Stress-test your brand in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic

Exceptional events make for exceptional opportunities. In the pre-pandemic world I was hired by businesses to run exercises like the Zombie Apocalypse. What seems like whimsy, some CEO’s indulgent idea on fashionable team-building games, was actually intended to strip the organization bare of its dressings and reveal the very core of its identity.

The concept is so important that the CDC also run similar scenarios and the Pentagon run its own scenario and went as far as to create a counter-plan to fight off the Zombie Apocalypse, called Conop 8888.

We’re now in the grip of a global pandemic that’s threatening to wipe a percentage of many industries off the face of the Earth. An entirely new, to us, virus is doing a pretty spectacular job of stripping companies, brands and individuals of our affectations and revealing the values that truly make us who we are.

Values are important because they become the foundation of motivation. Motivation drives passion and consistency. Passion and consistency become important because they lead to externally perceived actions that become the data used to judge the quality of our internal world.

As individuals this leads to judgement from others with some social ramifications. As companies and brands it leads to a reassessment of each individual’s connection with a brand. When the individual in question is an existing customer or a potential one any kind of reassessment that goes toward the south, in value, leads to loss of market share and revenue.

While all this may sound as a call to becoming more calculated and more transactional in our approach to marketing; it is its exact opposite. We know, from scientific data, that a purely transactional, rules-based approach to communication and marketing is doomed to fail. It requires too much cognitive effort to maintain a pitch-perfect message and given the lack of boundaries experienced in the wilds of social media it is unlikely to survive intact.

Consider, as an example, the tone-deaf messaging and general thoughtlessness of Justin Bieber’s and Kendall Jenner’s Instagram Live where what was meant to be a well-intentioned message ended up making them sound spoiled, ignorant and condescending instead.

This Is The Age Of Instability

To be honest we’ve been in an unstable world since 9/11. The transition to a new century did not mark an equal transition into a new type of thinking. As a result we became prisoners of our flawed past.

The instability of that horrendous moment when the unthinkable happened and 3,000 human beings were wiped out sent out ripples across the world that encountered the ripples of other unstable moments. As so often when ripples meet ripples, some are amplified into waves. Others into potential tsunamis.

The reason it’s taken us nearly twenty years since 9/11 2001 to understand this is because within complex systems (and our world is such a system) instability takes place in pockets, instead of everywhere at once. The complexity of the system itself safeguards against the worst effects of shock. That is temporary. Soon enough, more shocks happen. And then more. And each one feels worse than the last one. Until one day we wake up and the system we thought was going to last forever is inexplicably crashing down around us.

This Is An Opportunity

If we accept the idea that no crisis is ever without opportunity this is, for us, an opportunity to reset the way we do marketing that simply wasn’t possible before. Or, at least, it wasn’t possible without causing some significant disruption to existing communication modes and communication channels.

So, what’s really different this time? For one thing, context collapse is now universally felt. We are all under some kind of restriction and we are all facing a virus that can, potentially, kill any of us. For, another, changing context is also affecting perception.

This is the kind of stress-test that makes brands truly understand what they are and why they are. It requires a core identity, core values and a mission that transcends the bottom line. It requires you to identify your brand’s prime directive.

Stress-tests are called that for a reason. If after everything is peeled off you find yourself looking at an empty core, struggling to find something to fill it, you quite possibly never had a true brand to begin with. You just happened to find yourself filling a niche in the market, battling a ticking clock that counted down to the moment you would become irrelevant, redundant or replaceable by someone else who would do the same job, provide a similar service or product, cheaper.

The moment of truth is now here. Time to find out where you stand.


David Amerland's latest book is an update to practical SEO and content marketing in the age of Artificial Intelligence.