By: Devi Thomas, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications; Jon Fee, SVP of Corporate Marketing
We don’t know about you, but we are finally getting our sea legs after 100+ days of navigating COVID-19. As parents. As sons and daughters. As globalists. As employees. As marketers. In all these roles, we are strengthening our ability to find balance in the current environment. More importantly, we have learned some pretty important lessons.
Lesson #1: Perspective is everything.
Crisis has an uncanny way of removing the fog while ushering in new clouds. Your immediate priorities for the day ahead become crystal clear. When our days were full of commutes, meetings, appointments, sports practices, music lessons, and social gatherings, it seemed we had no time for anything else. Yet, these seemingly important events made us overly tired, burned out after short weekends, and wishing for more time with loved ones.
Clear the fog. The amount of time spent with our families is more than most of us have ever had. Gratitude appears to be the word of the day and our collective mental wellbeing is top of mind.
Every person living through this pandemic has had a shift in perspective in recognizing the whole self again and realizing that the individual parts were never quite enough. Travel has a new meaning, family ties have been rekindled, we are listening more, and even though we are social distancing, we feel more connected now than ever.
Lesson #2: Normal wasn’t totally working.
Crisis only exaggerates what was there before. The question that Arianna Huffington often asks is more relevant now than ever: “was normal working?” Why are we so desperately trying to get back to “normal” when that version wasn’t really working for us. In hindsight, we are learning “normal” is just the road most traveled. It doesn’t mean the road didn’t need repair. In fact, some public health experts have argued that normal got us to where we are today with faster disease transmissions and less-than-equipped healthcare. How do we look at our own lives–both personal and professional–and ask whether the way things were before really made sense in the first place?
So many employees have talked about never going back to the office, and many employers have agreed. Some of us may have just officially made the shift to remote employees, while others are realizing that going back to the office is going to look alot different when we finally return. While we’re eager to reconnect with our colleagues and friends in person, we’re learning to embrace the next normal and yearn less for our overcommitted past.
Lesson #3: Everything happens faster in a crisis.
Perfect is often the enemy of good. Most importantly, it is the enemy of get-it-done-fast. This has never been more true than when the ‘getting it done’ is about creating services and tools to help others. We saw this routinely as our nonprofit and education community got scrappy in a hurry to help stakeholders and students who rely on them for solutions.
We got scrappy, too–delivering content that shared best practices, collecting insights on safe reopening strategies, and co-creating free tools that transformed healthcare workers’ case tracking and nonprofits’ virtual fundraising efforts. Our customers pivoted quickly to keep their students, beneficiaries, and communities going.
Take Upaya, for example, a Seattle-based nonprofit that creates jobs and scalable businesses for impoverished people around the world. They had to cancel their annual gala last minute. With 225 guests RSVP’d and a fundraising goal of $200K, it was a hard call to make. In less than a week, they transformed their event into a virtual black tie gala. By engaging with donors in a completely new way, they ended up raising $306K and blowing their previous goal out of the water!
Or how about the KIPP Foundation, which recognized its importance as a community pillar and used the pandemic as an opportunity for 360-degree support. KIPP distributed thousands of laptops to students without them in record time, connected learners with special education caseworkers, provided grab-and-go meals for kids who relied on school lunches, and partnered with local food banks to set up food pantries for families in need. They also started an alumni scholarship fund so KIPP graduates could continue their college education through the period of uncertainty.
Talk about going above and beyond! These are just two of many examples where we saw scrappier organizations win time and time again.
Lesson #4: Marketing can lead (and help) in a crisis.
We both realize that the pandemic is the big revealer, unveiling staggering inequalities across the global. Access to healthcare, food, and education, and above all, equal rights, have been spotlighted in a system that is not built for equitable access. This is where marketing offers immense opportunity to equalize the playing field, as our efforts can reflect and be relevant to diverse audiences. Marketing, when done right, can lead in a crisis.
There is no better or more relevant time to be a marketer. Now is the moment to reassess and either double down or recalibrate our online presence, our communication channels, our personalized marketing, and our virtual experiences. People want to come together to learn, to listen, and to act. Marketing can help with all three.
We can highlight the best channels to reach out and get everyone involved. We can create tools to propel ideas into action. Most importantly, we can leverage our platforms to draw attention to inequalities. Above all, the cultural and social movements we need today can be driven by the tone, cadence, and integrity on the stages we set. The expectations on marketing have never been higher. We have an immense responsibility to lead by example and with values that deliver lasting change.
Lesson #5: What’s old is new again.
Funny how that happens, eh? New drive-in movie theaters that were once parking lots have opened up. Remember drive-up restaurants? We’re seeing more of that. There’s more cooking and lots of bread baking. Companies are reporting trends that show people now talking on the old fashioned phone more. We’re collectively realizing that relationships are the most valued of currencies. Don’t call it a comeback, it’s been here for years.
Embracing the old along with the new is an incredible lesson from our lengthy time at home. Drive-in concerts and virtual galas with augmented reality graduations–old, meet new, and new, meet old again. Long time, no see.
The Biggest Lesson
This has undoubtedly been a challenging time for everyone, with far too much pain and loss. Perhaps these takeaways can serve as silver linings–measuring the biggest lessons learned from this memorable juncture not just by what we’ve lost, but what we’ve unknowingly gained.
Devi: “I’ll tell the story of how my family spent hours on a Sunday around a table with a 1,000 piece puzzle laid out in front of us, phones aside, and singularly fixated on a common goal. As I sat there, I couldn’t figure out why we’ve never done this before. Our priorities were awry and our attention was so divided before. It’s our time together that really matters.”
Jon: “I’ll reflect on fielding so many questions from my kids, friends, and colleagues and realizing it’s OK if I don’t have answers because that’s not what they need. They were listening for tone. Most, if not all, were wanting to hear words delivered with tranquility and optimism.”
What have you learned in this historic moment? What story will you tell of your time during the first pandemic?
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