Uncertainty about the unknown is normal. What we are experiencing has no close precedents. Is it possible to have formulas for situations not previously experienced? Without the spirit of questioning the intentions of some specialists, the real thing is that we have to take action. Although we are talking about changes – and many were already in full development – now we have been forced to make them. A medium and long-term planning will go down in history, because now we have to act in the short term. Personal and work life will initiate “adaptation” processes. The “VUCA environment” could not give us a better lesson than this current experience. We are learning and relearning.
In this new process and considering that days have passed since the application of different sanitary, economic, and social measures, among others. It is vital to focus on 2 dimensions of relationships and communication: “change” and “trust”. Understanding both in a broader and deeper sense, will be key in business and commercial management, marketing and communication in front of our stakeholders.
The starting point is to understand that it is a “momentary change” and a “permanent change”, without minimizing any of them. Moving from one state to another, without having a command of the circumstances and the variables, clearly generates uncertainty and fear. From that perspective we can understand certain behaviors never seen or that we had stopped perceiving in people: from shortages of non-essential products to adverse reactions from followers towards “influencers”.
Understand the change in our target audiences
Changes are different in nature and not always planned. But from a business perspective it is vital to look at them without bias to be able to react assertively to them. A few days ago, Alejandro Fontana, PAD General Director, wrote a solid criticism to some experts about what will become of the world after COVID-19, from which I rescue two essential contributions to understand the changes we are experiencing. The first: the realities of some are not necessarily extrapolated to those of others. And if we think instead, it is vital to insert the “culture” and to think if it is possible to modify overnight behaviors that have been internalized for generations. Fontana assures that he does not doubt that we will look for midpoints: neither black nor white, but that we will move in gray scales.
These “changes” must be carefully observed, not in a generalized way, but “public” by “public”. It is vital to analyze the most sensitive variables and possible scenarios, based on the information we have and the reactions that have been taking place. The needs are changing, and it is not enough to identify them, but we have to “know them in depth”. The solutions are perhaps closer to our shore than that of consumer or customer.
Mindshare Peru reported that in the first weeks of the state of emergency, 40% of Peruvians had already changed their favorite brand of food, personal care and home care. Are you surprised? 70% did not find the usual brand at the stores. In complex situations, the behavior was already changing. At the end of 2018, Nielsen, in his study Retail Trends, the evolution of consumption and boom of new formats, reported that in Latin America 48% had changed to cheaper brands and that the Peruvian consumer began to believe more in the “performance” of “big weight-value” products.
Like that, many changes will occur inductively or also unexpectedly. The key is to know how to stand in front of them, and to know where they are going. A Nielsen report, for example, argued that the Peruvian consumer has moved from purchasing sourcing to a more planned one. And so, companies, institutions, consumers and citizens have gone through the different phases of change management: presentiment, impact, resistance, rational and emotional acceptance. In the process of “opening to that change” and “integrating it” into our daily development, there is a predominant emotion: “trust”.
How to build trust?
Although it sounds abstract and even tacit, trust is the intangible that will give meaning to the company’s relations with its different audiences, even more in this critical context. The task to strengthen it goes through 3 priority levels: ethical action, risk management, and objective and transparent communication.
The context is very complex and the permanence and economic and financial sustainability of companies are already a great priority challenge in themselves. But the end is not going to justify the means; less in today’s society, more activist, more sensitive and capable of not forgiving wrong and wrongful action. Ethics, if it was important, are now non-negotiable. These are not times of opportunism. Did you do things right when the coronavirus attacked us?
Consequently, risk management is essential and requires an approach from different perspectives. It is not a priority to influence perceptions if a good review has not been done of logistical, operational, commercial, reputational risks, etc. The best way to prevent crises is to identify which areas or operations are going to be sensitive in possible scenarios. If you had “pain points” it is time to foresee how to overcome them and respond appropriately to the demands. If your payment chain or provider care was already a problem, imagine what it will be like now.
Communication is as important as the previous points but requires that they have been completed satisfactorily. It has to be comprehensive and thought out in a different way for all audiences. Based on a single principle: the truth. Outside of it is manipulation. The first point that we must not violate is “not taking advantage of the situation.” If you want to “be good” it is better that your actions demonstrate it and that someone else says it. Make efforts and not only actions motivated by marketing, but by conviction. Certain actions are perhaps most valued by a key audience, and do not need to be communicated to all public opinion. This depends on how much you know the expectations that each public has towards you, at the moment. Is it more important to educate your audience or to do a branding campaign? In times of uncertainty, direct, transparent, functional and objective information and communication are required.
We still don’t know the new “normality”, but we save time. The key to communication is to focus on the stakeholders. Set scenarios and objectives for audiences, foresee complex situations and demands for information. Develop the right tools, channels, and messages based on your budgets and effectiveness. Review your strategies and protocols for customer service, providers, social media, public relations, advertising, and other integrated marketing tools. The worst thing is to do what everyone does. Because the crisis is not a fashion. We are facing a unique opportunity to create and strengthen bonds of trust.
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