It’s an interesting time to be a founder.
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been an entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter how far you’ve come, and it doesn’t matter where (or if) you went to business school.
There is little that could have been done to prepare us for the economy grinding to a halt within a matter of days.
Like many others, (who are willing to admit it) — I didn’t see this coming and in hindsight, I should have taken it all a bit more seriously. I was on a ski trip in France when I woke up to 100+ texts, calls, and emails telling me Trump was banning travel from Europe. As I scrambled to figure out what was going on and how to get back home — the reality of the situation set in.
This actually is serious, the media was not exaggerating, and for lack of a better description, shit just got real.
Nearly every business (apart from the hand sanitizer hustlers) has now entered a period of extreme fear and uncertainty. Nearly every hour of my working day these past few weeks has been spent on calls with companies discussing what and how they should be communicating with their customers and the media during this time.
My goal of writing this post is to share what we are advising many of our clients to do. I’ll assume you are a good person with some common sense, so I did not include fluffy advice about being authentic, transparent, and honest with your communications strategy. If you aren’t doing that already, you’ve got far bigger problems.
Who This Playbook is For
This advice is relevant to organizations that are well-funded, already have product-market fit, and have recently had their business operations disrupted — but not decimated.
Overall, your business is fine yet you’re left wondering, what should we be doing right now? Should we be proactive? Should we stay quiet?
This is the profile of most of our clients, so this is where our advice, experience, and insights are coming from.
For the companies in a near-term fight to stay alive right now, this advice is not practical or relevant. You likely need to focus more on crisis communications and there are others that have more experience there than we do. (However, if you are going through this and just need someone to speak with for general best practices, drop me an email at Brett@frontlines.io and I am happy to jump on a call for free to help.)
Where Many Companies Are Right Now
The majority of companies are, understandably, paralyzed by panic and uncertainty. Seemingly overnight, everything they had planned for 2020 is now on hold with no clear timeline for when things will recover, let alone how long that recovery will take.
The “Note From Our CEO on COVID-19” has gone out — Investors, customers, employees, and partners have been updated with everything they need to know. But their foot has been taken off the accelerator and nearly all proactive marketing initiatives are now on hold.
Companies are debating if, how, and when they should resume their marketing and communications projects.
Many of these companies will be slow to react and will play it safe waiting to see how this all plays out. Or they will have their attention focused heavily on other areas of their business, placing marketing low on the priority list.
But smart companies are realizing there is a massive opportunity here.
They realize they have the chance to define their brand by stepping up and being a leader when their current and prospective customers need them most.
They realize now is the time to throttle proactive marketing like never before.
What Your Customers Need
Your customers are scared and confused, just like you.
How will this impact them in the short term? The long term? What should they be doing now? How can they be preparing themselves for when this ends? What will their business and industry look like six months from now?
More than ever, your customers are looking for an expert who can lead them through these tumultuous times, and answer their pressing questions.
They need your expertise, insights, and experience. And this is where the opportunity lies.
This is where you can add to the conversation in a positive way and demonstrate yourself as a resource to support your customers.
Right now, as other companies stay quiet deciding how to proceed, you have the opportunity to truly step in and be there for your customers when they need you most.
An opening that didn’t exist a few weeks ago does now, and it won’t exist for long.
Your customers have urgent concerns and questions on events happening in real-time and they crave an expert who can answer them.
And if you don’t answer them, someone else will.
This is your opportunity to be their ultimate resource and to add massive value to them. It’s not about traffic, engagement, or email subscribers. It’s about offering value with no strings attached (Highly recommend this being key to your marketing strategy all the time — but especially key right now)
You shouldn’t set out to just answer questions related to your product. Aim to answer any and all questions they may have. If someone on your team can’t answer a question, reach out to an expert who can.
Here are some made-up examples:
Example 1: eCommerce platform used by small to medium-sized online retailers — Run a survey that aims to understand consumer purchasing behavior, then share those insights with your customers and audience. Tell them what the insights mean and give them actionable advice they can implement right away.
Example 2: Task management tool for large enterprises — As large organizations painfully transition to a managing remote workforce, create extensive guides and resources that can help make the transition as smooth as possible.
Example 3: P2P lending platform — Create a massive list of resources that help businesses secure disaster funding then organize them geographically and by industry making it as easy as possible for any business to find the loans and options available.
Make it your sole mission to lead your customers through these times by becoming their ultimate resource: answer the questions they are asking themselves, address their concerns, and share your expertise-backed insights.
Three-Step Action Plan:
Step 1: Identify Questions
Objective: Build a list of every question your current customers and prospective customers may be asking.
Speak with your customer service teams, sales reps, and anyone else that interacts regularly with customers. Pick up the phone and speak with as many customers as possible to get clarity on the personal and professional challenges they are facing.
Put yourself in their shoes: What conversations are they having in their head that you can contribute to? What matters now that didn’t matter a few weeks ago? There has never been a better time to develop true empathy for the customers you serve.
Step 2: Create Content
Objective: Create high-quality non-salesy content that answers their questions.
Your content should answer their questions better than any other piece of content does and should be powered by your unique expertise, insights, and experience.
This is not the time to weave in a free trial or pitch your product. Cut all that shit out and focus on what matters: adding value.
Dig deeper than anyone else has gone — Use your own proprietary data or run a survey then tell a unique data-driven story that empowers your customers to feel better prepared for all this craziness.
Reach out to different experts and collaborate with them to create in-depth resource centers that serve as an ultimate resource for everything your audience needs to know.
This is not about creating a bunch of fluffy content — it’s about creating content that is actionable and useful.
Step 3: Be a resource
Objective: Distribute the content out to your email lists and across your social media channels.
Put out an open call for customers to send you their questions, then use those questions to power your next wave of content.
In addition to your customers, journalists who focus on your space are also looking for insights that can help their readers navigate this situation. If your content and insights are unique and helpful, reach out and offer to be their resource — which could mean jumping on a call and sharing ideas, or writing up a guest post/op-ed that can be shared with their audience.
Keep in mind, journalists have access to a lot of information right now, so as a simple guide — if you are not truly one of the top 5 experts in the world to speak on a specific topic, it’s better to not try and engage the media in this way unless you have something really unique and insightful to offer. [In simple terms — stay in your lane].
The world is changing fast and your goal should be to lead your customers through this transition by being there every step of the way.
This in no way is about being opportunistic or taking advantage of this devastating situation.
It’s simply about accepting that business will go on and realizing that what your customers need and what you can offer is in full alignment.
This is just one of the many potential opportunities that exist for companies that are questioning what they should be doing right now and want to be proactive during this time of uncertainty.
Your product may shift as you adapt to change in the months ahead but if you are certain that your general target audience will remain the same, being a resource for them when times were hard is a logical and wise bet to make.
While each industry will have its own unique opportunities, the key here is to develop a mindset that’s actively seeking them out.
As we all adjust to these crazy times, our internal mindset and the mindset we are recommending to clients is to approach this entire situation wide-eyed and looking for opportunities.
This doesn’t mean you need to pretend it doesn’t suck — it certainly does. But whenever “normal” returns, the reality is that your ability to adapt will largely determine if your company still exists or not — and finding opportunities and seizing them is key to adapting.
One of the books that all new hires at our company read (and I personally read at least once a year) is a book by Ryan Holiday called the Obstacle is the Way.
It’s a simple guide to developing a stoic mindset and one of my favorite quotes is:
“You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure”
Maybe the right move for your company is to stay quiet.
But keep in mind that while you do, there’s a strong chance another company will step in and be there to lead your customers through this. Given the uncertain times we face, you don’t want that to happen.
To quote Ryan Holiday one final time: “Stop looking for an epiphany, and start looking for weak points. Stop looking for angels, and start looking for angles”.
The angles are out there. Start looking for them.