Q & A: The importance of Return on Relationship (#RonR) on your customers and team… even more-so during this pandemic. 

1. What should people be thinking about with regard to building brand relationships during this unique period we find ourselves in? RonR (creative boom / content / opportunities?)

The events of the last couple of months have left us all in a state of confusion, fear and uncertainty. As many areas are in the process of shutting down industries, or re-working the way we conduct business in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19, many of us are withdrawing. The once surging economy is now struggling as our economic machine grinds to a halt. These are scary times for most of us unsure whether our businesses and families can sustain a prolonged shut-down.

Rather than devolving into panic and becoming completely defensive, however, I think this is the perfect time for reaching out to others in the spirit of contribution, support, and relationship building. What a great time to start moving your brand away from a Targeting mindset and shifting the mindset to one of Matchmaking. As many brace for a prolonged period of working from home or sheltering in place to wait out the virus, I think it’s important that we take this opportunity of spending more time at home, with in many instances less to do or sell, to focus on some of the things many of us seem to often feel we are too busy to pay attention to…. Relationship building and nurturing the connection to colleagues, vendors, and customers. Relationships are like muscle tissue, the more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become… so an incredibly amount of value can be built and stored during this time that is available to us.

2. What advice would you give brands from a strategy and community management perspective who’s world has been turned upside down from this crisis?

I certainly can’t say I have the answers, because I don’t. I wake up every day as frustrated and confused as the next person. BUT I will somewhat reiterate what I just said in answer to your last question… If we want consumers to feel connections with brands, then we can’t make them feel like they’re being hunted. That is why I feel it is so important to change the conversation, and shift from a Targeting mindset in favor of a Matchmaking mentality. What better way to begin than with a focus on building relationships, and taking this time to understand and discover what are the most important needs of our customers and community.

Every company has their unique challenges with this crisis along with the ones we are all facing. It is difficult, if not impossible, to define and address from each company’s perspective. My take, and this is completely generalizing… we need to embrace the communities we know about, and reach out to others who may need our support and hear and respond to their needs. Walmart is doing a great job of listening and delivering against the needs of their communities with regard to safety, pick-up and delivery, and testing for the virus.

3. How can brands advance from all this?

Step-up and be there for your community. Offer what you can to support your customers and their communities. Another thing we’re seeing is a view into who are our corporate good citizens are. Companies like Walmart are helping their communities and their workers. Will all airlines extend our flyer status? Hilton has already sent out a letter telling everybody that they’re extending all their benefits by a year, as has Delta. You know that these companies are hurting but they’re stepping up. They’re recognizing that the only way they’re going to come back is to look out for their customers. The companies that step-up and do this soon are going to be recognized. It’s just like when you have a hard time in your personal life you find out who your real friends are, right? You’re seeing forward thinking companies stepping up right away. You know this is not about profits first because we recognize that without our community, we’re nothing. As I have said over and over the past few years… a Network gives you Reach, but a Community gives you Power. Networks Connect… Communities Care.

4. Will things ever go back to normal from a relationship management perspective? Thoughts on the new norm…?

I’ve talked before about the fact that things are going to change, and companies are going to realize how people can work remotely, be effective and get their work done. Truth be told, I think some companies are finding that people ARE being more effective at home. They are not being sidetracked and they’re not spending all that time traveling. Even if you only drive 20 minutes to work, that’s still 40 minutes extra a day of driving not to mention parking, stopping for coffee, and chit chatting in the parking lot and on the way into the office, not to mention all the morning hello’s and conversations.

5. Rounding off – Ted, any additional advice you would like to share with the marketing / branding / comms world with regard to brand reputation strategies / opportunities during this period?

YES… don’t just focus on consumers and their communities, focus on your employees and show them how important they are to the organization. Encourage your employees to better themselves during this time There are a lot of valuable online learning and workout resources. Support and encourage them getting in shape, staying in shape, and/or educate themselves during this time… learn a new skill, study history, write a book, learn to cook or add to your cooking skills.

And from a business perspective, it’s a great time to try new things, such as exploring new technology. A friend suggested using private podcasts as a form of employee communication. Inter-office webinars and Zoom meetings are becoming the norm. All of a sudden, companies are being forced to try things that they knew were out there, but might have worried wouldn’t be effective, or would cost them some efficiency. They are trying them and finding that those fears were unfounded… and that in many cases they are substantially more efficient. When this is all over a lot of companies are going to divest of office space and the endless, throughout the day, team meetings. I think many more companies will be open to letting people work remotely. Let your team know that all these things they have been trying and using will not be just for now, but if/when we discover better, or simply alternative way, many of these practices will continue even after the crisis passes.

And last but certainly not least, ENCOURAGE your team to take care of themselves because it’s hard to help others unless you feed your own soul. Take the time to do things that bring you joy. If you’ve got a family pet, spend quality time with them. Work out at home. Break out that cookbook you haven’t had a chance to get into and make some new recipes. Drink lots of fresh water. Limit your screen time. Walk in nature or in your neighborhood if you can do so. Listen to your favorite music. Practice meditation or prayer. Do things that make YOU happy.

The bottom line is that we can and should take charge of how we react to what’s happening around us that is beyond our control. And the best way to do that is to concentrate on building positive relationships with as many people as possible starting with those closest to you and radiating out from there. Getting back into relationship building is what makes us human and helps all of us deal with crisis. We’re in this together, so let’s concentrate on finding more ways to help each other cope and come out on the other side of this as stronger human beings with stronger relationships.

So important to close with something I have been saying for years and wraps this all up nicely… *A Brand is what a business (or person) does, a Reputation is what people Remember and Share.*

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