This week began with the highest level of economic uncertainty that we've seen since 2008. There are many similarities in the mood today and how things felt back then, though, today's challenges are much different. Many of us had seen the possibility of some level of economic uncertainty coming, and we had actually blogged about this last fall. For the most part, we stand by our assumptions made in that post. This week, we want to reiterate a few things that clients and agencies should be doing right now as this crisis is emerging.
First: Don't Panic
I feel this is something everyone needs to be reminded of right now. Don't panic. The sun will set tonight and rise again tomorrow, and everyone who loved you yesterday still will love you tomorrow, too. Panic doesn't get us anywhere, and never forget that this too, shall pass. The efforts you put into digital marketing or building out your software infrastructure haven't been wasted, the investment you made in technology will still bear fruit. Keep at what you are doing and know that not everyone will take this advice, they will instead panic, and cause long-term damage to their efforts.
I'm 41 years old, and this is effectively the 5th economic downturn I can remember. I was a kid, but I remember the 1987 crash because it was all my parents could talk about. In the late '90s, the internet bubble collapsed, and that dried up the job market a bit as I was graduating university – that sucked! In 2001, post 9/11 wreaked havoc in my neck of the woods, as we are close to Manhattan. We watched the towers come down, we saw the markets collapse, and we all were personally affected. It was a surreal time. Then, you have the financial crisis. 2008 was a disaster, and you can make arguments that we still are not fully recovered. I feel that the general mood right now is a mixture of all of these events, but unfortunately, at a larger scale. The big difference this time is that the banks and the financial system appear to be better equipped to handle where we are, allowing us to keep the wheels of commerce moving. Provided that the credit markets stay liquid and the federal government has some relief to businesses and employees, we'll get through this. Don't forget that!
Secondly: Understand the Issues
There are two issues this week putting pressure on the economy. First, obviously, we have COVID-19. Whereas the 2008 financial crisis put stress on our financial system and almost caused it to collapse, the COVID-19 situation makes it increasingly more feasible that large-scale pressure may be placed on our healthcare system. This is much worse, in so many respects, because we are talking about lives and people's well-being. There are two possibilities that I feel are likely. First, the math proves that the virus will exponentially be distributed among the population unless our daily lives are turned upside down. That's inconvenient and economically disastrous. But worse, if the math holds true, we'll all be affected at a personal level, because people will get sick and some will not make it through. As a society, our primary goal MUST BE to slow down the virus to avoid overloading the healthcare system. This means school closures, significant events shutting down, losses to restaurants, shopping, etc. And, we are already seeing this on a large scale starting with universities and sports teams and leagues.
Third: Prepare Your Business and Your Personal Life
The majority of my blog readers are marketers, product managers, or entrepreneurs. You all equally share the burden of needing to plan and prepare for a new normal, at least for a few months. This means, prepare your business (and lives) for uncertainty. This starts by staying in operation…
Build a Remote-Access Stack
The COVID-19 crisis is definitely going to interrupt business as usual for many companies. Its all but a sure thing that mass shutdowns of further infrastructure and services such as schools will at some point, for some period of time, occur. All of this is putting pressure on companies to figure out how they can keep the wheels of their business in motion despite people being unable to physically come to work. Recently, I've heard stories of banks and other enterprise institutions working to perform tests of remote work, with some conducting these tests this week. In one instance, I know of a large banking institution that had issues with employees remotely working during the most recent holiday season and has some level of anxiety about whether or not they can sustain remote work in the near term. Obviously, this needs to be figured out immediately before their routine operations are affected.
Luckily, for many small to medium-sized businesses that aren't retail or otherwise B2C with in-person customer interaction, remote work is a bit easier. In fact, many companies already have some level of work-from-home allowed. For those who don't, they will have to start formulating plans immediately. Here in NJ, the school districts are scrambling to figure out online learning for kids who may face weeks of school closures. Last night, many schools already announced those closures. It's happening, and we are all running out of time to adapt if we haven't already. Planning is key, and you have to do it fast.
If In An Affected Industry: Engage
In this blog, I refuse to get political. And for those who know me, that's hard! But one apparent issue is that people are not getting the information they need to make sound and wise judgments. If you are in an affected business, engage with your customers and tell the truth. Depending on how you conduct your business, you may find digital means make the most sense. Engage via social media. Tell your customers what is happening, and be open about where it may affect them.
It seems right now that airlines, events, sports, and in short order, any store with a physical presence, will need to work to inform their customers about what is going on. Do it early. Build your following and develop trust. Those customers WILL come back when we are out of this. And, with all of the distrust aimed at our leadership, people will remember and value that you were there with them throughout this.
You can't stop investing in infrastructure, product development, and even your marketing services. Stopping those things mean, at some point, clients may be underserved. And, for the most part, customers will suffer down the line, right about when things are recovering. So you have to keep working. However, you need to carefully procure your help. If you are hiring for marketing or software development, you need to carefully hire and avoid catastrophic mistakes.
Continuing to work is good, but hiring those who are not capable of the task or have sketchy portfolios is not a good idea. You may not have a second chance to get things right. These days, finding the proper help is essential.
Also, it would be best if you made sure that whoever you are hiring now has the infrastructure in place to remotely work. It isn't smart to hire a company that can barely function on a remote basis.
Personally: Prepare & Find Balance
I've focused so much on what our businesses can do during this crisis. But also remember to take care of yourself. Prepare by stocking up on supplies, as we may be on lockdown for a while. Make sure you have enough to keep you and your family fed and cared for, for probably weeks on end. And, work to find balance and perspective. This, too, shall pass, and we'll all be stronger for it.
Finally: Find Normalcy
This may be the hardest for most of us. But, we have to try to find some level of normalcy. As I've spent most of the week preparing and sometimes panicking (maybe I'm being too honest!), today I looked forward to getting back to work and taking a breather. If you are working from home, go about your routine. Get some exercise, wake up at the same time as always, and get out of your pajamas! In fact, I made a point of changing my kids into clothes and out of their "jammies" because I want each day to be, for lack of a better word, "something" for them. The more we continue working on our everyday tasks, growing our businesses, and adapting to these challenges optimistically, the better we'll feel. Again, remember - we will get through this - and be better for it.
Good luck, everyone.