Remember 2020 blew in? With its false change-of-decade hope and flashiness. In March, 2020 the SaaS 90-day return policy jokes and memes were rife.
The ‘global toilet paper crisis of 2020’ rolled out (We like our puns around here. We deal with darkness with humour). In the form of ‘the Corona’. (Cue the day drinking jokes).
There was a mass exodus from traditional workspaces to online working.
Suddenly virtual work was an everybody thing.
Those that had strong online community or engagement found it drop.
Those that didn’t, and scraped together a smattering of the stuff, heard crickets.
The clutter pile was deep and hard to wade through. Even for the experts.
Then May 2020 rolled around. A sad and shocking kind of viral video seized the world’s attention. The police killing of George Floyd.
In a collective gasp of horror the world unified in an ‘enough is enough,’ anti-racism movement that we believe is going to actually change things.
One Tuesday in June. And over a 100 days of working virtually showed all of us marketers and communicators one thing:
Who had the smart, emotionally intelligent marketing flywheels, and who had the sad boring, tone deaf sales funnels. As unprepared marketing teams tried hard to shove more MQLs (minimum qualified leads) down a structure people DID NOT want to go down. Just so they (the marketers) could keep their jobs.
It’s hard work. Who really can blame those marketers for barely having a minute to look up and see what’s going on around them in the world.
What many marketers missed was this:
Times have changed a whole lot. News is swift, and judgment is swifter.
And it’s no longer possible to say ‘oh, that conversation has nothing to do with me’ and stay silent. The reason? The information we possess at the end of our fingertips, a higher state of collective consciousness, and the genuine possibility of change.
The week of Blackout Tuesday, in honour of the BLM movement, we saw one influencer voice after another get it wrong, and then come up with self indulgent apologies, which really did not serve their audiences.
Everyone from mayors and politicians to influencers to business voices and large brands messed up their “crisis messaging.” Some were being really quiet; conspicuously quiet for the times. Or they were taking a misstep and then being defensive about walking it back.
As we were asked over and over for crisis and reputation management advice, we started to think, ‘what is the compass for getting it right, no matter what the crisis at hand?’
Answer: build an authentic activist voice.
Not just your company.
You. Whether employee or shareholder.
And if you lack one as a company or it hasn’t quite filtered down from the PPTs to the people out there talking on behalf of the brand, read on.
First, find the hill you would die on
Then prepare yourself for some uncomfortable vulnerability. Because you can’t be courageous (and this shit takes courage, friends!) without also being vulnerable.
Sound counter intuitive? It’s not. By putting yourself out there, you’re opening yourself up to all kinds of potential abuse! 😆Sounds fun, right?? No, but seriously.
Refer to Brenee Brown’s body of work on the subject. It’s immense. And necessary reading/listening in our opinion.
You’re about to get deeply authentic about a subject that means A LOT to the world (and hopefully you, if you choose to say something). You’re about to say “Hey, look, folks. Here’s what I know. Here’s what I believe in. Here’s what I think is broken. And here’s how I think I can fix it!”
And yes ‘I’ is powerful in this case. It often needs to be one individual, even in large organizations. One ‘subject matter specialist’ on the hill you picked. (There could be multiple hills, of course. But start your work, or improvement on one hill. Got it? Good.)
Most of all HAVE SOME BALLS. The last thing you want to do is be afraid to shake the joint up. But DON’T BE A DICK (see the difference?)
Find your sweet spot on the scale of kind to clever. We often see people set things up cleverly but they lose their audience because they are not being empathetic to the realness of the people to whom they are speaking.
Right, so, take what you know – what you’re best at and one thousand percent believe in – and drill down into that. Start mapping out how you’ll break through the clutter. And the noise. Because folks it is MOFO noisy out there!
Then use your body of work as proof.
Second, recenter to your values
While highly cliched, the idea of values is the reason why brands like Nike keeps coming up repeatedly in the news. They really, really, REALLY subscribe to a set of values. (At least in their communication.)
Values are not in a statement hidden in a dusty powerpoint somewhere. Hopefully your values are something your brand, however big or small, is living and breathing in the way you operate.
That spirit of values becomes the radar that guides you as you decide your brand’s alignment with the state of the world.
And if your company’s values have nothing beyond commercial words, then rethink that. Now’s the time. People align with brands that believe in the things they believe in.
And ask what your brand voice will be, post pandemic?
Are you brave and on the frontlines?
Are you reflective and thoughtful?
Brand voice is one of those jargon’y terms, an often overused, clichéd sounding idea.
All it’s about is this: Determine stand for, and how you will articulate that, across all your communication channels.
And it doesn’t have to be absolute.
So finding that brand voice is worth spending time on.
Third, make it more than ad-hoc; make it infrastructure
If you step out and make a few statements, write a few posts, make a few videos on a crisis related subject, I’m just going to say it, nobody will care. Worse you’ll get caught up in the ‘cancel culture’ and people will troll or take you out of their consideration set.
Given that the time to say nothing is over in this dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, when you say something, you want it to have context, be ‘on-brand’ and have follow through.
For us, that’s been our podcast. The fact that that piece of infrastructure existed allowed us the ability to use something with an established base. We looked at our strategy, took a few calls about how this ‘new normal’ is going nowhere, and invited in voices to comment on various aspects of life in 2020, relating it to our key messaging for ourselves.
For other people, it’s been a video series, or a Live social property, a webinar variant of some type.
Just not one-offs.
Because one-offs are reactive.
And everything about building an activist is proactive.