A diamond held in tweezers - in a pandemic are your the diamond or the coal?When you put something under immense pressure you very often expose the cracks. Or, you might create a diamond.

What seems to have happened in the business community as we know it is that the pressure of enforced change has caused a concentration of business development into a much shorter time frame than would ordinarily have been the case, out of necessity of course, but as it’s gone on, some have crumbled while some have shone.

There are a handful of tremendously valuable things which have been learned from this process by those of us whose role it is to watch and understand relationships, reputations, mood and trends.

Everyone’s an expert (not)

Most people are very good at what they do, or they wouldn’t be in business or hold down their role, but we all know what trying to be a jack of all trades results in. The absence of normal tasks caused many to turn to social channels as the only way they felt they could keep their business alive and in view of other people, even if it couldn’t trade normally. That’s an entirely understandable reaction. Unfortunately, the need to do this doesn’t mean you have the skills to do it well!

We’re seeing hard won reputations being badly damaged by bosses who have furloughed staff and decided they can do the communicating themselves – or are doing it just because they can and ruining the efforts of comms staff who are still working. Sometimes it has exposed a natural performer who should have been the face of their organisation all along and will hopefully now continue to be. But in other cases leaders have succeeded only in putting shoddy tarnish on what might once have been a polished marketing operation.

It’s often simple things like making shaky, amateurish video or unfocused podcasts that turn into far too many minutes of waffle. Ill-considered social posts are another regular. Normally we’d love to illustrate this kind of thing with examples, but that would be adding insult to injury!

Data is great, but…

Numbers have become even more critical – for everything. Firms which were bounding along comfortably without having to worry too much about cash flow suddenly had to focus hard on how long reserves would last. Spending on everything needed examining minutely in a way that lots of (especially smaller) companies hadn’t really had time to do routinely. That done, those who could have started looking closely at either existing online ad spend or at starting to use those channels.

Sadly, printed publications have been hit hardest by this pandemic, with footfalls past newsagents and kiosks cut back to almost nothing and delivery problems across the board (and that’s assuming their journalists and printers could actually continue to do their jobs). To be honest, many businesses probably shouldn’t have still been relying on print ads, but there was a comfortable routine to it all and often a long history of spending in that way. Now, there’s a desperate rush to investigate per-per-click on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.

They definitely work, as long as you use great content to engage your audiences, but depending on the kind of campaign you’re running, they are not an instant magic bullet. If you’re building reputation by highlighting how you’re helping your community that won’t convert into business for the foreseeable future, but you’ll have created an image which could pay off for years to come.

A well-executed Facebook campaign can reach tens of thousands of people for less than 50 quid (can the local paper do that in a measurable way?). If you’re an e-commerce business and are remorselessly funneling people into completing online product sales with a flawless marketing/remarketing approach, you could be on to a winner. If you’re a professional services firm or specialist widget maker, don’t expect the phone to suddenly be ringing off the hook. The good news is, some of those thousands will know about you now and think about you in future, as long as you targeted your ads really well.

Also, don’t worry about your competitors’ numbers, focus on your own and growing those if that’s what desired. Remember though, it’s not all about the numbers, it’s about who you reach and with what message.

Timing is everything

This one is dead simple. Everything has been changing so fast, if you hesitated or waited, you lost. It’s no use having something valuable to say about the latest item in the news if you ponder it for a day or two, because you’re too late. In some cases news agendas were (still are…) changing by the hour, not the day.

A shopping trend or government policy announcement that would have been ripe for you to engage with in a positive way could have been overtaken or reversed by the time you’d done 15 takes of your talking head video to post on Twitter. Too often we saw the desire for ‘perfect’ being the enemy of the ‘good’.

Great ideas and contributions to the news dialogue were quickly swallowed up by everyone else doing it in a frenzy.

What’s the answer? Do your own thinking, not following. Decide what you can offer and how it will come across and then get on with it. Don’t stop to think too long. Trust your instinct and that of your advisers. If you don’t trust their instincts, get new advisers.

Not just social, sociable

We’ve seen people who should know better pumping out hours of their thoughts on video, as if everyone they reach would be hanging off their every word. It was a waste of time and potentially damaging to their reputations because they looked like they didn’t ‘get it’.

If you’re going to do that, give something valuable – and do it quickly. We might have been stuck at home, but most of u still didn’t have time to chuck away on people pontificating.

Much better was to use that time to engage. Say your succinct piece and then back it up by having conversations. Give people who are listening the chance to pick your brains and go deeper with you or ask their specific questions. It’s amazing how quickly that can turn a stranger in to a customer.

The big takeaway?

Good, genuine and genuinely helpful businesses and the people who run them have risen to the surface. The talkers, twiddlers and unfocused managers have been outed. The forward-thinkers, innovators, do-ers and brave leaders have the world at their feet.

The new rhythm is starting to emerge. A positive direction of travel has begun for those with the vision to look over the horizon. We’ve all been a bit scared – now is the time to be excited and re-energised.

Move on or move out. It’s a tough thing to say, but you’re operating in a newly tough world and it’s time to decide if you sink or swim. Be the diamond, not the coal.

 

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