Over the past ten weeks, Knotch CEO Anda Gansca and MikMak CEO Rachel Tipograph have brought leaders together from across the business landscape to discuss how brands can navigate through the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our weekly virtual roundtable series has featured some of the brightest minds in business today, including goop CEO Gwyneth Paltrow, VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, WW CEO Mindy Grossman, Ford Motor Company CMO Joy Falotico, Wells Fargo CMO Michael Lacorazza, Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar, AT&T CMO Mo Katibeh, Mitsubishi Motors CMO Kimberley Sweet Gardiner, Lowe’s CMO Marisa Thalberg, and many, many more.
In total, we compiled 20 hours of advice from top executives at Fortune 500 companies regarding how to manage your business during this pandemic. To hear their advice, we recommend you visit the Podcast section of our Pros & Content Hub.
However, we realize 20 hours of content is A LOT. For those looking for more of a summary, we took the transcripts from all of our episodes and ran them through a text analyzer to identify the most common words throughout the series.
We then narrowed down the list to seven words that we feel accurately summarize our conversations with our panelists. Here are those seven words:
Definition: A stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined.
“Crisis” was the term most often used to describe the current moment. However not all business leaders we spoke with used the term as a negative. In fact, many believed the current crisis could serve business leaders well in the long run by providing them with clarity and perspective.
“A crisis is a good time to see if there are barnacles on the boat—things we can streamline to help us get back to what the core of the business is,” Paltrow told us in Episode 3. “I feel excited and inspired by that particular aspect.”
Crisis preparedness was another big topic of discussion. Tim Minahan, CMO at Citrix, spoke in Episode 1 of how Citrix’s focus on business preparedness allowed them to capitalize on an opportunity to bring their remote learning software to a new market.
“The University of Sydney reached out to us in late January and said they needed to develop a contingency plan to keep their more than 14,000 studeuts and staff connected throughout Asia, and within a week we had them up-and-running on our software and ready to turn them into an online university,” Minahan explained.
“Now we have a new way to reach students and professors around the world that we couldn’t get before because of their location. The lesson is companies need to always be thinking about how they can shift what they do to create new opportunities for customers.”
Minday Grossman put it more bluntly: “Never waste a good crisis.”
Definition: A group of people leading a common life according to a rule.
The second term that came up frequently was “community.”
Many business leaders believed it was important to communicate to your customers that “we’re all in this together.” That means brands should look out for their customers in whatever way possible, similar to how members of a community would protect each other.
“It’s so important to be tuned in to what your community needs right now. We’ve pivoted a lot over these last few weeks to try and find new ways to serve our customers’ needs” said Dean Dietz, Chief Community Officer at Adweek, during Episode 5. “As an example, every single week I used to put out Adweek’s CMO Moves podcast. We went dark when this all started because it just wasn’t the right time to do that. Instead we focused inward and started hosting tons of community calls to try and answer our readers’ most pressing questions.”
The idea of community also extends to your own employees. Anda Gansca spoke on the importance of making sure her team felt they could voice their concerns during Episode 4.
“Even though we’re working remotely, keeping that idea of community together is critical for our business,” Gansca said. “That means keeping lines of communication open and treating everyone’s issues as valid. I think we’ll see that the companies that put their own people first and foremost will be the best off coming out of this.”
Definition: The art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal.
During a time of crisis, people need leaders. But how do you lead during a time of crisis? Our panelists had a few suggestions:
“Purposeful speed and ingenuity is really important in a time like this,” said Grossman during Episode 4. “Don’t aim for perfection, just do what you need to do to get it done. That’s what leaders do.”
“I try to over communicate during times of crisis,” Vaynerchuk added. “I’ll send group emails, hop on Slack, do live streams—anything to be transparent and show empathy.”
Others said crisis leadership means being a master prioritizer, finding new ways to innovate, planning for the worst, and ultimately doing whatever needs to be done to survive.
“Getting through a crisis is a pass/fail test,” said Jeff Immelt, former CEO of GE and current partner at New Enterprise Associates, in Episode 4. “All you have to do is get to the other side. You’re going to make mistakes and you should be ready for that.”
Definition: An appropriate or favorable time or occasion.
The past three months haven’t been a happy time for anyone—businesses included.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good that can come out of this situation. Paltrow and Grossman both noted that the crisis helped them get back to the core of what their business does well.
Other leaders have also found new ways to improve operations and grow stronger during COVID-19.
“We’ve looked at this crisis as an opportunity to strengthen the emotional bond that we have with our customers in a way that’s relevant for today,” said Denise Lauer, CMO of Morton Salt, in Episode 8. “We’ve been finding new ways to add value to our customers’ lives, be it through saving them time or money, or giving them new ideas for cooking, arts and crafts, or entertainment. It’s really helped us grow our brand during this time.”
Definition: Not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.
When our panelists used the term “virtual,” it was typically in relation to virtual communication, such as Zoom meetings, webinars, and online conferences. Many said their brands had reinvested in virtual communications once COVID-19 became widespread and it was clear that in-person events would not be a possibility.
How do you get the most out of virtual communication? Linda Lee, CMO at Campbell’s Meals and Beverages, showcased what her brand was doing:
“We know that, because people are stuck home, they’re cooking more. So we thought about how we could take this newfound love of virtual experiences and use it to appeal to our audience,” said Lee in Episode 8. “ So we’ve started hosting these virtual parties which have been really fun for our customers.”
Some leaders also focused on the importance of clear communication and accountability when managing a virtual workforce.
Dictionary: Giving or rendering aid or assistance.
All of our panelists emphasized the importance of being helpful to their audience. Our research has shown that, during this crisis, customers aren’t interested in being sold a product or service. Instead, they’re looking for reassurance and advice on what to do.
Brands that prioritize utility and emotion will be able to foster a stronger connection with their customers, and retain mindshare during a time when consumers aren’t looking to spend money. Our data revealed that businesses taking this approach have seen a spike in positive sentiment toward their brand.
Alicia Tillman, CMO at SAP, spoke on the importance of finding ways to help her customers during Episode 9.
“When this crisis started, we realized that all that matters right now is what our customers need,” Tillman said. “We’re a global technology company that’s supposed to help businesses run at their best, so we focused on all the ways to apply that during a time like this. We asked ourselves how we can help businesses retain employees, how we can support employees that may still have to travel for work, how we can help people maintain their supply chains, and what types of insights our partners need to know to keep their people productive while working from home.”
All in, Tillman said SAP mobilized to put out 15 different COVID-19-specific resources to help support their partners.
“We listened quickly, reacted quickly, and focused on doing everything possible to help,” Tillman said.
What are some unique ways your business can help others during this crisis?
7. “The Second Half of the Year”
Okay, so this one isn’t really a word, but rather a phrase that came up again and again during the roundtables.
It’s no surprise that there’s a lot of emphasis on the future—many people are looking forward to a time when the pandemic is over. Businesses are also thinking about how the landscape will change as we head into Q3 and Q4, and the ways it will affect their business.
And while we can hope some things will change for the better (an economic recovery, more businesses reopening, etc.), most of our panelists agreed that we don’t know what’s in store for us in the second half of the year.
“I don’t think there’s any visibility into the second half of the year right now,” said Keith Grossman, president at TIME Magazine, in Episode 9. “Each day has been different. I think it all comes down to how you’re thinking about the world. For example, If you think we’re going to get a vaccine soon, then you have different opportunities that you’re going to plan for.”
“I think what you really have to do as a marketer is just think about your next 90 days and constantly reevaluate,” Grossman added. “If you’re looking past the next 90 days to focus on the second half of the year, odds are that you probably won't make it to the second half of the year.”