In the wake of COVID-19, there’s one essential thing businesses wanting to thrive instead of just survive need to do. It’s the same thing they had to do after 9/11, after the Great Recession, and after every world-changing event. And while this global pandemic with all of its uncertainty is unique, what’s unchanged is one simple need. Businesses that want to prosper must consider what things will be like for their ideal customers post-crisis. They have to consider the after effect.
Life on the other side
As a small business consultant and branding expert, I help entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and plan for success. What’s the number one thing I’m encouraging them to do now? Consider what all of this is going to look like on the other side. You could call it the after effect. And I don’t mean just immediate future after. I mean after after. As in years, or maybe even forever after.
Author and champion of emotional intelligence in sales David Priemer calls what happens in a crisis a “spike in humanity.” I love that. And it’s true.
If you look for it, you will almost always find that there is this spike in humanity after a crisis. A way in which we humans grow tremendously, and usually in a good direction. People’s values shift for the better in major ways. What used to be so important before the crisis might now be viewed as less important. People start to pay attention to things around them in different ways.
Think for a second about all of the ways we are finding--or making--silver linings. People are creatively innovating ways to connect from a distance. People are helping each other. People who might have just been casual acquaintances are reconnecting on a deeper level. Celebrities and performers are uplifting the world by offering free concerts from their homes. People are lending a helping hand, from 6 feet of course, to strangers.
And it goes even deeper than that. Beyond the reaching out there’s a going inward. I’ve noticed this with some of my professional speaker friends who typically travel almost non-stop. Now, they are saying how much they are enjoying being with their families. I wonder if they’ll ever want to travel again as much as they did before.
And I wonder how this will play out in other areas of work and life. Maybe once people have the freedom to return to work they’ll place stricter boundaries on their time away from home. Maybe some will continue working remotely even when they don’t absolutely have to.
New and renewed appreciation
There are other things that will change, too. Can you imagine what it will be like when we can freely hug and greet one another again? How much more you’ll appreciate that hug and physical contact? Think of being able to dine out again without restriction. We’ll appreciate every savory bite, be more patient with the wait staff, and take in the atmosphere with renewed appreciation.
This amplified sense of appreciation is likely to include people we might not have focused it on so much before. Will we ever look at those who stock the shelves of our grocery stores the same way? Or all the health care workers and those on the front line? Or the truckers who transport our goods? Or the local restaurants that are struggling to get by? Will we ever overlook the magnitude of their service again?
I doubt it.
We are forever changed in our depth of appreciation for these hard workers and so many more. And that’s a good thing.
In my experience of having lived and worked through several crises, everything will get reconsidered. I suspect many companies will rethink their workforce and perhaps keep many workers remote. Beyond workforce reconfiguration, however, operational protocols will also likely be revisited.
Take banks, for example. Prior to 9/11, many banks had all their systems in one centralized place. Often, this was the World Trade Center. Following 9/11, major banks were left vulnerable to the catastrophic loss of all of their customers' records. Do you think banks keep everything in one place now? Absolutely not. With a huge lesson learned, they now split their records up on various servers throughout the country.
The takeaway here is that everything gets reconsidered after a crisis. How people work, how they live, what’s important, what’s not. The reconsidering may even be deeper following a quarantine where so many of us have had more time to think.
A cautionary tale for businesses
When people reconsider everything, it’s bound to have an impact on business. And that impact may not always be immediate. I believe one reason we saw the economy tank in 2008 was because after 9/11, people’s values changed. Many of the people affected by 9/11 were among the wealthiest in America. Working in the World Trade Center, there was a huge emphasis on accumulating material wealth. The experience of 9/11 caused many to quickly reconsider that emphasis. What was once so important suddenly seemed much less so.
I experienced this myself. Prior to 9/11 I had built my brand as a photographer on my name. I was the label of choice for the affluent families I served. Suddenly, however, I had clients asking me to not include my name on their portraits and holiday cards. Having the prestige of Jeffrey Shaw as their photographer on their holiday card was no longer a priority for them. Thankfully they still wanted my talent, but they no longer wanted the label.
Because those with the greatest buying power cut back, how could that not have a major impact on the economy? It may have taken several years, but I believe value shifts post-9/11 contributed to the Great Recession.
Asking the important questions
There will be a huge shift in values after this pandemic, too. Will your business benefit? Or is it built on values that will no longer align with those people will shift to after the crisis? As an entrepreneur or business owner, ask yourself these important questions now: What will your ideal customers value more after this, and what will they value less? What will the after effect be? How can you align your business with what will matter most to your customers and the world post-pandemic?
If you fail to ask these questions, the after effect could be devastating to your business. But if you do ask them, you can figure out how you can get on the right side of it. And that could be the reason your business thrives for years to come.
I built my photography business in the 80’s and 90’s on being exclusive. The core message was that I wasn’t for everybody. I was only for a certain segment of society. After 9/11, being exclusive was viewed far less favorably, while being inclusive became much more important.
That didn't mean my high-end photography business suddenly was for everybody. But it did mean my lingo changed. My brand message changed. I didn’t refer to myself as being exclusive ever again. I didn’t pump up the image when people cared less about image. After 9/11 people innately understood that family comes first, so I focused more on family values. I didn’t have to say much. I just had to reposition the brand message of my business.
From surviving to thriving
For your business to survive, hopefully even thrive after this, you must consider what new perspectives the world will have. Particularly the world of your ideal customers. What will the spike in humanity be? What people will value most? What will they now find offensive? What won’t matter anymore?
Then, hold that up against your business. Consider the services you currently offer. Consider what you may not want to offer any more once this crisis abates. And consider what you may want to offer in the future. Think about the new ways you’ve discovered in this pandemic to sustain business, like shifting to virtual and remote services. Is this a better way to serve your customers? Are these methods you want to keep even post-pandemic?
Finally, consider how your brand message needs to shift. How does what you say need to change to align with your customers’ and the world’s new values? We’ve all seen what happens when companies operate on autopilot instead of reflecting and changing as the world changes. None of us wants to lose customers with ads, emails, or messaging that come across as inappropriate or tone deaf.
To thrive instead of just survive as a business, be empathetic. Be attentive to what your customers need to see, hear and feel to choose you. Be sensitive to how the world is changing overnight and how the lives of those you serve are changing. And be willing to change with them.
Are you looking for a place to talk about how things may change for your business or industry? A supportive, creative group where you can hash out ideas and be inspired? Join The Self Employed Life Community Facebook Group and be part of the conversation!