A very good business friend once said, “don’t waste a good crisis.”
That might not be the advice leadership at your business is receptive to right now, but they need to be. Instead of feeling paralyzed by the uncertainty of the times, it's time to lead by embracing the chaos.
The beauty of a significant disruption is that it jars us out of our normal habits and patterns. While no emergency should be taken lightly, leaders in a crisis embrace entrepreneurial mindsets. Instead of “we have always done it this way,” now you are faced with “what if” situations. Embrace the creativity of this challenge by exploring actionable ways you can pivot your organization’s operations and lead your organization to stronger positioning for future growth. What follows are actionable strategies for your organization to help reframe your efforts during uncertain times.
Let me share a little real-world background about myself. This isn’t my first recession. I am the only daughter of loving parents who gave me every opportunity they possibly could, as every parent should. I am the first person in my family to finish college, not including my advanced degrees. I know what it is like to watch a family struggle — we did as I grew up.
We had one car. I remember walking home for miles from my 6th grade science fair with my Mom in the middle of a snowstorm because we had no other choice. I learned early on that sometimes you have to make the best of what tools you have and the circumstances you cannot change.
I worked three jobs to get through college while taking classes at night. My first real full-time job was at a dot-com start-up while in school. It was a dream job. I was able to travel on chartered jets. I made an insane amount of money. Then the dot-com bomb blew up and so did my job (and my finances). I had never been laid off. By that point in my career, I had never not been employed.
That was my first experience with a life-altering recession. I survived it. Those tech skills I learned then are still invaluable today and helped me move into a new industry.
Years later I found myself in my first true management position in a real estate development and construction firm. It was 2008. I had just finished my MBA and had a loan to pay. During those hard years, I worked as a marketing director in an industry that was facing a meltdown. Companies downsized. People lost their jobs. I found myself facing hard managerial moments, fearing not just for myself but for my coworkers. My efforts were under constant scrutiny. After all, marketing is just advertising, right? It was the hardest period of my pre-founder career.
I survived. I learned how to hone my efforts around results. I learned how to communicate in times of uncertainty. I learned that transparency and honesty are better than moon-shot promises. I learned how to lead as a human.
The market returned. Finding myself running a company within a company, I decided to start my own in 2013.
The moral of the story is that during every challenging period, the perception is that things will never recover. History teaches us that adaptation is a way of life.
Recessions come with the territory. But you can spend your time worrying about what will happen, or channel that energy into what you can do about it.
"The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”
– Grace Hopper
Jazz is a beautiful language and the perfect visualization of pivoting. Built from chaos, a jazz musician learns how to listen to, respond, and sometimes take the lead in their environment. These steps define the art of pivoting in a business.
Answers to our deepest questions often lie in plain sight. During turbulent times of change, it is more important to observe your environment than add noise to it. Consider:
Keep a close eye on your customer service representatives and other frontline staff during stressful times. These warriors are carrying your company message directly to customers.
Ensure their messages and mental health are monitored. Hours of calls from financially distressed customers are going to take a toll on them, and it will not be long before they are sharing this information amongst other staff and creating an environment of worry within your organization about your own stability.
Step out of your office and on to the lines. Take calls, comfort customers and lead from the front where your team can see you. There is no substitute for clear communication between a customer and a leader who staff sees in the trenches with them.
It is statistically proven that companies that spend on marketing and development during downturns, rise in greater positions of strength as the market recovers. Unfortunately, it is hard to drive investment into programs without clear immediate ROIs when cash flow feels a squeeze. Keep in mind other companies are feeling the same pressures. Those that can continue to connect with their audiences will win market share during this time.
You cannot afford to not be on the front lines communicating with your customers, potential customers, and industry audiences. Consider Frankenberger and Graham, two Oregon professors, who studied 2,662 firms over 16,000+ “firm years” (1970–1991) to determine the effect of advertising on a company during a recession. The results? Firms that advertised during a recession increased in value and got more marketing return for their investment … in some cases for up to three years after the recession had ended. (Forbes)
A MarketSense study concluded the best strategy for coping with a recession is balanced long-term branding with promotion for short term sales. The study shows brands like Jif and Kraft Salad Dressing experienced sales growth of 57% and 70% respectively after increasing their advertising during the recession.
McGraw-Hill Research analyzed 600 B2B companies and found that those who maintained or increased advertising grew significantly … both during the recession and the following three years. In fact, by 1985, sales of companies that advertised aggressively had grown 275% over those that didn’t.
An American Business Press study showed that companies who advertise and market aggressively can maintain and increase sales during a recession and in the following years.
Buchen Advertising tracked advertising dollars vs. sales trends for the recessions of 1949, 1954, 1958 and 1961. They found that sales and profits dropped at companies that cut back on advertising and, that after the recession had ended, those same companies lagged behind the ones that maintained their ad budgets.
Advertising executive Roland S. Vaile tracked 200 companies through the recession of 1923. He reported in the April 1927 issue of the Harvard Business Review that companies that had continued to advertise during the economic downturn were 20% ahead of where they had been before the recession, while companies that reduced advertising were still in the recession, 7% below their 1920 levels. (source)
Adjacent or new top-line revenue opportunities become possibilities during market changes. The closer your company is to understanding the changing needs of its audience, the more opportunities may make themselves known. Consider these historic examples:
Identify new methods of delivery, distribution and even innovations to your product or service. This is not about reinventing your entire business, rather, it’s about meeting your customers where they are.