By Mark DeVito, President, Beyond Definition
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion
that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
There’s an old African proverb that we’ve all heard – ‘To go fast, go alone, to go far, go together.’ It’s true, to accomplish more we must go together. And there’s no better time to reflect on this and see how it applies to our personal situation and company like now.
We started talking to other agencies as we catapult through this crisis (on top of the dozens of webinars I know that we’ve all attended) – some we’ve worked with in the past, and others we’re just starting with – to talk about how we can come together. Come together and understand what we’re doing individually to get through and understand this time, but also to figure out what we can be doing together to get through, survive, and perhaps make the industry better, because coming together as an industry in these times is essential.
Change to routine, and expectation, should make you stop and think deeper about purpose (both in business and personally) and how we as a community co-exist. We talk about the networks and the communities that we belong to, both from an industry and individual perspective, but do we talk about what the community offers us and how essential it is to our existence both as people and our business? Be clear, I’m not talking about your audience, I’m talking about your peers, and what we can learn from a pure ‘co-existence’ mentality that we can agree on, we need to thrive.
Let’s talk about what this time will mean for brands from large to small, from every part of human life and what they stand for (and serve). You now have the gift and the ability to shift your perspective on the industry that you work in, that you’re hopefully very passionate about, and that you can benefit from the community of like-minded people you are surrounded by that can make your brand even better, even more effective. But, we compete! Yes, you do, and competition is good, but today’s competition requires a diversity in perspective. We compete, but we also complement.
Let’s talk about what positive influences can happen during this personal and interpersonal quarantine of our brands.
The Innovation Theory
When you’re up against the wall, when you’re pushed too far, when you’re out of your comfort zone, when you know that something is missing: That’s the birthplace of innovation. No great songs were ever written because well everything is fantastic in my life, nothing is wrong, let’s write a song about it! It doesn’t work that way. Innovation comes from the uncertain, the uncomfortable, the unknown — that’s how the human brain works. We struggle, we emote, we then dig deep and figure out what will make things better. That’s what we as companies, as brands, as innovators have the potential to do now. Start a journal (maybe even share it). Every day write at least one thing down that you believe will make today better while you’re in the midst of this crisis. Track it day after day and see how it changes. Are your innovative ideas changing as things change in your environment? How can you apply this to your brand? Our agency has recently brought on many education focused clients. When I think now that my 10 and 12 year old girls will not return to school for the remainder of the year, how will we be innovative with our ability to teach, to learn? Yes, virtual classrooms – check. But it’s more than that. It’s about figuring out how this new community that they are in will allow them to thrive — without their friends to see, to touch, to connect with. They can on a screen, and believe me, I’m glad that this is 2020, and not 1980, but we can all admit it’s not the same.
They don’t work in our common, modern brand culture and they certainly don’t work in quarantine. Self-centered anything withers in this environment, and so will your brand. Does that mean that you just start marketing more? No, but you change what you are marketing and you change what your external communication models are trying to accomplish. Now more than ever, you need to build that community. Not more customers (although that never hurts!), but more peers. More like-minded companies that can commiserate and rally together. Start a support group. Ask 3 other similar companies in your space now, today, that you may have never talked to before, to get together and brand it. Meet once a week. Reach out over LinkedIn. I can guarantee that when this crisis ends, you will have allies for a long time to come. The fact that you cared to be vulnerable, to share your story, and to break down those walls will go a long way down the road.
Change the Paradigm
Another area of thought during this time is to review your purpose, review who you are as a brand. For startups, keep your eyes open and don’t be reactive — stay the course on the great idea that brought your brand together, but for the others, perhaps this is a time to think about what you will potentially do differently when we come out on the other side. It’s difficult to suggest that you make changes to your message, your brand, or anything about your positioning during this time, but if there are things that are akin to what you already do well, and what your team has expertise in, you can consider some additional positioning and outreach. Just be mindful that it is connected to your promise and purpose in some way, otherwise it will be inauthentic and can have the opposite, and negative response to the brand. Also, bring your teams together to get ideas from them on how you may pivot. There’s a lot to learn from all levels of your internal teams, and make certain that your internal brand positioning (remind everyone) is in sync. You have to have a solid platform in order to evolve, and build upon.
The Illusion of Communication
To kick this off, I used one of my favorite Shaw quotes, to open the discussion around ‘filling in the gaps’ and understanding what and where those gaps are in our communication. Shaw used his art as a writer and playwright to discuss his political views (often very contentious!), but he used that medium to share those opinions. In the end, I think everyone could agree that Shaw wasn’t the model of a collaborator, but he firmly understood the importance and value of the message and being a part of the conversation. In this era of oversharing, we do tend to see duplication in the form of extensive relevance, but we as brands need to follow the same differentiation path with our collaboration and the information that we share together. The quote is meant to point out that often when we continue to talk, we are failing to listen. And when we fail to listen, we fail to understand each other — especially in times like these (I keep thinking of the great Foo Fighters song every time I’ve written that lately). So the message here is that with all the thinking around innovation via collaboration comes listening and understanding. Coming together and doing more is only possible when we’re open and aware.
We recently launched a Foundation for NACS, the National Association of Convenience Stores, with the premise that the convenience industry (and the massive, community-centered nature of it) can come together to do more and be more in the communities where they serve. Hard to think that the barriers of competition will be removed for this cause, but it’s working and they do genuinely believe in it.
Imagine what all of the other industries can accomplish with this thinking? From ours in the strategic communications agency world to manufacturing, to healthcare, to technology, and so much more. Let’s look at the reflective and innovative possibilities during this time and be better, individually with our brands, but most importantly, together.