None of us know precisely what impact the Corona crisis will have on our lives, but one thing is for sure, businesses that haven’t already established brand community engagement will struggle to survive. If you think that’s a bit extreme you definitely should read on.

Understand brand

Firstly let’s define “brand community”. Brands ARE communities. If you are still thinking of brands as logos, culture or products that ship sailed a long time ago, so your business was already in the “high-risk” category well before the crisis. I’ve said many times, the things that some people believe define a brand are important and are definitely accoutrements of brand, but the definition of brand is “a community people who share values and beliefs” and you need to focus on that thought if you want to get anywhere.

Know your community

Another mistake commonly made by business leaders is to think of their community as confined to customers and employees. In fact, there are six common stakeholder segments – investors, suppliers, distributers and partners are all just as essential to your success as customers and employees.

Every one of the people and businesses embraced by these groups play vital roles in the success of your business, whatever the market conditions. Businesses that have recognised this fact and forged strong relationships with each of these segments have always enjoyed success. However, while it may have been important to do so in the past, these days community engagement is absolutely essential. Failing to engage your stakeholders is inefficient and in the digital age inefficiency of such significance is simply a recipe for failure. 

The experts all agree that successful transformation only happens when all your stakeholders buy into and play their part in delivering your objective. The vehicle for achieving this cohesion is your brand

Why it’s essential to maintain brand community engagement

Things will not return to how they were before once the crisis passes. Customer attitudes, priorities and needs will have changed beyond redemption and therefore so must your approach to business. Many of the changes will have happened anyway as a natural course of business transformation, but had it not been for the Corona crisis the process will have been far slower. The crisis is accelerating the already fast-moving transformation agenda and many businesses just won’t be able to keep up.

Transformation is a transition from a state of routine to one of constant change. That’s why one of the popular terms associated with contemporary businesses is “agile”. The Corona crisis is the perfect example of how things work in the digital economy. Situations change dramatically and quickly. Plans can’t be set in stone and Ronald Heifetz’s adaptive managers, who are typified by disruptive business leaders, respond instantly with new strategies and tactics.

Businesses that haven’t already recognised the part played by brand and have failed to build their brand will struggle.  Greg Satell in his book Cascades explains how change is only successful when leaders align otherwise disparate self-interest groups. You simply won’t change direction quickly enough if you have silos or inconsistencies in your organisation. Community engagement is therefore essential.

A well-defined and managed brand is the essential unifying factor. That’s why brand creation and development is the starting point for all successful transformations.

Do you have a chance of survival if you aren’t prepared in this way? Maybe not, but you probably should give it a go, so here’s my three-step guide to maintaining community engagement and thereby give yourself the best chance of keeping pace with your marketplace.

1 Connect

I’m assuming that you or your CEO will have been in touch, at least once since the lock-down started, with all your employees and it’s important you maintain this connection. How you do this will depend on the scale and structure of your organisation, but by now everyone should have heard from you at least a couple of times.  Businesses that are on-the-ball will have forums set up for their employees and information should by now be flowing both ways. It makes sense that this would be managed by your HR team, who in turn will be teamed with your marketers and your CEO.

If you are connected in this way it is a simple matter draw together a central mailing lists of your suppliers and distributers. Just get your buyers, and sales team to provide the information.

Investors are probably easier to establish contact with, but create a mailing list anyway.

2 Communicate

Now decide how, when and what you need to communicate to each group and develop an initial communication plan. You may even be able to automate part of it, but you‘ll need templates and maybe individual pieces of collateral and landing pages. Times of crisis like this provide a massive opportunity for brand communities to build and strengthen relationships. It’s all part of the primal responses humans have to “safe” places and a true brand is such a place.

Your objectives will vary slightly depending on the stakeholder group but you should be variously reassuring, empathising, enthusing and informing. Where employees in particular are concerned you will gain a great deal if you are able to give them a sense of purpose right now and your HR team should be developing social and community initiatives with this aim in mind.

Your marketing team should be using the opportunity to get to know your customers better. Using gamification, quizzes and questionnaires they can gather insights into consumer usage that will help you detect the direction of change.

3 Strategise

Hold regular on-line meetings with your senior management team. These should be at least once a week, but some of my contacts are doing this every day. This is no time to be idle, but it’s equally important to use your time wisely. Don’t waste it trying to get customers to repeat the orders they have placed with you before, you’ll only alienate them. Use it instead to prepare your post-Covid kick-start.

You are going to emerge from this crisis into a new and very different marketplace. Competitors will have been reduced, but those that remain will probably be better equipped, more agile and more innovative. 

Now is the time to game-play, plot scenarios with your extended team. Experts like Matthew Syed in his book Rebel Ideas make it clear that innovation is a product of the kind of diversity that doesn’t sit well with many traditional executives, so use the opportunity to experiment. Engage people from every level of your organisation in cross-functional teams to table and explore ideas. 

Get this right and you could emerge from the crisis better, faster and with new products and services that are right for the digital age. There’s even a chance that you could make ground on your competitors who, so far, have been more pro-active.

Phil Darby
April 1, 2020

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