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Marketing changes crisis

Be creative and Act with Purpose in a crisis.

Some organisations have changed their business model by force and others have changed what they do because it’s the right thing to do. It’s heartening to talk about brands that we associate with that have a strong purpose and are powerful forces for good as they step into the breach.


Episode 029 TOPICS:


  • An era of radical Changes in human behavior

  • Will the employer vs employee balance of power shift last ?

  • Creativity in crisis: examples from Cathedral Kitchen, Brewdog and Gravity Payments

  • The Growth Mindset in practice: Amir Ghannad, Marriott  CEO and Jonny White at Ticket Tailor

  • The power of acting With Purpose and how we are doing that

Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.

29. Be Creative and Act with Purpose During a Crisis.



This podcast sees us in the second phase of the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve moved from that identification stage where people are getting their heads around it to absolute realisation of the implications and the lockdown. And it’s totally affected everything we do and affected all those around us and there are some desperately sad stories out there worldwide, but it’s absolutely reassuring to see that humanity has that ability to bounce back and get creative in times of a crisis. We’ve put that selfish gene to one side that we all have, and act in the most innovative ways. 

Over here Sam, you probably heard, we had a mass applause for the NHS as a consortium of competitors working together to create ventilators, and we’ll talk a bit more about that. And it's great to see industry reacting and refreshing to see how they do that. And of course, some businesses have had to change their business model because they’ve had to, and others have changed it because it’s the right thing to do, and it's fascinating to explore that. We’ll look at that and the lessons we can learn around being authentic as marketing transforms once more, so, lots to be said.

It’s also heartening to see some of the brands that we associate with have a strong purpose or strong force for good, step into the breach and Sam, I know in episode six you were talking about a charity that focused on that simple message of washing your hands, wise words indeed I think. 



Yeah, it was the brand Lifebuoy which had really made that handwashing and saving lives its purpose and its mission, and its product is obviously a soap bar which is completely relevant to that area, I think now, ever more relevant, and they’re living into their brand and I’ve seen some reporting from my native country of Ghana where they’re driving support behind their handwashing stations in countries such as Ghana and developing nations, clearly there’s a real need in the US and other countries right now, so, hoping the US will step on board to support their communities and support with the brand proposition in the marketplace. 


Lockdown Trends



Yeah, absolutely. And I’m also personally glad to see some of the companies and brands that we generally give a hard time to due to their size, being seen as an establishment or some of their past practices, doing the right thing and sometimes, surprising us with their creativity. Supermarkets often fall into that category as does Facebook and both have come out well, I think, in terms of well documented in terms of what they’re doing. I’ve also seen some faceless brands from the digital age show their very human face. Slack and Zoom came to mind, the slack CEO came out explaining how they were just dealing with life day by day and just growing with it, zoom, I read, actually, it’s stock is worth more than the whole of the airline industry at the moment in the US, which is just crazy.



Yeah, there’s data out there showing that the adoption curve for remote working tools like you’ve mentioned and those practices such as video conferencing has transformed behaviours which I think will last through the mid and the long term, so, they’re going to stick around for quite a while. And there’s just so much data being generated right now on human behaviour, and how that shifted and it’s really impacting on what we’re buying, what we’re using and what we’re consuming right now, and I think for obvious reasons, sales of hand sanitizer are up by over six hundred and fifty percent compared to the year earlier, no surprise there. 

We’re buying a lot of other things but one nice stat I saw is that we’re picking up the phone more, and actually talking to people more. So, this year in the US, mother’s day saw a thirty percent rise in phone calls versus the prior year, so, it's great to see that human behaviour coming out. And even on a lighter note, I saw that sales of tops have gone up in Walmart, so it seems that people are being professional from the waist up when it comes to video conferencing, you know, shirt and tie or whatever upstairs and the baggy pants and the tracksuit and the slippers on downstairs, which is very human. So, I think some things never change.

As we spend more of our time consuming the content and media across platforms, whilst we’re in the midst of this toilet paper shortage and hoarding them, we’ve actually seen TV ads from toilet paper brand Charmin, which is one of the strong brands out there, and I think one of the explanations from the marketing side is they’re probably in a lose it or use it situation, no not the toilet paper, it’s actually their media. So, they’ve got money in their advertising spend, if they don’t spend it this year, it won’t be there next year, it’s kind of in their base number, they’ll have a smaller base line next year, so there is a marketing reason although, it can come across as a bit insensitive. 

And I’m starting with advertising because at times like this, we actually have a heightened sensitivity to brands’ messages and the tone that these brands are taking, and if you think about it, a lot of the content that we are seeing is produced pre-coronavirus, and probably these ads were self-serving and right now perhaps won’t land so well. So, brands are making that change, and there’s a great, Fast Company article if you go check it out, because it talks about some of the things that the brands are changing and there’s a shift between a ‘we’re here for you’ ad which is a feel good ad, in the current climate, though, it can perhaps come across as insincere, maybe a bit fake, because it’s trying to dial up the emotional aspect and manipulating people through easy gestures, but not actually doing something real. 

So, brands really have to be responsive and responsible and you can’t really do that if you’ve created yours months in advance and so, unfortunately ad industries now wrestling with what they’re calling pandemic advertising, and I’m not necessarily a fan of that term but it’s out there. I think brands that are doing a good job, really are communicating, we thought you should know something. I think Budweiser in the US has done a great example where they’re showing frontline health workers and sports that have been shut down but they’re actually saying look, we’re going to divert our budgets to crisis aid efforts, instead of investing in these sports, so, that’s a good message. And then, the key other thing is really you’ve got to do what you say and say what you do. Companie’s actions now, really do matter more than ever and I think this is where some of them are getting caught out. I talked about Air BnB before in the US, they said, hey, everyone can cancel their bookings, which is all fine and well but then the vendors out there were saying, hang on a minute, who’s going to pay for all of this, so, they’ve quickly turned around and stepped up to provide two hundred and fifty million dollars towards the hosts following a flood of cancellations that they basically said that people should do.



So, a few things that we’ve covered in recent episodes, Sam, just reflecting on that as well. You’ve got purpose, the power of that. The need to be able to pivot in order to turn around, we did that in episode 24. The importance of storytelling, I mean, again, you just covered it there, there’s some great stories and also that you’re only as good as that collective identity of your employees in the community, and we talked about the importance of super fans back in episode 22. So, it’s absolutely fascinating to see the things that we talked about start coming together as they all do. And there’s many examples of pivots, both good and bad, but there’s also some examples where businesses have had to, out of necessity or ingeniously, look at their product offering.

One that I think is pretty fun and just interesting to think about as a concept is the dating industry at the moment. Clearly anyone dating is having to take a very, very different approach and they were pretty tough already, those first dates but now, imagine you’ve got to do it by video chat, and Bumble has sort of rebranded talking to them as virtual icebreakers and Tinder has made its passport feature free for everyone so, it allows you to swipe around the world to find new connections when suddenly, meeting someone up the next block doesn’t seem so important. So, some nice innovative approaches in terms of keeping business going I as well think, there. 



Yeah, as you talk about dating there, you’re thinking about it just to the broader part of work. Business as usual is being disrupted, due to the pandemic, it’s truly a transformative time. We’ll arrive at a new normal in the future and I think we’re both huge advocates for the positive change that comes from this. I think one of the ones that is showing its colours now really in front of mind is the workers that are actually deemed as essential. And that’s perhaps changed from what we used to think. And they’ve probably got more leverage now to make their case and let their demands be heard. It’s baffling to think these frontline retail workers, in the US especially, don’t have the rights that many of us take for granted in terms of working conditions or additional time off or paid sick leave or higher wages.

There’s also a shift in balance now when it comes to the gig work industry now as well. Brands that we’ve claimed and have talked about being innovative by outsourcing their execution, the delivery and some of the costs to workers, think of the Ubers and the Lyfts and the Instacarts of these worlds. Now, they’ve treated their employees there as independent workers and not employees but with benefits, but is that going to last? Are they going to have to pivot forward? In the last few days Instacart workers have actually gone on strike in the US because they’ve got safety concerns over the coronavirus. They want hazard pay and safety gear, simple things like hand sanitizer and sick leave which makes sense.

So, the real issues, the system kind of incentivised people to work when sick, which is in the current climate, that’s clearly untenable; the phrase ‘when you get sick we get sick’ kind of haunts me from those types of workers because we as consumers really need to be part of the solution and champion their rights as well. So, it’s creating a huge debate on working conditions and whether companies will shift their policies and revenue structures to support it or not, so we’ll keep an eye on this in future episodes because there’s sure to be changes moving forward and I’m not sure when things will actually go back to the new normal. But, as we’re thinking about the growth and demand for supermarkets and then some of the lays offs for these other retailers and department stores, what if there was a way to link those workers to the opportunity and actually provide is it a platform or a website or a process to make it easy to find a job when you’ve been let go from another industry? I’m sure there’s some innovators and entrepreneurs working on it, but, wouldn’t that be such a great thing to see in the current climate?



Yeah, definitely, it really would actually, and you know it’s fascinating, in London they’re building one of the largest field hospitals in the ExCel centre, there’s about three of those in the UK, and they’re taking large numbers of the airline industry that have CPR training and are volunteering and fast-tracking their training to help support the training staff in those hospitals. The AA, automobile Association in the UK, are providing volunteers to help support the ambulance service and maintenance trying to double the number of cars and vans and ambulances that they have on the road. So, there’s a lot of industries supporting other industries, which is really reassuring to see, I think.

Growth Mindset in Tough Times


Yeah, that’s great to hear, Chris. So, let’s keep going, let’s lift the mood and inject some of this growth mindset we’ve been talking about, let’s learn from some of the successes, let’s talk about some of the good things we’ve seen in the past few weeks that kind of shows the transformations, the innovation and the impact happening out there. So, as I’ve asked you, I have got one ready, so I’ll let you think as I share mine first.

One of the great examples, I’m proud to talk about an organisation that’s really close to my heart, I’m a board member of a place called The Cathedral Kitchen, which is a non-profit in Camden, New Jersey in the US. It basically uses food to save lives. It serves over 100,000 meals a year dominantly to undernourished or underserved guests in the community of different ages, different ethnicities etcetera, and right now those folks need help more than ever. And that Cathedral Kitchen has had to pivot and redesign the way it serves its customers and used a lot of volunteer staff to do that but now, it’s take out only, obviously with the current environment we can’t have people sitting down and that contact. Operationally, they split into two teams, two teams to basically provide the food to mitigate and minimise the risk of those two teams getting the coronavirus, so there’s one shift, there’s a C shift and a K shift who basically work unrepentantly off the other team and that’s leading an increased operating cost but what was the alternative? Not doing that and closing? Leading to hunger in the community, that’s absolutely untenable so, a shout out to visit, please go check them out and support their work and their efforts, whatever you can, or find a similar organisation in your neighbourhood who’s doing good.



Yeah, great, great call there Sam and plenty of organisations doing similar things which is really reassuring to see. And then, you look at some of the establishments, it's important to see a lot of engineering companies, like Ford, repurposing, auto-making infrastructure to produce ventilators and face shields, many, many different consortiums doing a similar thing but I thought a really good one just to position was Burberry, which is swapping production of thousand-pound trench coats to surgical gowns and many other luxury manufacturers are also shifting production from perfume to hand sanitizer, that was LVMH and lots of big US companies are beginning to produce medical supply. The luxury sector seems to have really stepped up to it there. 



Yeah, that’s great and just building on one of the examples you shared about ventilators, Virgin Orbit Richard Branson’s rocket company said it’s going to produce ventilators and there’s a ventilator challenge in the UK, fourteen British manufacturers including Roles Royce are making two different ventilator models called project oyster and project penguin, it’s great to see that collaboration happening.



Yeah, there’s many we could talk about and they’re all doing brilliant but one I thought just summed up what we’re talking about here was in using a scuba diving snorkel. Two researchers over in Italy but I’ve seen actually a number of different cases, different places now have created a 3D design to change a snorkel mask into a ventilator mask, that 3D design has now been put online, obviously producing parts from a 3D printer, and been downloaded a million times. People in Brazil making those successful adapters for the snorkel mask so absolutely, I think it’s great example of innovation and creativity.



Yeah, we’re seeing all the creativity and these organisations, these individuals, diverting resources and effort to these medical innovations to be developed and whether its developed or developing nations working on it, imagine the medical equipment solutions that may disrupt the industry encumbrance but we’re seeing industries come together to work and partner in sectors across the industry. How do we keep that momentum and goodwill going? This is purpose and well driven work and I’m thinking, for a lot of people, would they even want to go back to what they were doing before when they can do so much good and have so much impact in the world?

We talk a lot about leadership and mindset here, and I think one of the best examples I can give is the Marriot CEO, Arne Sorenson, he has a five-minute video that came out recently, a message to employees and he’s basically explaining a ninety percent drop in their income. You watch this video and it takes your breath away because this is some bad news that he’s sharing but his team were actually concerned about him doing the video because his appearance would alarm people and the first thing he did was address it by saying look, let me just say my new look was exactly as was expected as a result of my medical treatment. And you ask why? Because he actually looks different, he’s lost his hair because he’s currently battling cancer and he’s receiving treatment and he’s airing this video telling a story of how he’s going to lead the company and he’s determined to share the tough news of salaries being cut by fifty percent, employees being furloughed, I mean, it’s emotional, it’s blunt yet somehow it’s inspirational. I want to keep that in this section because in terms of bringing people with you, I don’t think I’ve seen a better example in my career.



That’s a great story, I will check that one out, I haven’t yet but absolutely does sound very good. Now, one in the UK which is a high street bank in the UK, it’s much debated from the marketing and business terms, but Nationwide bank opening an hour early just for the pensioners and over seventies, many of these types of initiatives happening. Some branches reportedly give away facemask, hand sanitizers, disinfectants. There’s spontaneous acts of generosity all over the high street like that, and we have to work hard to make sure the high street is still around after this crisis because it's going to be severely affected and actually we’ve seen some of the greatest community efforts happening within the high street.

Saving by Sacrifice


Yeah, that’s a great point and as you think about highstreet and communities coming together, there’s also examples of organisational cultures coming together. I think example of the right culture enabling solutions I mentioned in episode twenty six, I talked about down pricing, Gravity payments where he raised all the salaries to seventy thousand dollars, well, you can imagine the current climate, the revenue of the company halved and his action was to say, look, let’s all collectively think about how we can move forward, and essentially all the company was able to contribute ideas and they were sourced from everywhere in the organisation and the solution, the idea that actually came to the top was a voluntary pay cut. So, this came from everyone coming together, ok, so we think we should do voluntary pay cuts but here’s the magic, gravity payments was able to avoid laying off forty workers, but the special part of the story was that the culture meant that as it was voluntary, some people actually gave up their entire salaries if they could afford to do for a period of time, and others took a smaller pay cut, and the beauty was that it was done anonymously. So, there was no peer pressure about how much you should or shouldn’t do, and people basically did what they could afford, what they felt they could do and collectively they’re able to move forward as a company. That for me is just an example of culture and leadership in action.



Yeah, brilliant. There’s elm entrepreneurs who pivot fast in a crisis and create a culture, and there’s also some that missed the point. Two examples of that, one building on one you’ve got, Jonny White who I talked about in scaling up, only a few weeks ago, runs a website called Ticket Tailor, which is flying high now then, you only have to understand the name of the company and think about what’s happened to the event industry being one of the hardest hit over the last few weeks, you can imagine how that is from an economic perspective now. But, what has been the response? The response has been to ensure that anyone setting up an online event doesn’t pay any fees. Which is pretty much the only revenues that are available in the events industry at the moment, and I applaud them for putting purpose before profits. The second point there was that he’s made it clear that he’s looking at the long term and making sure that employees feel secure during that process and they’re bought into it as well. 

Two of the most successful businessmen in the UK, love them or loathe them, is the boss of the Wetherspoons, John Hutson and Mike Ashley at have now been looking after a big part of the high street as well, and no strangers to controversy, both of them but both have come under fire from pretty much all quarters to their approach to their staff during this crisis. Sport direct was almost forced to close by the government over a debate as to what was essential when they were threatening to flout the closure of the high street. And a generally happy workforce at Weatherspoon and an unsung hero of a brand which has got a lot of popularity, especially amongst students, younger democratic, has lost the plot in terms of allegedly being told that Wetherspoon staff, they would not receive any money and to get a job in Tesco if they weren’t happy. 

But both now have u-turned and I’ve got to say Mike Ashley now has posted a very magnanimous, open apology saying that he underestimated the crisis, he whole heartedly apologises knowing what he knows now and putting all the fleet of the lorries at the disposal of all key workers, a good turn around, but certainly a lesson there it think in terms of how you manage communication in a crisis.






I think that even that approach taken though, just looking and critiquing the brands and how we spot or critically appraise brands, I think that will become a part of our culture now. We’ll now look at the brands, the work they do and how they treat their employees. I think that, that’s a fascinating point to be fair that life won’t be the same after the coronavirus, it definitely will change. 

There’s a site that I was unaware of, but I think it's worth calling out, Sam. It's just a guy who set this up he’s called, we’ll put it on the blog so that people can see that, but basically he’s been reviewing brands and how they’re dealing with employer relations and public relations during the crisis. And very much of should you buy their brands after the crisis with a ‘No’ ‘Mixed’ or ‘Good’ effort. And it’s definitely well worth a read and I think one challenge I do see, Sam, is it’s about verifying information. You can certainly see how after this we may well choose brands based more on purpose and use directories like the one I just outlined to make those choices. But what if the info is wrong? Or what if companies seek to right the wrongs? Like the example I just gave. Let’s be clear, this has been an unprecedented time and therefore its difficult to judge the mood, and often your response at a certain point is stuck in social media for everyone to pull up, so, a real challenge, I think.


Close to Home Stories


Yeah, a great point Chris. We’ve talked a lot about the growth of purpose and not so long ago, and if brands weren’t ready then they really need to get ready now. Hopefully, this is a permanent shift in the values and the metrics, and the customer-led outside and feedback onto business decisions. But we’ve also said before, before thinking about purpose outside, you’ve probably got to work on your own personal purpose. And a friend of mine, Amir Ghannad and he’s a culture transformation and a leadership practitioner at The Ghannad Group. And he shared a great perspective during a webinar I attended in the past few days, and he said we can all be philanthropists, don’t give to get back, simply right now, just ask yourself, who needs something that I can provide?



That absolutely rings true and close to home Sam. My family is pretty medical, my sister is a respiratory consultant and my brother in law is a professor of medicine and deals with cardiology, and I’m immensely proud of the job they are doing and all of the NHS and care workers, and honestly, I feel pretty useless stuck in quarantine, as they struggle to manage their lives. Help support my niece and nephew and their work, and my work feels pretty insignificant in comparison, and I think that’s a pretty common feeling right now of helplessness. And it can be overpowering, and we need to work out how we manage it. 

Look, as you know I’ve got a young baby, Rosie, so it’s not advisable to be out of the house and all I can do is work out how I can keep their spirits up from afar, look after my mum and anything else that they need. At work, it’s a similar story. I think there’s a helplessness for people within industries and a real desire to help. I’m working with an organisation called IPSE, the institute of professional and self-employed, where I’m spending half of my time and we’re looking to ensure the self employed are not left behind in the support provided by the government, working with their director of policy, Andy Chamberlin and teamed to amplify that work. And there’s some great successes. 

Last week, when the chancellor came good for a lot, not all, but a lot of the five million self-employed, we managed to put a lot of effort into that, he thanked Ipsay for work that was being done and I think it’s generally a very good package. I’m also offering my services via Moreno for free to clients or friends or anyone that needs it, where we can help work out what to do within a crisis. I’m working with a team of marketing directors, data strategists, a performance marketing director, a mark com director, so a collaboration to see how we can help because you’ve got to be innovative and do some good, so that sentiment rings absolutely true. 



Yeah, absolutely Chris. As your talking there it's making me think of my aunt and other family members who are in the healthcare industry, my aunts a nurse and she’s on the frontline of looking after people out there so, definitely have empathy and do what we do at times feels a bit superficial, but I think in the current climate there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear and a scarcity mindset and rightly so. As many listeners out there will have been impacted or know someone who’s been laid off or someone who’s been taken ill, and I don’t want to at all minimise that. You know, I think this has been a good time for me to reflect on my mission. 

On our last show, episode twenty-eight, we talked about personal branding and that was actually a great energy boost. My consulting work is hyper focused on building people, growing capabilities and the mindsets and the skills to help marketers be their best self. But clearly, that can actually impact and add value to other disciplines beyond marketing, and so I’m actually supporting projects that impact the sales organisations and working with people in that space. 

And I’m leading another project that’s about building community, and it's designed to drive top and bottom-line business impact through culture, through innovation, through improved ways of working, and I say all this not to brag, but simply to lean into that growth mindset that we’ve repeated here endlessly. We’ve got to learn from these challenges and seeing that hard work and effort and learning new skills and persistence, and what’s the next step that we can take? And that mindset for me, I think is what’s keeping me going. 



Yeah, well said. And look, I know it's been a bit of a longer episode here but lots to cover and incredibly valuable stuff there and reflections on some great positivity across the globe to be honest. 

Today’s Three Key Takeaways


  1. Yeah, the first one is, really embrace radical transparency. Radical transparency- the current use is dire, yet leaders must lead with empathy, hit the right one, just keep it simple, be honest, be open, show the data and be accurate with facts. 

  2. Secondly, we can be the solution. We can all be philanthropists. Don’t give to get, simply right now, ask yourself, who needs something I can provide? Whatever that is, personally or professionally. 

  3. Thirdly, listen to feedback and of course correct. People will forgive if you make mistakes, as long as you own up to them and rectify them quickly. 



Great summary, Sam. I’m just going to wrap up very quickly. Next week, episode thirty, marketing in uncertain times, the power of communication, a bit of a part two, in a way. What CMOs are asking themselves, our take on solution tools and approaches to face these challenges and convert what seems like chaos into opportunity. It’s going to be a great show, Sam.

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