will be. 

– Greg Pomerantz, Authentic Brand CMO

Keep telling your story, simply.

Change is inevitable and smart businesses understand this is the only constant. Trusted brands will show that they can adapt in good times and in bad. Now is not the time to stop telling your story. Now more than ever your clients and prospects need to know you are there and that you’ve got this. Assess your current content schedule and modify it to reflect our current state immediately.

In these uncertain times, it is critical to remain focused on your core business. Meet your clients where they are and help them understand how you can help them solve their business problems. Keep your message simple. Everyone has a lot on their minds and there is so much coming at them both internally and externally. This is an opportunity for your brand to shine as you provide grounded and smart solutions that they can activate quickly. 

None of us fully understands what the outcome of this pandemic will be, so don’t act like you do. Assure your customers that you are staying close to the situation through trusted and expert sources and that you will adjust your service offerings to meet their future needs once we have an understanding of our new reality.

What we do know is that innovation is inevitable during these times. Keep in mind, fear inhibits creativity and innovation, but as Mike Osterholm, U of M Director of Public Health says, “hope is not a strategy”. Use data to inform your future strategy, but don’t wait, and don’t simply hope. Watch, listen, ask questions and look at the data. We’ll get through this together and with all of these brilliant minds coming together, there is no limit to what we can achieve. The future’s so bright!

– Maureen Sullivan, Authentic Brand CMO

Identify current pain points to focus your message.

Be hyper-relevant in your message. Over the past week or so, some TV commercials (we are all watching a bit more than normal) have started to focus on calm, relief and hope. In particular, Toyota and Hy-Vee are generating positive comments on the relevancy and tone of their messages. We all know Hy-Vee has food for sale, yet they go beyond that to position themselves as “calmly understanding what we are all going through”, not pounding low prices or “we have plenty of toilet paper.” 

While most of us are not using TV advertising in our message mix, we should still be considering how we communicate to our customers. Keep in mind, at times like this, every message may be under an even more powerful social microscope. 

To get started, ask yourself, “What are the real pain points my customers are going through now, and how can I help?” You might not have the cure-all, and that’s OK, but get as close as you can.

– Jim Arnost, Authentic Brand CMO

Communicate, adjust, innovate.

Our current situation is unlike any other we’ve faced as professionals, consumers/buyers and as a people. What we know for sure, it isn’t business (or life) as usual anywhere in the world, and likely things will be different on the other side of this crisis. So what should your business do now?

First and foremost, take care of your employees and your current customers through ongoing, healthy communications. Both groups need to hear from your organization. Be supportive and positive, provide clarity on expectations and how you are managing the situation, and let them know what might be ahead. Communicate regularly and make sure the messaging is appropriate to the respective audience.

Assess the situation and adjust. From a marketing perspective, understand what needs to stop or be refined (like messaging) and what is being forced to stop (trade shows and events), then adjust.

Evaluate current efforts and understand what is appropriate and not appropriate to keep in market. Consider your target audience mindset and current pain points. Put them in the center and use common sense to determine how to act.

Efforts like trade shows and events are cancelled. They are important sources of leads for many B2B companies. Can you shift to inbound marketing efforts to generate leads and build pipeline? Is now the right time or, given your industry, do you need to pause? Your online foundation can be an important tool during this time.

Now, step back and look at the big picture. Assess what’s in place and if it’s appropriate in the short term. Is there anything more you should consider given circumstances or is this enough to get you on the other side of this crisis? Revisit this often as the marketplace is changing by the minute.

Finally, be innovative during this time. Adapt and respond to the situation. Think about things differently and look for opportunity. Many, many companies are making really fast, thoughtful changes while being extremely innovative to keep their business and brand relevant during this time. This is probably the most important thing you can do right now. Look at how your company might pivot to fit the needs and wants of your current or prospective customers given the circumstances. Take action. You will be better positioned if you take this approach and put opportunity into action.

– Karen Kleindl, Authentic Brand CMO

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Jennifer Zick

Founder and CEO at Authentic Brand
Jennifer Zick is the Founder and CEO of Authentic Brand, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy that helps great businesses attain next-level growth through Marketing Traction™.
Jennifer Zick
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