Rational Strategies for Irrational Times

Jun 12, 2020

While few would debate his intent, It is hard to say if Franklin D Roosevelt truly understood the lasting effect he would have with one of his most oft-quoted remarks: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” This quote came not during a time of war or natural catastrophe, but at the height of the Great Depression, as he attempted to give the American people a sense of hope and optimism that this challenging time in American history would pass. Today, as we are faced with the human and economic cost of the COVID-19 Pandemic, his remarks and his spirit could never be more relevant or needed.

For many businesses, this is a time of great uncertainty. How do you move forward when the whole world has changed so rapidly? As we face these irrational, uncertain times, there are a few strategies you can take to help your business face this challenge.

Take a Deep Breath

During challenging times, there always seems to be someone telling you to “take it easy” or “relax.” While these comments are often a glib attempt to avoid conflict or to avoid dealing with a situation, there is actually some relevance to those words at a deeper level. So that’s where we’ll start.

Anyone that has ever studied Maslow at a basic level understands that human beings are programmed to focus our thoughts and energies first on our most basic survival instincts. When a threat of any kind presents itself, our brains are hard-wired to retreat into a “life-saving mindset” to avoid immediate dangers.

Given that companies are populated by humans, it should come as no surprise that natural human instincts and behaviors will manifest themselves in day-to-day operations and decision-making. When we understand that is going on in our mind, however, we can refocus our energies on proactive and productive solutions rather than retreating into survival mode. Inc magazine recently highlighted the May 2019 issue of the International Journal of Psychophysiology, which found that just two minutes of deep, slow breathing engages the vagus nerve and increases HRV, which subsequently improves your decision-making. So take your first step: take a deep breath.

What Has Changed?

For many years, marketing texts have preached the criticality of maintaining watch for any changes in the external marketing environment—with good reason. When any of these marketing forces evolve or change abruptly, so does your customer and the market in which you operate. These market forces can be broken into 5 key areas. Here are some good self-assessment questions to ask for each segment:

  • Political and Regulatory – How have regulations affected your ability to satisfy your customer’s needs? Are these temporary or permanent changes? Do they affect your competitors more or less than they affect you?
  • Economic – Are your customers in this time of change more or less able to pay for your products or services? Are you in a position to adjust your pricing or payment terms to overcome your customer’s limitations? 
  • Competitive – How are your competitors reacting to the situation? Do they have more or fewer resources to get through the challenges?
  • Technological – Does technology afford you an opportunity to enhance your value proposition in terms of your product or service offerings or how you deliver them?What about how you communicate with your customers?
  • Social and Cultural – Are the challenges going to have a long-term impact on how people live their lives? Will this affect the value delivered by your product or service?

Who is Affected and How?

Perhaps even more than what has changed, you must consider who it affects and how. Above, we discussed the environment that is impacting customers in more tangible terms, but it is also important to assess how they are affected psychologically, and in turn, behaviorally. Some questions to ask yourself and customers that will provide you candid feedback:

  • What new pressures are your customers facing in this new environment?
  • How is it affecting their mindset? Their priorities?
  • What urgent priorities are they focused on addressing?
  • What sources of information or guidance are they leveraging?
  • What is most important to them at this point in time?

What Adjustments Can You Make?

It is easy during difficult times to “dig in” or “hunker down” to try and conserve cash and to focus on “selling what you have.” However, it’s important to recognize that tough times require perspective and adaptability. As Frank Zappa once said, “A mind is like a parachute. It works much better when it’s open.” So, with that open mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your current product or service relevant and important in this new world?
  • If it is, do you need to describe it differently than you have in the past to highlight another feature or benefit that provides higher value?
  • Do you have specific capabilities or competitive advantages that are more relevant now than ever?
  • Can you amend your current product or service offerings or create new ones that address new pain points for customers?

Where is the Silver Lining?

It may be difficult to imagine, but there is always a silver lining to every cloud; some opportunity may be waiting on the other side of a challenging time for those that are resourceful and resilient. A few places to look:

  • Are your competitors cutting back on marketing spending and losing mindshare with customers?
  • What products, services, or programs can you offer to increase the value you deliver to your customers?
  • What can you afford to give up in the short-term gain in the long-term? Can you provide financing options? Extra discounts? Free services?
  • What “back-burner” projects can you complete during a slow-down to bolster your long-term value proposition or infrastructure?

There is a famous quote by Robert Schuller: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” Anyone that is committed to the vision they adopted when they first formed their company can come out of the other side better and stronger, but it takes a combination of time, patience, perspective, and determination.

Are you looking to revamp your marketing during this time of upheaval? It all begins with strategy. Download your free strategic planning kit: it has everything you need to develop a solid marketing strategy based on your unique business and circumstances. Get started today.

New call-to-action

Continue Reading