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Starting an International Virtual Event from Scratch

  1. Starting an International Virtual Event from Scratch

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    TMD is always up for a challenge. When we were invited to help Farm Journal plan and market a new event called the Sustainable Produce Summit, we were thrilled. We had helped develop numerous live events from the ground up before and thought we would use our tried and true formula that had launched many a successful show in the past. Little did we know, 2020 had other plans!

    What we had intended to be a live event, quickly became a question mark while I was meeting with the great people at Farm Journal mid March in Kansas City. Once we were unsure, we had to immediately initiate a back-up plan, AKA a virtual event. As this was all happening fairly early on during the COVID crisis, a lot of live events were converting to the online world. We watched and participated in as many as we could. We picked up what we liked about the ones we attended, leaving behind what didn’t work, while trying to envision any technical issues that could occur. Once it became clear we couldn’t hold a live event, we put all of our attention to a virtual one.

    In some ways, as I am sure you have found if you have worked on a virtual event, it can seem to be more difficult to get people to commit and attend a virtual event than it can for a live event. Because of the natural networking value that live events have, you need to really focus on providing value on an individual level. This means finding topics, speakers, and formats that PET—Provoke, Educate, and are Timely.

    To that end, TMD assisted in the educational strategy, secured some well known speakers, developed a digital and print creative strategy that captured the essence of these characteristics. From email campaigns, to digital graphics, social media content to print ads, and everything in between, TMD created an aesthetic that had people not only signing up, but consistently engaging the streamed content from start to finish of the event.

    Key Metrics include:

    • Most sessions included several hundred people
    • The top session had 350 live viewers
    • People from 6 different continents participated
    • Well over 3,000 participants
    • Nearly 75% of people participated at least 2 hours in the event
    • The virtual booths had nearly 2,000 visitors

    “We couldn’t have been this successful without you and your team. We really appreciate our relationship with you and your team at TMD Creative,” said Matt Morgan, Executive Vice President, Produce (Farm Journal)

    Clearly, the first year of the Sustainable Product Summit was a hit by all of our metrics. We look forward to helping with a live event next year, and growing this event to be best in class. We had a wonderful experience working with the team at Farm Journal and can’t wait to make the 2nd Annual Sustainable Produce Summit even better!


  2. Effective Communications in Challenging Times

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    No one can argue the fact that our industries, our communities and our nation are going through unprecedented changes. We can easily say we are experiencing severe turbulence and effectively communicating with customers, employees and stakeholders have never been more challenging. For those of us who are able to do it well will be able to project a vision for the future and map out a practical path forward. The ability to do this successfully is rooted in the difference between leading and managing.

    During periods of rapid change, our ability to adapt (and in many cases to make necessary and long overdue changes) to a situation and respond will be tested. As noted in several of my previous reflections, are the times when a leader’s ability to communicate will make the difference between success and failure, regardless of whether they are in the C-suite or on the front line of their organizations. Fostering positive and thoughtful communication, and the ability to project a vision for the future, that creates understanding is a leadership imperative during ambiguous and turbulent times.

    Effective communication is more than just a buzzword. It’s a powerful tool that impacts employee engagement, collaboration, company culture and customer relationships (and yes, I am speaking from experience). Unfortunately, according to Entrepreneur Media, one survey found that “91 percent of 1,000 employees stated their leaders lack the ability to communicate well, which can be traced back to “a lack of emotional intelligence in how business leaders and managers” interact with their employees.”

    This begs the obvious question; how do we ensure our communication resonates with our teams during such times? Admittedly, I do not have the answers, but I have been doing a tremendous amount of reading and research on the topic in the last several weeks. In a recent article I read on Entrepreneur Media, I learned of three strategies to keep in mind regardless of whether we are writing, standing up in front of employees in a town hall meeting or having an honest conversation with someone on the front lines of your business. I will be quoting directly from the article.

    1. Repeat your message more than you think you should
    When leaders communicate to the organization and their teams, they often believe the job is done once that communication is delivered. But not laboring under this misconception is especially important. Total, effective communication has only really occurred when the person receiving the message has internalized it, not just heard it.

    In order to ensure this, the messages need to be repeated several times, and preferably in multiple formats — email, video, phone calls or at all company meetings — as there may be an emotional response to the information delivered. As one study conducted by Kate Sikerbol of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada found, “Allowing employees to share stories and feelings helped them to develop a greater sense of control over the changes, improved morale, reduced absenteeism and built trust between managers and employees.”

    2. Seek feedback
    Once the initial communication has been delivered, the next challenge is to ensure that the message was understood as intended. In order to confirm this, leaders must seek feedback from their listeners. Feedback is the mechanism for determining what was heard, what was understood, what actions are happening as a result and the degree of acceptance the message has received. This allows you to move on knowing that the issue has been dealt with.

    3. Control what is repeated
    There are often instances when we know that something we say is going to be repeated. This is particularly when your point of view is asked for by a member of the organization in times of uncertainty, as your answer is likely going to be repeated to others.

    Frequently, circumstances occur when your comments or response provide the basis for subsequent direction, discussion or action. Consequently, it is important to be able to influence how others interpret and pass along what you said after they walk away from the conversation. There are four specific things you can do to that end:

    • Be proactive. Say what you think is important. It may not be the specific answer to the specific question, but it does ensure that what is repeated is what you wanted communicated.
    • Keep it short. People can’t remember everything you said, and they will select what they think is important and repeat only that, so provide your answers in brief sound bites.
    • Avoid using negatives. Many psychological studies have proven that people tend to remember negatives far better than positives. While there is a time and place to use negative examples or verbiage, in turbulent times this can detrimentally impact your ability to communicate with a trepidatious listener.
    • Make it interesting. Add interest to the conversation yourself so the listener does not distort or embellish the message to make it more interesting. You can do this by adding in an analogy, story or illustration to really bring it to life.

    Without a doubt, it can be difficult to find the “right words” to say, which can lead to us saying nothing or little to nothing to our teams. You may never find those perfect words, but we must say something. This is the job of company leaders. Therefore, intentionally focus on our communication activities so that we can effectively shape opinions, influence behavior and guide outcomes when the time comes, thereby providing the leadership clients, associates and stakeholders are looking for in times of uncertainty.

    While I know I have a great deal more to learn, I am sharing this out of direct and recent experience. These last (almost four) months have challenged me, my leadership and emotional intelligence. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Cornell University Leadership Program, The California Agricultural Leadership Program and The Salinas Valley Leadership Program for providing me not only the tools but the emotional awareness to navigate these challenging times. I must also say, I am grateful to one of my employees Fran Murillo who has challenged everyone at TMD to learn more about cultural and social injustices and for nurturing the conversation within my company.

    As always, I am open to feedback, comments, discussion on this topic as well as things I could improve to make these reflections more meaningful for you.

    Best,
    Nicholas Pasculli


     

  3. Cutting Marketing – Does this make sense?

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    It has been three weeks since the last sharing of my thoughts on subjects that impact our business and personal lives. Today I am focusing on an insightful article I just recently read titled “Is it time to Slow Your Marketing?

    I have touched on a similar topic several weeks ago, and since we as a nation are starting to open up again in an attempt to get back to “normal” (whatever that means), it is worth diving deeper into the subject matter. That being said, let me provide you a little context in an effort to clarify my approach to this subject. I consider myself not only a marketing professional but an educator as well. Having taught the subject for about 14 years at Hartnell College and having spoken at numerous industry events on various aspects of marketing. The thoughts expressed in this reflection are based on numerous case studies, grounded in science and my professional experience.

    Many business people are somewhat dismissive when it comes to marketing; thinking it is perhaps an optional tactical function of their businesses rather than looking at it as a science (a social science to be exact) and a critical function in the overall strategy of an organization. Perhaps marketers ourselves have hurt our profession because of what I call a “window dressing approach” to marketing. Meaning, just make it pretty and people will buy. This could not be further from the truth. Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” He, as you know, was a scientist. Marketing by its scientific nature is creative and creativity is intelligent. Thus having a solid marketing strategy is simply the SMART thing to do in every situation and circumstance.

    So going back to the question; Cutting Marketing – Does this make sense? The answer is an emphatic NO. During challenging times like we are in, it is instinctive to pull back certain business activities and sadly marketing is usually one of the first things business people cut. This is a counter intuitive reaction. Something that is strategically integral to the success of your business is not something that should be on the chopping block. What you change is your approach and messaging, and not the budget. Scott Bennett, senior account manager at MultiView said, “While you are trying to keep your business’ head above water, pulling advertising is like throwing away your life line.” As far as I am concerned as a professional and educator, he couldn’t be more right.

    In these multidimensional crazy times we are in, it is critical to get past the misguided fear and misplaced judgement and look forward with your marketing strategy while thinking about how what you are doing contributes to the stability (and sustainability) of your organization. “Advertisers should not be hiding during these hard times,” said Frank Rosenstern, platform manager at MultiView. “They need to be showing value, acting responsibly, and doing right by their employees and the communities they serve.” This is yet another important topic I shared with you several weeks ago. He added, “conveying this type of message shows their target audience they care about the world, their employees, and most of all their customers.” The most important you can do as a business leader is to convey a message to your target audience that you are still here and that your business or organization will continue to be here for your customers and community. “Without sounding callously optimistic.”

    As with the other articles I have written, I always provide some tangible takeaways and encourage you to look at how you can implement them in your organizations, given the current climate.

    Things you ought not change

    • Your mission – it is not a wise idea to change your mission, it is an ideal time to look at how you reach that mission.
    • Your work ethic/customer service/dependability – your reputation also proceeds, so you simply cannot stop providing value to your customers. We all want to maintain a happy, satisfied and loyal customer base.
    • Your Ad Spend – every professional I know would advise a client not to hit the pause button or cancel your advertising campaigns altogether. Rather, if you decide to make a change, re-allocating to other areas that support your strategic objectives is the wiser choice, ie: digital marketing or customer retention marketing.

    Thing you should change

    • Your marketing allocations – with so many people stuck at home, you need to adjust your strategy to meet your audience where they are at. If you need ideas let me know.
    • Your message – OMG this is critical! If there ever was a time to communicate and embrace empathy in your marketing, NOW is the time. By doing this you are not just supporting your brands, products or services, you are also quelling fear and spreading hope.
    • Your outlook – If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change. Think about resiliency and focus on now with an eye to the future. Saint Junipero Serra was famous for saying, “Always look forward, never back.”
    • Your visibility – In times of crisis, your customers need to see you! It is imperative that you keep your name out there, your message and your values updated and maintain that top of mind position in your customers minds.

    Times like these call for courage to advance versus retreat. Refocus your marketing efforts and strategy, stay the course, and don’t make decisions that will allow your competitors into your space and you become a distant memory to those you worked so hard to serve.

    Happy Marketing – there are better days ahead!
    Nicholas M. Pasculli


     

  4. Business Changes are coming Post COVID-19

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    Dear Clients, Partners, and Friends,

    Today I am sharing with you my reflection on an article I read the other day by Kenn Adach, on the potential changes we can expect in the business world and the potential for behavioral changes post COVID. It is my hope that you find these topics interesting and thought provoking. Hopefully they spark greater creative thinking within your respective organizations.

    Behavior Changes are a Certainty

    Beyond a shadow of a doubt, COVID-19 is dramatically changing both consumer and business behaviors over the last two (+) months. Undoubtedly (and perhaps sadly), some of those behavior changes will continue for a long time, possibly even after the defeat of the Corona Virus. These new behaviors will likely become permanent the longer they are in place. With this pandemic the primary human emotion at play is fear. The prominence of fear in our society accelerates and embeds the new behaviors we are seeing in people.

    Our companies really need to think about how the COVID-19 crisis will change our society’s long-term social interactions, industry events, personal relationships and what products and services will people gravitate towards in the “new” post COVID-19 world.

    “Many people will certainly have higher sensitivity to germs and the risks of spreading infections. This behavior alone will change many industries. Customers and workers will be more skeptical of close contact with others. Consumers travel, dining, entertainment and product preferences will be different tomorrow,” says Chief Outsiders contributor Kenn Adach.

    There will certainly be a very long list of changed behaviors and their impact will be equally long, as COVID-19 runs its course. The amount of changed behavior will depend on the number of people that are directly affected, how severely and for how long. In my view, many of these “new behaviors” will become normal as they are practiced and repeated over the coming months.

    All of the above beg the questions: “How will behaviors shift in your industry?” Customer behavior changes will very likely require you to develop new or modified products and services. “New market leaders will emerge while some past leaders falter. Many companies will struggle post COVID-19,” says Adach.

    How can you implement a proactive approach in the Post COVID-19 World?

    Knowing your marketplace/customer/consumer needs as well as your competitors is always the best way to meet market demands. Come to the acknowledge that what you knew before may not serve you well in an uncertain tomorrow. Agile companies will adopt a proactive approach to understand what changes will occur and be ready to adjust their products, services and strategies quickly to meet current and future customer needs. This is especially true in the produce industry as consumers make choices. The challenge is to meet the consumers in their new state-of-mind.

    Three important steps you can to implement now:

    Debrief – gather key members of your team and debrief them on what they have been hearing from customers, vendors, and colleagues. This is something we have been doing here at TMD Creative since the beginning of the pandemic. Having a work session to identify what might be changing and importantly, what you don’t know about the “changes” will set the stage for the next step.

    Gather Insight – Develop a plan to “take the temperature” of the marketplace. How can we validate new behaviors we are seeing and hearing, and gather the information we don’t know? Don’t assume anything. Your customers can tell you what they will need, but you must ask them. These are unchartered waters, and in many cases your customers need help in areas they may not have identified yet.

    In the current situation our world is in, it’s critical to conduct customer interviews, surveys, market research or get customer feedback by other means. Gather the comments, attitudes and data, then analyze. It is critical that you be objective. In other words, be open to things you may have never thought would occur, and understand how these new changes can impact your organization!

    When interacting with customers during this period, make sure your team is equipped to have open conversations with customers who may be facing dire business circumstances. Asking empathetic questions like; “How can we help you get through this?” not, “Here’s what we’ve got.” In other words, lead with empathy not competence. Your goal should be to help develop a solution to their crisis, while also letting them know you are there for support.

    Re-Plan – [that 2020 planner you have — get rid of it 🙂 ] We all had our 2020 plans, but clearly COVID-19 requires us to forward think, develop new strategies and re-planning on many fronts. With all the new insights you’ve gathered from the marketplace, re-plan and prioritize strategies and tactics in all critical areas. This could include Food Safety, Sustainability, Manufacturing/Operations, Production/Harvesting, Sales, Marketing Communications, New Product Development/Innovation, Customer Service and other areas of your businesses.

    “Understanding what your customers will value in the post-COVID-19 business world and acting on it will ensure your survival and success and put you ahead of major competitors. This cannot be over-emphasized. Knowing the customer will sort the post-COVID-19 business winners from losers and also-rans.”, says Adach.

    It is important to not forget that your customers buy VALUE, and value comes from meeting their needs, which comes from understanding their needs, in words and actions. Focus on providing value, and revenue and profit will take care of itself.

    The question going forward for many of us is, when will customers come back? But even more important and more under your control is, what will you need to deliver differently in terms of product or service, features and benefits?

    Business Impacts we might expect Post-COVID-19

    Just looking back a few years in history can provide validation that major changes are coming. Just think back to 9/11 or even the financial crisis of 2008. The post 9/11 world brought us permanent changes in the way we travel with tighter airport security, the creation of the TSA and Homeland Security, and increased security at everything from sporting events and concerts to large office buildings in major cities. Behaviors changed, industries were changed and created, as they will again now.

    “Many believe that COVID-19 will affect more people and businesses directly and will have a more far reaching impact on businesses of all types than any crisis in the past half century,” says Adach.

    If we try to look at the bright side of this crisis, it is that change creates opportunity. The business leaders who act now, communicate with customers and take a proactive approach to their changing markets will likely do much better than those who take no decisive actions. Perhaps the most important things we can do is share more and cooperate more with each other.

    Stay well, Remain Optimistic,
    Nicholas M. Pasculli


     

  5. How to Strengthen Communications in Challenging Times

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    Effective and good communication is at the heart of every sound leadership and management practice .

    From establishing clear expectations, setting big picture goals, building company culture down to fostering accountability, communication is always at the core of effective leadership. Clearly messaged, trusted communication can either make or break our operations and enhance our employee engagement.

    A study by The Economist Intelligence Unit indicates how poor workplace communication is detrimental to an organization. “Survey respondents say that communication barriers result in delay or failure to complete projects (44 percent), low morale (31 percent), missed performance goals (25 percent), and lost sales (18 percent).” This can be worse when a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic or a natural disaster hits.

    Communication clearly is crucial to an organization’s stability

    Effective communication becomes even more critical during times of crisis and uncertainty.

    Workforces globally are facing a massive challenge to their business operations with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has prompted businesses to take drastic measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers alike. (a shout out of appreciation to all those on the front lines.) Depending on the nature of the business, some have ceased operations or function under a skeleton workforce and limited hours, while other organizations have implemented work from home arrangements. While working from home may become more commonplace, it is not always optimal in building strong teams. This will have to be carefully looked at as we climb out of “shelter in place” orders.

    Effective communication can really bind your team together.

    Given the shifting workplace situation, effective workforce communications are more critical than ever. Any crisis, whether a natural disaster, a corporate meltdown or the outbreak of a disease affects employee morale. It can also affect the psychological health of individuals and teams. Effective communication can still bind your team together even during times of uncertainty. Leaders need to do their part to address issues promptly and clearly. Being remote adds a new level of complexity for leaders as there are going to be times when difficult news needs to be delivered and you may not be able to do that in person.

    With an increasing dependency on social media and online platforms, this can turn employees into de facto spokespeople for your organization. Whatever they share on their platforms about working for your company will reflect how you communicate with them. Those communications — or lack of a clear, consistent message — can result in a better brand image or sprout into a new crisis. Use of social media in a period of social distancing needs to be discussed within teams.

    So how can we as leaders effectively address our teams during a challenging time like we are in?

    When a crisis strikes, it’s essential to address employees, customers, vendors and stakeholders as soon as possible and to be as transparent as possible.

    As leaders you may not have answers to some of the questions you will get right away. In the case of rapidly developing situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic, this is understandable. But it’s crucial to let all stakeholders know that you are looking into the issue and finding solutions to their concerns. What matters is to give them the assurance that you and the organization is aware of the situation and that their welfare is a priority.

    Solidifying your message is key. While different roles have different concerns, it’s essential to keep the overall message continuous and consistent.

    Address all of the concerns and frequently asked questions. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the questions will revolve around remote work, schedule changes, payment arrangements, leave management and other operational issues. Baring in mind that company policies are still in full force whether someone works from home or in the office.

    Diversifying message delivery is equally important as how it is crafted. Empathy is important during a crisis, but what if face-to-face communication is no longer possible?

    “Video conferencing or a recorded video message are viable options, but how do you let staff know about it? Email is a common communication channel for organizations, but it’s best to diversify delivery channels when the situation is urgent,” say Workforce.com.  In a 2019 survey by text-messaging platform SlickText of over 1,000 employees across the United States, 43 percent of respondents say that timely notifications and emergency alerts are best sent through SMS and not email. According to Workforce.com, “Chat platforms  also are useful in this case as they can quickly  disseminate information and concisely. Employees are likely to open chat platforms frequently, too.”

    Remember communication is a dialogue not a monologue.

    Effective communication to employees, clients, vendors, and stakeholders goes beyond issuing announcements or bulletins. It’s about keeping communication lines open and asking for feedback. This is something I put in place long before this pandemic and is greatly appreciated by 90% of my team.

    During a crisis, it’s imperative to open additional channels for discussions and to raise questions. Chat applications are suitable not just for discussing in groups but in one-on-one correspondence as well. It’s more immediate than email too and helps pass information more quickly. Of course let’s not forget the good old telephone. As the old AT&T or MaBell used to say; “Reach out and touch someone.” (Ha Ha, they meant with the telephone for those of you thinking otherwise.

    A good communication process is critical for any organization. It’s important to equip a workforce with different and creative ways to stay connected. If you would like to share your ideas, drop me a note or comment on my TMD Blog. As always, stay safe, stay healthy, stay home. Let’s beat COVID-19 together.


  6. Leading from your Living Room

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    I don’t know about you, but these have been a long six weeks. With all my employees working from home (except Sam), it has certainly challenged my leadership skills. Now more than ever, I am so grateful I graduated from the California Agricultural Leadership Program (albeit 20 years ago) and the Cornell University Executive Leadership Program as I believe I gained important skills that I am relying on to guide my company and my team.

    While sugar coating things is never very useful from a business perspective, the tone to strike during a crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. It does not matter if you lead a small team of 5 or a large team of 500, we are all facing challenges that are unique to this crisis. With most of our state, country and world sheltering-in- place, this is a rare moment when the entire planet is having a collective shared experience.

    Here are some ideas that you may find helpful in adjusting to what everyone is calling a “new” normal as we find ourselves leading from our living rooms, kitchens or home offices.

    The first and possibly the most important thing is Self-care. Without your health and well-being, how can you possibly lead effectively? Try hard to not isolate yourself, as that only will increase the stress you are feeling. Take time to read, walk, exercise, meditate, pray, and most importantly connect with others. This is also a great time to learn from leaders of the past, who were also tested during times of crisis. This is an extremely stressful time, there is no denying that. As someone who has definitely been on the verge of tears at times during these trying times, know that you can always call me if you feel the desire to connect with an empathic person.

    Try to establish a normal routine. It may not be what you have done in the past, but make your new routine as normal as possible. For me it has been walking to Starbucks in the Taylor Building every day at approximately 10:45 am. If you want to join me (at a distance) give me a call. If you are working from home, resist the urge to say in your PJ’s and get dressed. Especially if you are Zooming or Skyping a lot. Get up every morning with purpose and focus. This will help your team function with determination. The old “lead by example.”

    Find new ways to be more open to your team. Having an open-door policy has now shifted to an open-channel strategy. Being available to your team on multiple channels is critical especially for teams that typically don’t engage with technology. For example, in addition to my phone, I am texting, Slacking, and Google Messaging with my team. Consider having open video hours which will allow team members to “drop-in” during designated times. At TMD we have our regular staff meeting on Monday where we review projects and priorities. On Tuesday and Thursday, we have what I have called “welfare check-ins.” During these check-ins we just listen and have compassion for each other. On Friday, we have a virtual “happy hour” at the end of the day.

    Fine tune your perspective. One of the byproducts of this crisis and shared experience is people are coming together (philosophically) with greater empathy.  Empathizing with each other’s unique set of challenges is so important. It is my hope that if we as a society/industry/business practice empathy well, it will become more commonplace. Let’s admit it, our world was getting a little hard, polarized, and perhaps lacking tolerance.  As business leaders it is our responsibility to ensure the health of our people while balancing the health of our enterprises.

    At this moment in our collective history, blind optimism is irresponsible, as is heavy negativity. The tone to strike with our teams during the crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. This situation we find ourselves in will greatly change strategies and plans to protect our people and business. It may be hard to see, but there will be silver linings in our present crisis. Perhaps we will see healthier policies, new societal values, new ways of working and a renewed emphasis on innovation. It is most important to be clear, direct and transparent with your team as they ask hard questions about the impact to the business. Remember the best leaders are often forged in fire.

    I pray that we will come through this crisis stronger, more resilient and more innovative. I am also hopeful that we will emerge more compassionate and empathic. We can strive to engage with positive energy, lend a helping hand to others who may need it, and ensure that your leadership teams have the information they need to make wise decisions.

    A final thought. Support small businesses, we are the backbone of our nation.

    Many Blessings,
    Nicholas M. Pasculli

  7. What’s Next for Brands & Your Business

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    Spending my shelter-in-place time educating myself has been one benefit of our current national situation. My focus has been on learning things I can share with you on multiple levels. I have written about the personal side of this crisis, the social aspects, the business implications and from a perspective of looking forward beyond COVID-19. Looking forward is something I have always enjoyed doing, in particular as I try to recognize trends before they happen to give our clients a competitive advantage.

    History and research clearly has shown, marketers who keep spending during downturns fare much much better than those who don’t. 

    Now that consumer panic buying seems to have peaked [ I have seen toilet paper on shelf 🙂 ], brand panic from a business perspective may have just begun, because many brands including, the industries we serve, have slashed spending. Nonprofits in particular are being hard hit. However, we have to recommend that businesses and nonprofits resist this temptation. There has been an abundance of research that points to the fact that brands cutting spending now will have a harder time when recovery comes. Despite the unprecedented disruption in our collective lives, the current crisis is also creating opportunities for brands.

    As business people, paying close attention to local, regional and national economic cues are important. For example, Goldman Sachs is projecting a 34% decline in 2nd quarter GDP. In addition to the US Department of Labor as of last week, unemployment claims hit 22 million. Understanding these details and their implications makes us better planners and prepares us for what may lie ahead. With that there are some things that marketing experts and economists agree business leaders should try to resist.

    Resist Cutting Marketing now – as it will have long-term effects

    In a survey last week by a leading research firm RSW/US they found that 9% of marketers have cut all spending, another 29% have “greatly reduced it” and another 31% have “somewhat reduced it.” Instead of taking such drastic measures, experts recommend (if at all possible) maintaining your pre COVID-19 posture. It is a well known fact that consumers are drawn to trusted and known brands in challenging times.

    Time to Change the Message

    Brands that have continued to invest in marketing have changed their messages. Now is the time to focus on showing gratitude to your customers, employees and community in your marketing messages. Empathy goes a long way in the trust matrix.

    Changing the Channel

    Ok, so the shops, stores, or service businesses physical locations are closed, it is high time to open your virtual business and shift to e-commerce. Web searches for products and services are up in huge numbers. Are your websites and social media channels tuned up to the point that your products or services can be easily found? A question we can answer if given the proper time to do an analysis and implement sound, time tested recommendations. You would be amazed at how many companies Google listings’ contain numerous inaccuracies. Preliminary research is indicating that consumers flocking to the internet will continue even after shelter-in-place is lifted. Don’t get left behind.

    Look for New Opportunities

    Direct to consumer is here to stay. This has implications for every industry segment including produce. As many as 44% of consumers recently bought something new online because they could not find what they wanted in a brick and mortar store (research by AcuPOLL). In economic terms that means finding a perfect substitute.

    Despite all the stress and anxiety we all are feeling, I am turning that energy into looking for ways to improve, grow and differentiate. My hope is that in writing these articles it will inspire you to do the same. Hold your nerve, this will pass, and we’ll be on the road to recovery.

    Stay tuned for next week when I will discuss leadership from your living room.


     

  8. Trends that will Endure

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    Dear Clients, Partners and Friends of TMD,

    Since the shelter in place order was issued, I find myself doing a great deal of reading in the evenings and on weekends. I recently read an article in Advertising Age Magazine that discusses 5 Consumers Trends that will endure after COVID-19. These trends are very relevant to business and I want to share some insights I have had after reading the article.

    It is remarkable how the U.S. population has so readily and instinctively changed behavior in ways that will likely have lasting implications for brands. With these changes there are opportunities but also cautions for marketers, and we are all marketers.

     “When there are serious changes in lifestyle and life circumstances, there is a fairly dramatic change in preferences for brands that consumers use, and their perceptions about those brands,” says Peter Noel Murry, who runs his own consumer psychology practice in New York.

    As we plan for the future, we might do well to consider the following trends from Advertising Age, which experts expect to outlive COVID-19.

    1. Time-tested brands will shine
    As consumers change to adopt new behaviors and habits, they’re sticking by the brands they’ve long trusted to get them through and beyond the crisis. There will be a change from “novel and trendy” to “tried and true” will make it difficult for new brands to launch in this environment. The older brands/companies that have been around a long time have built the emotional brand equity up over generations.

    2. DIY gains ground
    Consumers are using their time at home to learn new skills, like cooking (pay attention Produce Companies), baking gardening and many more DIY activities. Food purchasing in the last two week has far exceeded typical Thanksgiving shopping. Bottom line is that we are going to see more people become self-reliant. This could forever change the restaurant and hospitality industry. Recently I attended a webinar and one of the speakers suggested that the restaurant industry may only recover to about 75-80% of what it was prior to the pandemic. 

    3. Comfort with digital offerings
    As media and research companies adjust from live events to virtual ones, so are consumers adjusting to digitizing their behavior. Some demographics, like older consumers who may have been unconformable are quickly adapting to making on-line purchases, especially for groceries and other necessities. Once they fall into a new routine  and get used to the ease of delivery at their door it may be hard pressed to return to brick-and-mortar, experts say. Think about the implications for the construction industry and even supermarkets. The medical industry is not immune to the change, especially as services like Teledoc become more accessible. If you didn’t think telemedicine was here to stay, think again. 

    4. Flexible work arrangements
    Many expect the current situation of so many Americans working from home will lead to a dramatic shift into more flexible  work arrangements as employers realize it’s not necessary to have everyone in the office to get things done. Employers may find significant benefits to employees working at home, not to mention the need for less office space, thus reducing overhead costs like rent and utilities. 

    5. Safety wins over privacy
    While consumers have grown more protective of their privacy and personal data in recent years, experts say that is changing during the current crisis. Many are deferring to the government and those in leadership positions to keep them safe even if it means giving up on their own privacy in the process. (I don’t know about you, but this trend makes me uncomfortable)

    So, what’s next for brands? I will discuss what I see happening next in my next message to you. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

    Sincerely,
    Nicholas M. Pasculli
    President & CEO


  9. Positively Looking Forward Together

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    I am not sure I can say with confidence that we are adjusting to the situation we find ourselves in, however, it has given me time to think and faithfully look forward. Juinpero Serra, founder of the California Mission system (now St. Serra) said: “Always look forward, never look back.” Perhaps this is a message we can all collectively hold on to. With that said, I am committed to looking forward and helping others do the same. I want to remind you we are here for you and ready to help.

    I recently read an article recommended by one of my employees (Fran Murillo), from Harvard Business Review. The article is entitled, “Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus.” I would like to share some highlights with you. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our businesses to maintain and build relationships with consumers when their world has been upended. Businesses are now facing tension between generating sales during a period of extreme economic hardship and respecting the threats to life and livelihood that have altered consumer priorities and preferences.


    (excerpts from the article)

    This tension is very real, particularly for newer ventures or smaller businesses that provide discretionary products and may not have the resources to survive long periods of severely diminished cash flow. So, what can smaller, newer, more vulnerable businesses do to strengthen relationships with consumers when social distancing has minimized or eliminated personal interaction? 

    “Harvard Business Review writers, drawing on nearly 70 years of combined experience in business practice, research, and education, have found that five key strategies help companies weather crises and preserve their bonds with consumers:

    Humanize your company

    Educate about change

    Assure stability

    Revolutionize offerings

    Tackle the future

    These strategies are part of what they call the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication. It provides guidelines on what to say — and what not to say — to consumers during a sustained crisis. It emphasizes making current and potential customers aware of your company’s plan for supporting them and providing new value that they might require.

    Humanize your company.
    Let consumers know that your company understands the dire social circumstances at play and cares about more than simply reaping profit during this difficult time. Empathize with those affected by Covid-19, and spell out the steps you are taking to help customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Your company’s social media sites and customer mailing lists are ideal vehicles for doing this. 

    Educate consumers about how to interact with your company.
    Tell them about all changes to your operation, including new hours, facility closures, staff reductions, customer service availability, and ordering options, among others. While you can reference the emergency government regulations that necessitated these changes, it’s far better if you are viewed as being proactive and motivated by your customers’ best interests.

    Assure consumers the company’s values will continue.
    Elaborate how, despite the upheaval in how you operate, you will continue to provide the things they have come to know and love — the defining reasons they patronize your business instead of others. If consumers value the impeccable quality of your wares or the thoughtful nature of your customer service, tell them how you will maintain those value propositions.

    Revolutionize what consumers value about your business.
    Sun Tzu, who penned The Art of War, recognized that chaos presents opportunity for innovation. This sentiment has reverberated through the ages. Beyond assuring customers that your company’s existing value propositions will remain the same, tell them what innovations have arisen from dealing with the ongoing pandemic — after all, necessity is the mother of invention.

    Tackle the future.
    Establish a timeline for when you will reevaluate the changes to your company’s operations. While you must comply with any government-imposed limits, do more if you can afford it. Show customers that you are willing to go beyond what you need to do for their benefit, particularly if your company can handle the financial burden.If you would like a copy of the full article, go to our Blog on your website or you can email me and I will gladly share it with you. In the words of Albert Einstein; “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

    Download Article:
    Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus