For 9 years I’ve been practicing yoga at HYP Studio with my favorite instructor, Jordan.

Jordan teaches awesome classes. His success as a yoga instructor has led him to train other instructors and to open his own studio, Burning Wheel Yoga School, with his wife Angela.

Jordan’s following at HYP Studio remains strong and he continues to teach there three days each week.

I usually attend his 6:15pm classes during the week as a way to unwind after a full work day.

On March 19 at 6:10pm I unfurled my purple mat. Next to my mat I placed my water bottle, a small towel and my gray foam block.

I was ready for class.

But HYP Studio was closed.

Instead, I was in my den with the coffee table and ottoman pushed to the side to create space. My laptop was on the floor, and I was on Facebook awaiting my first livestreamed class. I posted a comment to let Jordan know I was attending class.

Jordan was on his mat in his home. I watched him read the pre-class comments. He turned to the camera, said “Oh hi Evelyn!” and waved.

A sense of relief washed over me. That was the first normal moment I’d had in days.

For the next 75 minutes, I got to lose myself in the oasis that is Jordan’s class. The reprieve took on a greater significance than normal because I knew that life would never be the same as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our World Has Changed, and So Has Our Worldview

The worldwide magnitude of this pandemic and stark changes to our lives that it has brought will have a lasting effect on how we live and view life afterward.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I witnessed my Grandma wrap excess dinner rolls from any restaurant we ate in – from cheap diners to the rare high-end restaurant – and slip them into her purse. She had lived through the Great Depression when food was scarce and had learned not to waste it. That experience affected her behavior 40+ years later.

The COVID-19 pandemic will color our view and behavior with a comparable lens.

Our lens is forming now, accumulating experiences caused by the pandemic and translating them to memories to inform the filter we will use going forward.

For some it may be stores of N95 masks. For others, it may be never again waiting until the end of the roll to buy more toilet paper or using less. Some people may change travel habits or refrain from large gatherings.

The long-term changes to people’s views and behaviors may take a while to manifest themselves.

All of your brand constituencies – your employees, your customers, your suppliers, everyone your brand touches – are undergoing new lens formations as well.

The heightened state of awareness we are all in means that every brand experience right now may carry disproportionate weight in your brand’s image. It may sear the experience more prominently into memory.

Business as Usual May Hurt Your Brand

Every brand needs to scrutinize how they are delivering their customer experience to ensure it reflects our current context. Brands that fail to filter their touchpoints through the pandemic lens risk customer ire.

And these days, customers take their ire public via social media, reviews and…the occasional marketing newsletter.

Someone at Disneyland Paris forgot to turn off the brand’s automated marketing emails. As a result, Samantha Kerby was crushed anew about having to cancel her trip when she received an email celebrating her arrival day on April 3, 2020. She tweeted her disappointment.

Vodaphone UK raised hackles with customers when they raised prices on March 30 just as many customers were struggling to stay economically afloat. Vodaphone UK customers called out their insensitivity on Twitter.

My personal favorite for the insensitive marketing award? SiriusXM.

If you’ve been reading my newsletters for a while you know that I am not a fan of the games SiriusXM plays with pricing. On March 27 they sent me a bill for $123 for a year of service to my car radio.

When I called to “cancel,” the rep had clearly been instructed to stick with the usual script of trying to offer the highest price promotion first. I said “I won’t pay for that” three times and then finally, “You know, I’m not even driving at all. The company does know that, right?”

The rep laughed and said yeah. I felt angry at SiriusXM for wasting 20 minutes of my time trying to overcharge me for a service I’m not even able to use right now.

What an inconsiderate move and one that added agita to my life at a time of high anxiety. I am thinking about what my SiriusXM-free life in the car might sound like.

Brands That Respond to Context Shine

Happily our world also has many examples of brands that have risen to the occasion.

Crocs launched their Sharing a Free Pair for Healthcare program to give away 10,000 pairs of Crocs clogs per day to healthcare workers who requested them. After fielding over 400,000 requests in the first two days, they upped their daily donation to 20,000 pairs.

Local distilleries in all 50 United States and around the world have shifted their alcohol production facilities to make hand sanitizer. Some are donating it; others are selling it.

Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub in Portland, Oregon is donating 300 eggs a week from their farm to a local food pantry.

Harlem Restaurant Fieldtrip in New York City is packing rice bowls, the restaurant’s specialty, and sending them to a different nearby hospital every day, and accepting donations to send more.

REI temporarily closed their stores on March 15 and put their employees on paid leave until April 15. When it became clear stores needed to remain closed longer, the company furloughed many employees for 90 days without pay but with health insurance. REI’s CEO and board are forgoing their pay for six months to share the financial burden and expressed hope to welcome all furloughed employees back when stores reopen.

The Atlanta Hawks basketball team and State Farm have commissioned Westside restaurants Miller Union and Forza Storico to pack complete dinners for workers at six hospitals in the Emory Healthcare network. Workers can bring the meals home after their shifts when supermarkets may be closed.

HYP Studio and Burning Wheel Yoga School, along with many other yoga and fitness studios, are livestreaming classes on Facebook for free with a Venmo option to donate to help keep their businesses afloat. (Links require a Facebook account.)

Engaging Minds, an executive function coaching service for students, quickly retrained their instructors to move their entire service online. Students who rely on their support have been able to continue with little interruption.

You can bet that customers of these brands are feeling cared for now and will remember their considerate actions in the future. The brands’ employees are proud of their contribution during this time.

5 Tips for Marketing Right Now

Whether your business has dwindled, stopped cold or is in overdrive, here are some steps you should take to help your brand weather the COVID-19 pandemic as well as possible.

Turn off inappropriate automated marketing. Check automated marketing campaigns for sensitivity and relevance. Anything that promotes a gathering or activity that people can’t do right now is likely to irritate them. Avoid words that may carry double meanings – don’t offer a killer deal, for example.

Help if you can. The way your brand can help may not be obvious or related to your products or services. On the first Monday that most people were working at home, I wrote a post on LinkedIn called “8 Tips for Work-from-Home Success” based on my 20 years of experience doing just that.

Communicate clearly and transparently. People are spending energy just to maintain sanity and health and keep themselves economically viable. Don’t make them work to understand your meaning.

Market and sell sensitively. Avoid urgent sounding messages or calls-to-action – nothing will compare with the pandemic urgency-wise.  Tone down approaches and think about contributing value rather than converting sales. Edit chatbot scripts to reflect an empathetic tone and to be helpful without a hard sell.

Connect and be a connector. Check in with employees, partners, and customers via email, phone or video chat, just to see how they are. Consider hosting a video gathering to bring people who might have been at a cancelled conference or event together to meet or to share tips on how you are managing.

Human connection is of paramount importance as social distancing and stay-at-home measures have eliminated our regular social interaction. Recognize your own need for interaction and create opportunities for others to interact too if you can.

When Jordan waved and said hi to me before the livestreamed yoga class, it was the connection to him that brought my relief and sense of well-being. Weekly book club gatherings and visits with friends and family on Zoom have brought me joy too.

What are you doing to connect with family, friends and colleagues?


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