Every day the news features stories about how businesses are adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. Whether it’s small companies developing new revenue streams to stay afloat or larger ones reorienting operations to provide critical support, one thing is clear: Businesses are pivoting quickly.
But there can be missteps too. Promotions tied to COVID-19 fill my social feed and inbox: Buy a comfy work-from-home bra! Puzzles (that are sold out) to help entertain the family!
Bonin Bough is a digital marketing guru, startup investor, and author of “Txt Me: Your Phone Has Changed Your Life. Let’s Talk about It.” His latest venture, OpenMessage, creates dynamic, branded text messages to drive customer loyalty. The company was selected by global startup accelerator SAP.iO Foundries to participate in a new cohort of customer experience and retail companies.
Here Bough provides important advice to businesses about how to stay relevant, keep connected to employees and consumers, and protect their brand during these turbulent times.
People-Centered Value Creation
For companies to stay relevant, while not acting opportunistically, Bough says companies must put human need front and center.
“People are going through tough times, so what are the things that you can do as a person and a business to help ease tough times?” he notes. Any product innovation or new revenue streams developed right now must be founded on the bedrock of compassion.
“It’s really going to become ‘How do I create value for consumers that ease the pain and help us get back to normalcy as fast as we can?”, given the issues that we have,” Bough says. He believes that if businesses focus their efforts and resources against that challenge, they will figure a way through this challenging period and wind up on the right side of history.
Bough heeds his own advice. OpenMessage enables companies to send branded, interactive text messages to consumers. But right now his company is helping a midwestern grocery chain send consumers messages with important information, such as a shopping list with enough items to last two weeks and how to get supplies like toilet paper or hand sanitizer in a more structured, organized way.
Empathy for Employees
To an extent, stay-at-home orders during the pandemic have acted as a great equalizer for white collar workers. Everyone from CEOs to software developers now works at home while simultaneously managing education and childcare, caring for elderly or sick loved ones, and keeping their households functioning despite long waits for grocery shopping.
To keep employees motivated and creative, Bough explains, “I think it starts with empathy and just really understanding and getting to the bottom of what’s happening in your employee’s current situation.” He cautions that managers shouldn’t pry but try to learn enough to put their requests into perspective.
While some businesses have ground to a halt, companies need to keep the engine running so they can come out of this on the other side. For Bough, that boils down to flexibility and compassion: “The biggest tip is to be empathetic and then to really, really think about how you structure the workday so that works around what the different needs of the people who work for you.”
The Silver Lining
Bough recognizes that people crave optimism right now and sees positivity in several areas. First is family togetherness. “As crazy as it is, there’s a silver lining and blessing here that many times we don’t get to share this kind of time with our family. And here we are. We’re with them — good, bad, or ugly,” Bough says. He encourages people to embrace this special period to rebuild relationships and spend time in-person or virtually with elderly relatives.
“I’m enjoying being able to spend every night on a Zoom call with my dad going through the half a million photographs that we have and talking about them. And that’s time that I usually wouldn’t have. Those are beautiful things,” he shares.
Second, Bough sees this as an opportunity for genuine connection with consumers. With so many people craving outside activities, businesses can offer services that will help them “dig out of the hole quickly” once they resume. For example, restaurants can offer cooking shows. “I know some people are stuck at home, trying but they’re not great cooks, so how can businesses provide that connectivity to them?”
Last, Bough is inspired by the impact companies can make and offers several examples. With non-essential businesses shut down around the country, nail salons are offering online tutorials and advice to clients. “Then you have Estee Lauder changing their facilities to create hand sanitizer,” he says. “These are the examples that I find the most fascinating, with the most amount of human ingenuity being put to the test in a chaotic environment.”