A year ago, I wrote my first COVID-related post: How to Keep Your Business Healthy While Facing COVID-19.
At the time, I had no idea of what we were truly facing — after all, none of us did. But as time went on, we learned more about the virus and ourselves.
To me, the biggest takeaway is a simple reminder: change is the only constant.
We have no idea what’s going to happen next. It could be a massive, unpredictable black swan event, like a pandemic, or small, everyday shifts that move society in a different direction. More likely, it’s a combo platter of both. Uncertainty comes in all sizes and shapes, offering us both challenges and opportunities.
So, the question becomes as we begin to move into a post-pandemic world, how do we keep our businesses healthy, strong, and resilient?
Remember what Ben Franklin taught us: an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure.
This is where I take a page out of the pandemic playbook. (Surprise: there isn’t one). Think about some of the businesses that went under in the last year, like Brooks Brothers, for example. Not addressing underlying issues, like changing customer preferences and habits or getting stuck in old messages and methods, can be lethal.
So, before you start experimenting with hypotheses for what the future will look like, take this opportunity to give your business an honest and deep look with a Beginner’s Mind. Look carefully to spot the things you can fix today to prevent your business from being vulnerable tomorrow.
What pre-existing conditions are compromising your brand’s health and prosperity?
Outdated messages and misused mediums
It’s easy to get stuck in your ways. You think you know your customer, the platforms that work for you, the budget you need to reach them, and so on.
Maybe you do, but more likely, you’re dealing with outdated prescriptions and playbooks. In this past year, in particular, the digital landscape has changed dramatically. Have you really kept up?
As an advisor to founders and executives, I’m constantly wondering how such intelligent people who take major risks to launch and grow businesses allow themselves to become complacent once they’ve achieved success or found their way to a position of market dominance and leadership.
For example, there’s an impression that TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram are for kids, and grownups are on Facebook. But we’re actually seeing some of the strongest growth on TikTok with older Millennials pushing 40 (like myself). People are using Snapchat to get their news; not just goof around. Instagram is popular with BIPOC adults in particular. And Facebook reaches the largest number of social media users ages 13–17.
In our year of social distancing, people of all ages have been using social media much more to connect, flex, and share their creativity, opinions, and interests. This isn’t going to change — people will always search for entertainment value and utility in anything that we marketers deliver. So, now’s a great time to utilize your audience’s preferred platforms to deliver content that creates connections, builds community, and sparks commerce.
In other words, meet them where they are.
Take McLuhan’s adage, “the medium is the message,” to heart, and truly consider how and what social media platforms you’re using — and for what purpose. Some should be used exclusively for education; others for entertainment. Understanding the role that social media plays gives you a golden opportunity to create a contrast with how others are using it, break through the noise, and move the needle forward.
Experiment with free and easy-to-use tools like Google’s “Find my audience” or subscribe to amazing platforms like Spark Toro to dig deeper into the heads, hearts, and wallets of your audience.
In today’s landscape, inclusivity is paramount. Take, for example, the red-hot social platform, Clubhouse. While at the moment it’s still a bit exclusive (you still need an invite from an existing user to join), the model itself has communication inclusivity built-in. Because there’s no visual component, you can jump in at any time to listen, learn, and participate. (DM me on Twitter if you need an invite — I have a few left.)
Beyond the social aspects, inclusive design is the top UX priority. Social diversity is better for design, period. And “user-friendly” isn’t just a buzzword. Simple things like captioning videos, adding alt text to images (and not just for SEO), creating clean layouts, titling links, and large CTA buttons can help with accessibility and combatting short attention spans.
Friction in your brand experience and broken systems
Excellent customer service from inception to unboxing and product advocacy is the linchpin element of any successful business. So, it makes sense to continually be checking both front-end and back-end systems to be sure everything is running smoothly.
The good news is that many digital tools can help you simplify and automate, which frees up time for your team to improve your flow. As someone who gets paid a lot to do innovation consulting, I’m in the business of helping companies dream up and discover their next big thing. But thanks to COVID, I’ve realized that trying to change an entire system all at once is not necessarily the best idea or most cost-effective way towards business improvement.
So instead of getting overwhelmed by “best practices,” which may or may not fit your business, go ahead and practice what you know is working and instead make incremental improvements and micro-pivots. Often, this can lead to just as much innovation and improvement as disruptive innovation. This feels easier now that the pandemic has taught us to be patient and steady in how we progress — and in what we expect.
Stubborn inflexibility: Is your rigidity to change fueling your demise?
Stop clinging to what you think you know, and be willing to open up to new ideas.
As Bruce Lee so sagely put it, “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
To me, this is all about mastering the art of learning. In the world of brand experiences, that starts with listening to the most important audience — your customer. When you pick up new skills, absorb fresh information, and seek inspiration, you also become more resilient. Curiosity is the number one antidote to treat stagnant, stuck thinking in business.
If you’re looking for some creative activities to help break old patterns and learn how to see things with fresh eyes, check out the Thinkfwd toolkit.
The Great Pause of the pandemic has given us all a chance to slow down and take stock in our assets before moving forward. By making sure there’s nothing significant making your brand vulnerable or slowing you down, you’ll beat innovation stagnation and pave the way to a healthy, abundant future.
What underlying conditions in your business keep you up at night? Hit me up in the comments.