Staying Connected: A Lesson for Leaders During COVID-19

Staying Connected


By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Executives are dealing with a myriad of challenges during this pandemic. Mass layoffs have resulted in consumer spending grinding to a halt. Retailers are scrambling to adapt to the rapidly changing consumer habits. Many big box retailers are on the brink of collapse. What steps can be taken now to connect with the public when money simply isn’t flowing?
Some traditional companies like Macy’s are in desperate trouble. Others, like Nike, are taking active steps to adapt. They are expanding their training app, Nike Training Club, even as their stores are closing across the country. Their app has seen a 100% increase in subscriptions and their online sales have jumped 40%.

Messaging
How you reach people in this time of crisis also matters. Companies sound tone deaf if it’s business as usual selling products. Some are outright irritating. One toilet paper manufacturer is running ads telling us how good their product is. We don’t need to be convinced their toilet paper is good. We need them to get their product to grocery stores.

Advertising executive Andrew Robertson reminds us that people “want to feel better right now” and that attaching positive sentiments to your corporate brand is critical. Myrtle Beach representatives have an excellent commercial showing their beautiful South Carolina beaches with the message to stay safe and “we’ll see you when it’s safe to come back.” It’s the promise of a better future and a request to keep them in mind when this happens.

Famed entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban insists it’s critical to keep customer concerns in the forefront to stay relevant. He points out people are more socially conscious now and will be loyal to brands which match their sensibilities. This is especially true in crisis.

A Perfect Example
Peter Cancro is the CEO of sandwich maker Jersey Mike’s. He’s been running a number of excellent ads over the last few weeks. It speaks directly to our crisis and shows caring and compassion with no mention of how good his sandwiches are. Here are a few excerpts and comments.

- “Our Jersey Mike’s family is doing everything we can to support our community.” He positions his organization as a family instead of a corporation and reinforces his support for the area. This feels local and personal.

- “I’m so proud of our owners around the country for serving hospitals, first responders and those in need. In the true spirit of Jersey Mike’s, please look for opportunities to give and make a difference in someone’s life.” He compliments his own people and points out they are actively helping those in need in the community. He also asks us to take action and help out others in our community. (In a recent blog, it was discussed how self-transcendence benefits not only those who are helped but the helpers themselves.)

- “Our hearts go out to all of you and your families and we will continue to do everything we can to help us all get through this. Be safe and god bless.” Mr. Cancro is showing empathy and caring. He also emphasizes we’re all in the same boat and will make it through this crisis together.

In this commercial, there’s no mention about how good Jersey Mike’s sandwiches are (they are good!). This ad is all about helping others and not selling sandwiches. It’s also about setting up your brand for the long term. During this pandemic, leaders need to connect to the public and make it feel personal, real, and compassionate.