As the impact of COVID-19 continues to hit brands across the globe, many companies have found that planning—both short-term and long-term—has gone out the window. After all, no one was planning for a pandemic to wreak havoc on the global economy, so what good is planning in this situation? While there’s some truth to that concept, namely due to the fact that we can’t anticipate exactly how the next several months are going to unfold, there is an opportunity to use this time for long-term planning.
A pandemic might seem like the worst possible time to think about your long-term strategy, but it actually presents a unique opportunity for many brands that have seen business slow due to the virus: time. Time is typically in short supply. Brands often spend most of their internal resources focusing on the immediate future and short-term goals because so much attention is needed to manage the day-to-day operations.
Right now, many brands are finding that day-to-day operations have slowed. If that applies to you, consider whether you can shift your thinking from pandemic-response to a long-term strategy that positions your company for years to come. Here’s how to do it.
Take Time to Think
The first—and arguably most important—step in creating a long-term brand strategy is taking the time to pause and think. Think about what’s working and what isn’t working. What your customers praise you for and what they complain about. Which processes run smoothly and which slow you down.
Dream big as you think through these ideas. In your ideal world, what would your marketing strategy look like? How would you serve your customers even better? How would you give your employees everything they need to perform at their best?
If your company has something like an annual planning meeting, think of this as an even larger-scale version of that meeting. You’re not just thinking about how you can improve the next quarter or the next 12 months, you’re thinking about the next several years of your brand’s development.
Invest in Processes
During your brainstorming, you’re likely to come up with some areas for improvement. This is normal, and it’s actually good news as you continue perfecting your long-term strategy.
This is the same concept behind many cities ramping up construction projects while stay-at-home orders are in effect. A project that closes four lanes of a major road might cause significant delays if conducted a year from now, but right now, the impact is relatively minimal.
The same concept applies to your brand. When you’re focused on fulfilling orders or serving customers, taking time to uproot and rebuild your internal processes or infrastructure would present a challenge and potentially affect your ability to maintain sales. Right now, however, the impact of structural changes is less likely to affect your bottom line.
Here are some ideas for improvements to processes that might help your company run more smoothly when things settle down:
1. When someone needs a green light from a manager or executive to move forward, is it holding up the process? Streamline the approval process for decision-makers in your company. Design a solution that allows for quicker turnaround so that employees can be empowered to move forward efficiently.
2. Are your communication tools working well for your teams? Does everyone know how to use them? This is especially worth revisiting if you’ve added new tools recently and haven’t established guidelines for how to use them. Many companies, for example, use messaging tools like Slack, project management tools like Monday or Basecamp, video messaging tools like Zoom, and standard tools like email or phone calls to communicate throughout the course of the day.
By having so many options for communication, it can become difficult to track down important information. Consider setting a protocol for the differences between platforms. For example, some companies will use Slack for internal communications and project updates and only use email for communicating with clients or external team members. Others will use email for anything time-sensitive and then use Slack as a long-term record of communication. Whatever works best for you is fine, as long as everyone is on the same page about what to do.
3. Are your files—both physical and digital—well-organized? Many companies use cloud-based storage systems for digital files. Is everything that’s supposed to be in the cloud actually there? You may need to prompt employees to upload their work documents to the appropriate spaces or give everyone a refresher on which files go where and how they should be named or tagged. This can be a tedious process up-front, but it saves significant amounts of time down the line when everyone can find what they need more easily.
This is not a complete list of everything you might want to streamline at this time, but it illustrates the value in taking time to get organized and make internal processes more efficient before business picks back up.
Understand Your Tech Tools
Many companies invest in any number of software tools to help the business run smoothly. This might include a point-of-sale system, a customer management tool, a social media management tool, a social listening tool, a metric-tracking tool, or a payroll management software, just to name a few. These platforms are great for helping you to run your business without needing to come up with solutions from scratch.
So, what’s the problem? Many companies pay for tools that aren’t delivering maximum value, often because employees simply don’t understand how to get full use out of the tools. In one study, 24% of respondents shared that adoption and use for new marketing technology is one of the top three weaknesses in their company’s ability to drive customer acquisition or loyalty. In other words, the purchase or subscription of these tools is not the problem. The problem is that once the purchase is made, employees aren’t succeeding at the “adoption and use” of the tools.
Whether due to lack of training, lack of implementation, or lack of compatibility with existing equipment, think through the tools your company pays for and how you might be able to get more value out of them. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Does everyone who uses this tool understand how it works?
- Is this tool set up to integrate with other relevant tools we use?
- Does this tool have other capabilities that we’re not taking advantage of?
- Has this tool been updated since we first purchased it in ways that might benefit us?
- Is this tool really delivering value? If not, is there an alternative that might be better?
Chances are, by answering these questions, you’ll identify whether there are ways to amplify the value you’re receiving from your tech tools.
If the problem is training, consider sending out a tutorial handbook, leading a webinar walkthrough, or making tech support staff available to assist. If the problem is a lack of understanding of the tool’s capabilities, educate yourself on the options that the tool makes available to you, and commit to understanding the ones that might benefit your brand. If the problem is the tool’s functionality, research other tools to determine if you’re really using the best solution on the market.
Solidify Your Branding
One element of long-term planning, even under normal circumstances, is making sure your branding tells a cohesive story. For example, the way you describe your business should be consistent across platforms, between people, and over time (to some extent). If you haven’t reviewed your brand guidelines in a while, now is a great time to pore over them and make sure everything is still accurate and portraying your brand in the best possible light.
One thing to note is that if you haven’t updated your branding language in a while, you might have naturally pivoted slightly over time. Your website, for example, might say one thing about who you are and what you do, but your salespeople might use different language because they’ve adjusted to what seemed to be working over time.
Unless the two (or more) variations that are being used are very similar and complementary, you may need to revisit your official branding language and standardize it. The same goes for your visual brand. If you’ve started using different colors, logos, or other visual elements than the ones that appear in your brand guidelines, use this time to rectify the discrepancies.
After going through this process, it’s also important to update your team on the changes (or lack of changes) that take place. Standardizing your branding is useless if your employees and partners aren’t up-to-date on what the guidelines are and how they should be applied. Use this time to send your branding guidelines to anyone who might need to apply them in the future, and make sure everyone is on the same page about what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed when portraying or describing your brand.
Learn About Your Weaknesses
Finally, use this time to learn about your brand’s weaknesses. Every brand has areas for improvement. Yours might be your SEO strategy, your social listening abilities, your customer service process, or even your packaging. Whatever the case may be, find resources about how to improve. Virtually every problem you could possibly be experiencing is probably addressed in countless blog posts and guides across the Internet. Other options for seeking information about improvement are attending webinars, studying examples of companies that excel at your weakness, or reaching out to your network to see if anyone has specific advice.
Then, once you have a handle on how to improve, make a plan for applying the information you’ve learned to make your brand stronger. Similar to several of the other steps outlined above, once you have an idea for improvement, make sure to educate your teams on how they can support the change.
As you can probably tell, the key to each of these steps is to invest time now in your long-term growth. Think about projects you’ve been putting off because they would uproot your day-to-day, processes that aren’t working as intended but seemed too complex to rebuild, or anything else that might typically get put on the backburner in favor of urgent tasks. Down the line when the urgent tasks pile back up, you’ll thank yourself for investing in long-term improvements.