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Fool me once

July 29, 2020

A couple of summers ago, social media exploded with the announcement from the International House of Pancakes that IHOP was being changed to IHOb. To pique the interest in their announcement, they would not reveal what the B would stand for and even launched a new verified Twitter feed at @IHOb.

Their first tweet on the new account was “For 60 pancakin’ years, we’ve been IHOP. Now, we’re flippin’ our name to IHOb. Find out what it could b on 6.11.18. #IHOb”.

IHOP fans took the big news seriously, railing against the change. They didn’t want their iconic brand to change, and they certainly didn’t want their favorite menu items to go away. They reminded the brand of how well New Coke went over and vowed to keep calling it iHOP, no matter what the actual change might be.

For the rest of the world that was not as emotionally invested, it became a game to guess what the B might stand for. Breakfast, bacon, and many other B words were suggested. As you might imagine, there were plenty of more inventive guesses as well.

For an entire week, IHOP fanned the flames of the story, and the world responded. Mainstream media picked it up, and other food brands started building off of the IHOP news with their own twist. One of the best aspects of this campaign was watching the other restaurants, like Wendy’s, leverage the IHOP announcement for their own gain and reach.

As promised, on June 11th, IHOP prepared to answer all of the questions and admitted that they weren’t really changing their name at all. It was a publicity stunt to promote the fact that they had enhanced their burger offerings. The restaurant has always served burgers ever since they opened in the ’50s but it was never a focal point. They pointed out that they’d always put an SM behind IHOb (as opposed to the ® behind IHOP) to say it’s a new service line, not really a name change as they had stated.

As you might imagine, the internet was not amused. People felt like they’d been stooges to an online prank and they weren’t happy. IHOP did get millions of views, incredible PR, and media buzz and the world was talking about them like they hadn’t in years. Many would call that a win. After all, it was just a publicity stunt, right?

I don’t think so. A publicity stunt is generating a lot of interest around something sensational that you’re going to do (for those of you old enough to remember, think Evil Knievel trying to cross the Snake River Canyon) or a bandwagon you are jumping on to steal some of its audience. But imagine how the world would have felt if Evil Knievel had told the world for weeks that he was going to jump the Snake Canyon and then on the day of the jump, pulled up on his motorcycle, and yelled, “Psych!”

In a world where transparency and living your company’s values are front and center, lying to get attention seems like a risky, if not downright foolish, play.

You work for years to build credibility and trust with your prospects and customers. Beyond that, you bust a hump trying to delight them and get them to value and even have an emotional attachment to what you do for them. Why would you do something that risks unraveling all of that?

Making your devoted customers feel foolish seems like a huge price to pay to let the world know you’re upping your burger game. Being playful with your audience can often be a great tactic. But doing it the way IHOP did it, by doing it to their loyal customers rather than with them, isn’t smart brand ambassadorship.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Where are you listening?

July 22, 2020

Do you still have a customer service number that you promote on your product packaging, website, or collateral material? Do you get many snail mail letters from disgruntled customers? How about drop-ins, asking to speak to a supervisor.

That’s how people used to complain when a product or service didn’t live up to their expectations. Depending on your target audience, odds are, you’ve noticed a decline in these particular methods. But that does not mean people have stopped airing their grievances.

If anything, consumer complaints are on the rise. It’s not an if, it’s a where. My worry for businesses is that they’re not listening where their clients are venting their concerns.

A study done by Sprout Social shows that 46% of consumers have used social channels to call out a brand. 55% of consumers say that the reason they reach out to a brand on a social channel is that they want resolution or a response. What do you suppose their reaction is when they get silence in return?

Only 3% of the respondents said they didn’t want any sort of reaction or response from the brand. This is a key insight for us all. They are not complaining just to complain. They are complaining to get something in return.

What are they getting from you?

The same study revealed that consumers believe that social media increased the accountability of a brand by:

  • Uncovering unfair treatment (80% of respondents)
  • Gives the consumers power (75% of respondents)
  • Encourages transparency (70% of respondents)
  • Amplifies issues (65% of respondents)
  • Helps employees share experiences (55% of respondents)

When we don’t respond to their publicly aired grievance – how do you suppose that plays? I’d argue that at best, it makes us look out of touch and at worst like we have something to hide. None of those are going to win us any prizes in the customer service hall of fame.

Don’t be fooled by the suggestion that this is just a millennial behavior. Yes, they will shift to social faster than their older counterparts, but customers of all ages will use any tool at their disposal to get the attention they need. I’ve seen many 50+ consumers (myself included) use Facebook, Twitter, and other channels to get some action or reaction.

While the Sprout Social study focused on social channels, that’s just scratching the surface. Review sites for your industry, general review sites like Yelp.com, consumeraffairs.com, the Better Business Bureau’s site, your website, and, of course, Google and Facebook reviews are all fair game.

How big is your risk in this area? Who monitors all of these sites and channels for your company? How quickly do you notice when one of your customers raises an issue or asks a question? Do you respond, and do you have a protocol for your responses?

It’s not like the internet is a new concept or that anyone thinks people are going to cut the cord anytime soon. So why wouldn’t a business recognize how critical it is to monitor and respond to what’s being said about and to you on social channels and other online locations? I understand that it’s daunting. But that doesn’t mean we have the luxury of ignoring our customers simply because we’d prefer they use another method of communication.

The good news? When you respond well to an online complaint, you can not only solve the issue but actually earn a reward. 45% of people will reinforce the positive outcome by posting about it on social, telling their circle of influence about the resolution. They’re also more likely to do business with you in the future.

Be sure you are actively listening where your customers are most likely to be talking. And talk back.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Marketing: How do you retain their business?

July 15, 2020

This will wrap up our look at how to successfully reopen your business to customers to make them feel safe and welcome. Previously, we’ve worked through how to properly prep your team and your location for client visits and what to do to make their actual visit as frictionless as possible.

All too often, people think that marketing stops once the transaction is complete. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The most important marketing you’ll ever do isn’t the effort to get the first dollar. It’s to get the second.

How we communicate with our clients who have made the conscious decision to break free of the pandemic’s paralysis just to do business with us is going to be where we win or lose the game. It doesn’t matter if that was a client you’ve had for a decade, or you’ve never met them before – we’re living through a dramatic reset, where we have to re-earn everything.

What does that post-visit or post-transaction marketing look like? It starts on the inside. In many cases, your employees are working in an agitated, artificial environment. Checking in with them to see how it went is your first step. Catch them doing things right and use those as teachable moments with your entire team. Do more postmortems than usual, identifying unique situations, and work together to define best practices for handling each scenario.

With your clients, in order to retain them, you first need to communicate your gratitude for the opportunity to serve them. This has to be done in a very authentic way, so it feels and sounds like you. Now, in particular, is not the time for canned, generic messaging. Ask for candid feedback on their experience and what you could have done to make it even better.

There are some danger areas where you may need to communicate with more frequency and depth. If they have a complaint about their experience, remember that people are on edge. That escalates their reaction to everything, so factor that in.

If you had to create some sort of workaround during the pandemic to facilitate sales, like curbside pickup or special financing that you are not going to keep offering, you will have to over-communicate not only the change but more important – why the change.

Why aren’t you still offering whatever accommodations you created during the shelter in place period? Don’t be too hasty to eliminate all of what you thought of as “during the crisis” changes you’ve made. Some of them may have won you new clients. But if you really believe you should eliminate some of the temporary stopgap measures, try to see the change from your customer’s perspective and explain it with that lens. Saying you aren’t going to do it anymore for self-serving reasons is not going to play well in this current environment.

As you communicate with both customers and your team members about what’s coming next, changes, new additions, or elements that may be going away, be very mindful of the words you choose.

Now is not the time for absolutes. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable. Do not make promises you may not be able to keep as we continue to work through the phases of recovery. We are definitely in a season of under-promising and over-delivering.

You also want to make sure your messages convey the emotional side of the equation. Because we’re all a little weary, it would be easy to take shortcuts with our communications. Guard against that. Communicate often, and remember: Brands that lead with their heart and genuinely and consistently demonstrate their concern and care for the team and their customers will win the day.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Marketing: Tribute to front-line workers

July 8, 2020

A while back, we began to explore how customer service is shifting as businesses reopen after an eight- to 10-week shutdown. In that piece, we talked a lot about the importance of preparation. This is a measure twice, cut once moment in time. With everyone’s emotions as raw as they are, you want to get this right. A mistake can cost you a loyal customer or a devoted employee.

Today, I’m going to assume you’ve prepped and are ready to go. Now we’re going to turn our attention to what we need to be thinking about once we are open. One of the most heartening trends coming out of COVID, according to a May 2020 study by Accenture, is that, as consumers, we’ve never been more motivated and excited about buying local.

That bodes well for us, whether we sell direct to consumers or to other businesses. At this stage, you’ve decided as the business owner or leader which rules you’re going to choose to enforce when it comes to masks, the number of people in your establishment at once, client face-to-face meetings, etc. You’ve met with your team and briefed them on the rules.

Hopefully, you’ve done some brainstorming and role-playing, so they are feeling prepared as well.

Now it’s time to open the doors. The work you’ve done with your team isn’t done yet. In this phase, they need you to:

  • Help them enforce the rules with lots of visual cues and specific language to use with your clients.
  • Model well. They’re nervous, so they will be watching how you respond to your customers. Let them know when they handle a situation well. Thank them for helping you enforce the “new normal.”
  • Show grace. No one will get this 100% right, so come to work with an abundance of grace and give it out generously.

Your employees aren’t the only ones who are going to be a little anxious. Your customers are too. They may have been out and about for some time, but for others, your business location may be one of the first they’ve entered since March. For many of us, it was the grocery store, pharmacy, home, and repeat for quite a while!

Here’s how you can make it easier for your clients to walk through your door for the first time since the quarantine.

  • Paint a clear picture of what to expect before they show up. Whether it’s how the chairs in the conference room will be arranged or what inventory you have in stock, eliminate as many surprises as possible. Take advantage of all of their senses. Have prominent, bold signage that points them in the right direction, floor markings if that makes sense, PA announcements, and more live help than you usually might have.
  • Stationing someone at the door to greet your customer and help them navigate through your space will ease their worries significantly.
  • Show your excitement and be genuinely happy to see them. Remember, if you’re wearing a mask, facial cues are lost, so speak up and welcome them with warmth.

In this phase, you’re going to need to be very attentive and observant. Watch for signs of anxiety, discomfort, or confusion and be quick to jump to that employee or customer’s needs. Don’t worry if they’re not ready to buy yet. Just getting them back into your location and engaged is a win.

Slow and steady is going to win this race. Our job as business owners and leaders right now is to reconnect with our team and our customers.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

 

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How do we address black lives matter?

July 1, 2020

I admit that I have some trepidation tackling the inequality issue that is dominating our country and the world’s focus right now. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? If we don’t get over our discomfort, or in my case, my feeling that this isn’t my time to talk, then we can’t advance solutions all that far when it comes to addressing Black Lives Matter.

I will ask for your grace as I muddle my way through this. Like you, I am appalled by George Floyd’s death and am hopeful that the movement it has inspired will help us actually deal with the inequality that permeates our country.

I’ll never know what it’s like to experience discrimination as a consistent part of my reality, so I can’t speak to that. But I do know how we, as organizations, approach and talk about important and sensitive social issues can either serve our community and our companies well or put us quickly into crisis mode.

That’s the very specific lens through which I believe I am qualified to offer some guidance.

So, how should our businesses be responding?

If your company has already made or is planning to make a public declaration in an ad, shared a meme or made a statement on social media, or sent an email to your team or clients, then I believe you must commit to doing more than that.

We’re already seeing organizations being accused, often by their own employees, of hypocrisy and posturing, rather than genuinely being committed to being part of the solution. From a communications standpoint, how do we make it clear that this isn’t just for show?

This problem wasn’t created in a day, and we aren’t going to eradicate it in a day. It’s going to take many daily decisions, policy and program changes, law changes, etc. And we need to live those choices and actions out loud.

As we move past our initial expressions of outrage and actually start taking action to affect change, we need to expose our efforts and our progress to our employees, customers, and community.

One idea that I think has merit is creating a report card for your organization. On the report card, list all of the areas where inequality exists in your company. For example, if your employee population lacks diversity, depending on how severe the problem is, you might give yourself a D.

For each area on the report card, work with your employees to create an improvement plan, and then publicly review your grade quarterly. Be transparent about your plans, progress, and challenges. You might even consider posting your report card on your website.

Depending on the specifics, you could invite others to participate in the quarterly scoring. For example, your employees could weigh in on your diversity training efforts or your corporate giving practices. You can ask your customers to give you feedback on how safe and respected they feel when they’re in your place of business or interacting with your employees.

What I like about this idea is that it represents the reality that we’re going to be addressing this issue for a while, and it’s going to require incremental growth and change. It also makes it clear that your company and its leaders are not just giving lip service to this social concern.

This level of transparency will build trust and confidence in your efforts and encourage your employees, clients, and our community to support and ideally, join you in your efforts.

If the report card idea isn’t for you, then take its basic tenants and create your own accountability tool. But that’s what it’s going to take – us holding ourselves and each other accountable as we tackle the systematic and institutional racism that exists in every facet of our society today.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Overcommunicate Upfront

June 24, 2020

As businesses reopen and invite customers back into their establishments, it’s safe to say everyone is on edge.

Business owners are understandably concerned. Just because they’ve reopened or their employees are coming back, that doesn’t mean the clients will.

Employees are anxious too. They are worried about their physical safety, but they’re not sure if their jobs are secure or what they’re going to do with the kids this summer. They’re also wondering how the clients are going to react to the new restrictions and rules.

Your customers are also feeling uneasy. There are so many unknowns. Are you going to have new rules, new hours, or service delays? Should they be out and about at all? Will you be wearing masks? Do they need to wear masks?

There will be three critical stages of communication as we march our way back to post-COVID normal. We’re going to take a look at the pre-visit communications you need to have with your team and your customers.

Your employees know it’s going to be their job to help you manage all of the changes that come with your post-COVID reentry. The more you can prepare them, the more comfortable they’ll feel, and in turn, the more they can put your customers at ease.

Here are some things to cover with your team:

  • You own your company’s rules. Be very clear about what you want and what you are willing to accept.
  • Your staff needs to have a high level of clarity and permission to enforce the rules. Remember, they typically have more client contact than you do.
  • Role-playing and scenario discussions can be very helpful in this phase. No one has done this before, so nerves are high and confidence is low.
  • Help them imagine all of the special requests and brainstorm possible responses.
  • Define your protection of them, so they aren’t afraid to take action. Make sure they know you have their back.
  • Remember, they’re feeling a lot of emotions too. Show them that you care about those emotions.
  • Check-in with them personally. Ask about their families and what’s going on in their personal life. Remember that COVID has affected every aspect of people’s lives, and that can influence how they show up at work.
  • Ask about their worries, excitement, etc. as you go back. Get them to open up by sharing how you’re feeling. You’re also going to want to level up your communications with your customers so they can picture in their heads exactly what to expect. The more they have a sense of what their experience is going to be like, the quicker they’ll come back.
  • Describe the experience, so they know what to expect. Help them understand what is and isn’t changing.
  • Use visuals whenever possible. Help them literally see how you’ve reconfigured things, what they’ll see when they walk in the door, and all the ways you’ve made it easy for them.
  • Posting FAQs on your website or your Facebook page will be helpful. Every time you get asked a new question, update the FAQs.
  • Be clear about suggestions versus rules. Help them honor your rules and avoid being chastised or embarrassed when they walk in the door.
  • If masks are optional, be very clear about that. If you’re going to turn them away if they show up without a mask, you don’t want that to be a surprise.

What this is really about is you demonstrating your compassion for your employees and your customers by reducing their anxieties about reengaging. Next time, we’ll look at how to communicate while everyone is actually in your place of business.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Marketing: Have you met your new customers?

June 17, 2020

As Iowa reopens, we are being greeted by brand-new customers. Even if they look like our old customers, they’ve been changed. Two+ months of isolation, deprivation, and raw emotions can alter anyone’s perspective.

We have to remember that we’re not to the new normal yet. We’re in the temporary, abnormal phase of reentry. What complicates this phase is that no two people are reacting to the idea of our state’s reopening in the same way.

That makes the decisions you need to make as you invite your clients back to your location a little less black and white. Please do not make the mistake of assuming your customers will behave the way they did pre-COVID. Typically people don’t change much in 60 days. But there’s not all that much that is normal right now.

The discomfort and nerves are showing up in a wide range of reactions. Between COVID and the protests, it’s no wonder that most people are a confused cocktail of emotional responses. You’re going to interact with customers who are exhibiting a mix of fear, frustration, anger, and delight at being able to leave their homes. These emotions are distorting people’s perspectives and expectations. Some will be so happy to be interacting with you in person, they won’t notice much else.

Others will be so anxious that they’ll notice everything.

How do you meet their expectations? It starts with understanding what they are. If there were ever a good time for a customer survey, June 2020 is it. A recent study done by Accenture identifies five new consumers that we’re all going to encounter.

Twenty-one percent of consumers are worriers. They are typically 56- to 69-year-olds who have some underlying conditions that make them take the stance that they’re not willing to take any chances.

Twenty-two percent of them are what Accenture called the individualists. They’re more frustrated by people acting stupid by hoarding toilet paper than they are about being exposed to the virus. They tend to fall in the 18- to 24-year-old range.

Thirty-nine percent of consumers would be considered rationalists. They are not concerned and believe that all they can do is to keep things clean and hope others do the same. They tend to fall into the 25 to 31-year-old age group.

The activist subgroup is about 8% of the population. They believe it is their social responsibility to socially distance. They also tend to be in the 25 to 31-year-old age group.

Eleven percent of the population is indifferent. They think the situation has been seriously blown out of proportion. This attitude is most prevalent in 40- to 55-year-olds.

As you build out your survey, be sure you ask your customers how they feel about some of the changes you’ve had to make during COVID. What may surprise you is that they fully expect you to keep the modifications they personally like. Whether it’s to-go margaritas or private shopping by appointment, you may be planning to abolish something you thought of as a temporary fix, and they saw it as a valuable enhancement.

Another insight you’ll need to probe to identify is exactly what will make your clients feel like it’s safe to come back to your location. They may be ready to be out and about but are they ready to come back specifically to your establishment? This is a dangerous place where many assumptions live. Some consumers will absolutely feel safer if you require everyone to wear a mask. Others will choose to avoid any business that has that policy.

It’s always been smart marketing to have a deep understanding of what your customers are thinking and feeling. Right now, as we navigate these completely uncharted waters, it’s essential.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Does it even matter?

June 10, 2020

Two months ago, we couldn’t imagine anything worse than the coronavirus pandemic. But at least we were in it #together. And now, in the past week, we’ve seen just how not together we all are as we watch our country unravel in cities far away and right here in Des Moines. As I write this, people are afraid to leave their homes, not because of the virus but because of their neighbors.

There have been moments in my life when I have questioned my professional calling. Surely I could do something nobler than marketing. I can’t do blood, so being a doctor or nurse was never in the cards. But I could have been a lawyer or a policeman or run a non-profit.

Would the world have made better use of my talents in one of those professions?

I suspect some of you may be finding it challenging to even think about business or marketing right now.

You may be wondering if it even matters. Is anyone listening, or is the world’s noise so insistent that they can’t even contemplate anything beyond their own survival?

I believe what we do does matter, and I believe we have a unique role in helping the world be a better place for all human beings.

It’s probably always been true, but in the last decade, the marketplace has made it very clear. People want to do business with companies that stand for something. Who defend something. Who fight for something. Who believe in something and, most of all, who are willing to take action to change the world in alignment with those beliefs.

That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t sell your products or services. In fact, the research is clear. When you declare your corporate position on whatever issues you choose to tackle or help resolve, your consumers want to buy even more of what you sell. That’s their version of high fiving you.

Whether you are a solopreneur or the CEO of one of the largest companies in the US, the opportunity is the same. We can build a community made up of our employees, our customers, and our prospects, and we can share those beliefs. We can talk about what we are doing to accomplish social change, and we can invite our community to be a part of our efforts.

I’m not suggesting that every business should jump onto the #blacklivesmatter bandwagon because of what is happening right now. If that is genuinely an issue you want to fight for over the long haul as an organization, by all means – stand up and be heard.

But for this to work, for both the world and for our own hearts, who are wondering if we’re making a difference in our career of choice, this can’t be a superficial cause of the month situation. As we have seen time and time again, systematic change is neither quick nor cheap. You don’t just run an ad out of solidarity and then go back to business as usual. If you are not ready to devote resources to this and weave the fight into all of your business practices and policies, then don’t bother.

The world is reminding us, loud and clear, that each of us plays a role in the kind of world we share. While we all can and should speak up as individuals, some of us can do even more.

I believe as marketers and business leaders, we have a unique and powerful opportunity to have incredible influence in shaping the future for ourselves, our neighbors, and future generations.

You have a platform and a megaphone. Use them well.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Now what?

June 3, 2020

Most business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs appreciate having a plan and things going according to plan. If we’re seasoned – we know it’s not all going to go according to plan, but it helps to have confidence that we’re at least heading in the right direction.

We rely on past experiences, external cues, advice from advisors, and our own entrepreneurial instincts to guide our efforts. Nine times out of ten, we end up pretty close to where we were trying to land.

Which is one of the reasons this whole pandemic has us so uneasy. We have no direct past experience. The external cues are changing hourly, and there’s little consistency among all of the voices. Our advisors are as in the dark as we are, and it’s scary to trust your instincts.

As Iowa opens up, this uncertainty gets more pronounced, rather than less so. If we open up, will our customers come back? If we make our dining rooms available, will we have patrons? If we plan on heading back to the office, how will the employees react?

In some ways, being locked down was easier. It was very clear what our customers and we could and couldn’t do. But as Iowans ease back into life outside their own homes, everything seems more tenuous.

I believe that many people saw the state’s reopening as the end of this. But really, for most of us, it’s the beginning. We have to navigate doing business in an environment of fear, worry, financial challenges, and as always, it seems political polarization.

Assumptions have always been dangerous when it comes to marketing. It’s so easy to apply our own bias to any situation and get it very wrong. That’s even more true when it’s an emotional issue, and C19 has escalated everyone’s emotions.

Now is not the time for you to guess. The stakes are too high. An empty store or dining room can cost more than being closed. Silent but disgruntled employees can impact your ability to serve customers or recruit additional help.

I am always a fan of knowing more. Knowledge and insights are rarely wasted assets. As you venture back towards pre-COVID normal, now would be an excellent time for you to have candid conversations with your customers and team members.

I know there’s discomfort that comes with hearing reactions, worries, or sentiments that you do not want to hear. But if there was ever a time for not stepping out in complete darkness, now is that time.

Ask questions. Listen with unbiased ears to the answer. If you can’t remove your own bias, hire an outsider to listen on your behalf, and help you interpret the data.

Previously, I outlined the kinds of communication and information that clients want from you right now. Marketing should never be a monologue anymore. We don’t have to revert back to that. But if there was ever a time for dialogue, that time is now. Rich, compassionate, deep dialogue that will help you anticipate what the next month or two will bring.

No one is going to fault you for caring enough to ask, listen, and then act based on what you heard. You can also use that effort to explain to your audiences why you are making the choices you’ve made. Let them know they played a role in helping you set the course for the next phase of this moment in time.

Push aside your fears about what you will hear, and let’s answer the “now what” question with as much insight as we can garner in these early days of reopening the state.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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In these unprecedented, challenging times of togetherness

May 27, 2020

We have reached the saturation point for trite phrases (unprecedented, challenging) that signal to your audience that you are trying to acknowledge the fact that pandemics are not the norm. These words and phrases have been overexposed to the level that they are now like chalk on a blackboard – creating a screeching noise in our mental ear so distracting that we actually lose the point of the message.

I am pretty sure there is not a human being on the planet that does not know we’re living through an unprecedented and challenging time. Which means you can skip the setup and get right to the message.

Here’s what people want to know from you now:

Are you open: If so, have your hours changed? Do you require masks or some other change in how they’re used to interacting with you? If you’re a retail establishment, are you controlling the number of people in your store at the same time? Do I get a number or do I check in somewhere? How/where do I wait?

If you’re a B2B organization, are you back in the office? Are you conducting face-to-face meetings again? Have any of the rules of engagement changed?

Are you doing business differently: Are you shipping your products in a new way? Is there a change in your payment policies? Are you keeping some of the delivery models you developed during the lockdown? Are you delivering some things virtually that you used to do in person?

Are you having issues with your products or services: Will there be delivery delays or are there certain products or services you can’t offer right now? Is there a longer than usual window for deliveries? Are you anticipating any problems with your supply chain that may impact me?

How are you staying safe and keeping me safe? Have you increased your standards or the frequency of your cleaning schedule? Are you wiping down surfaces between customers? Is your warehouse doing anything different so my items are packaged in a noncontaminated way? How are you helping other customers keep their distance and protect us from each other?

How can you help me right now? Beyond your products and services, are there any special deals or arrangements you’re offering because of the current circumstances? Different delivery models? Relaxed payment schedules? Added incentives or bonuses for buying now?

How are you? They genuinely want to know how you and your business have fared through the last few months. Are you okay? Were customers nice to you during all of this? Did you have to let go of some of your team or close a location?

Your marketing messages should be focused on what your customers and prospects actually want to know. That’s not a C19 recommendation – that’s just marketing 101. But given that everyone’s on edge and any little thing could deter them from buying at this moment – it’s even more important to be sensitive to what they really need.

But even more than that — if there was ever a time to humanize your marketing, it is now. Everyone’s emotions are raw. Everyone has suffered loss over the last few months. And everyone is gingerly stepping out, afraid of what might be waiting around the next corner.

You have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate your compassion, understanding, and commitment to your audience by stepping away from the trite phrases and communicating as authentically and empathetically as you can.

Invite them back, help them remove as much of the worry and anxiety about doing business with you that you can, and encourage them to share input and feedback.

Demonstrate that you actually are in this with them, as opposed to just using the hashtag.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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