Trying to reschedule projects, conduct meetings by video-conference and deal with getting my freshman daughter home from a college that is suddenly shutting down, I’m hit with an unpleasant sense of déjà vu.
Nineteen years ago, my daughter was just a baby, as was my newborn company. In 2001, Character was a feisty start up, trying to “change the world” of marketing through story. Then, 9/11 happened and literally changed the world out from under us all. In the immediate aftermath, the brands and businesses we worked with were thrown off their footing. They had a million immediate fires to put out, but looming behind that was a larger problem. How to move forward.
Many, if not most of our clients were paralyzed with worry about saying the wrong thing, taking the wrong tone or communicating the wrong message to an audience reeling from loss and dealing with unwelcome change. Their instinct was to try to research what the audience wanted to hear and how they wanted to hear it so that the brand wouldn’t make a mistake.
In the meantime, there was a lot of awkward silence.
Over the twenty years we’ve been working on brand stories, one of the principles we’ve seen demonstrated over and over again is that it is impossible to connect with your audience in a meaningful way until you understand who you are. We have met many smart marketers with great insight about their customers and a somewhat shallower sense of who their brand is. In a story, the only way anyone’s true character is revealed is by watching how they deal with adversity, hardship and loss. We all intuitively understand this model, not just because we’ve seen it play out in every powerful story, ever, but also from real life. Conflict and adversity are tests of who we are.
So, as you consider how your brand will respond to the difficulties and hardships of quarantine, and ultimately how it will deal with the consequences and communicate in the aftermath, understand that your audience experiences your brand as if it were a character. The world’s brands are about to “be themselves” harder than they have had to in a long time, and people will be paying attention. What do you want this test to reveal to your audience about who your brand really is, what it believes in and what it values?