How to market your way through the crisis [Part 1], with Stephen Woessner

Episode 933

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Good Morning Onward Nation – I’m Stephen Woessner, CEO of Predictive ROI and your host. Thanks for coming back – and if you’re new to Onward Nation – please know – I greatly appreciate your time and it’s wonderful to have you here.

Today’s episode is going to be a solocast – just you and me exploring a topic with some real depth.

And sort of a house-keeping heads up – this may very well be one of the longest solocast I’ve ever recorded – if not the longest. In fact – during one of the morning kick-start meetings with my Predictive team this week – I shared with them that I felt like I was back at the university getting ready to teach a half-day session on campus.

For the last several days — I’ve been writing on my whiteboards…erasing…starting over…scouring through literally 400 pages of research reports…and then refining my thoughts.

This will be a long one – but my hope is that when you and I are finished walking through it – you’ll feel it was well worth your time.

As I considered topics that would be helpful to you and your team — I thought about the daily phone calls I’ve had over the last several weeks with business owners…or the emails I have received from owners within our Onward Nation community…business owners just like you…who wanted some help brainstorm strategies, or to have an opportunity to get a sanity check on the next steps they were considering, or to help them talk through decisions they were thinking about making within their business.

Here’s the reality, Onward Nation – without question – we’re facing new and historic challenges

But – even though sometimes the challenges may seem insurmountable – I’m telling you – they aren’t.

I get it — none of us have ever had to deal with something exactly like COVID-19 before – but – we have certainly worked through and navigated some very major crises before…and we survived through it all.

Look – you know that I’m not a rah-rah, blow inspiration your way in order to make you feel better kind of person. I like data. I like examples. I like research. I like proven methods.

So I built the content of this episode from the ground up to be a resource that you and your team can use to market – yes, market – your way through the crisis.

I’m going to share some big golden nuggets from the research that I have curated from a variety of sources – and special thanks to Drew McLellan and Susan Baier for helping me knit the data points together.

I’m grateful for how you always generously share your smarts.

So that’s what you and I are going to talk through today – how you and your team can proactively market your business through this crisis – and at the same time – get through to the other side in a healthy position and ready for the rebound in the economy.

Make no mistake. It is not a quick fix. It isn’t easy. It will take hard work. And it may require that you make some difficult decisions. But — if you do all we talk about in this solocast…you will not only put your business in a position to make it through to the other side…but you will have also future-proofed your business for when the next crisis, challenge, or recession lands on our doorsteps.

Okay – so that’s the plan for today. Deal?

But – before we dive into all of that…I feel like I’d be remiss if we didn’t squarely address the emotional side of what we…as owners…are dealing with right now.

I hope you’ll forgive me here – because the next several minutes might sound like venting…because I kind of am…but my guess is…you might take this opportunity to vent right alongside me as I share this.

Candidly — part of what drove me to do the research, to write, and record this solocast was my own anger — my own frustration, my disappointment, and my sadness around what is happening right now.

I will tell you — there have been some days where I’ve felt bruised, battered, bewildered, and quite frankly…exhausted. My lens through which I normally view the world is to always look for the silver lining – and there are indeed silver linings with today’s crisis – but I admit…it’s taken me longer than normal to see them.

These are some big emotions so I wanted to tackle each of them in front of you because I know many of you have felt the same. You’ve shared that with me in our calls and emails.

Or – maybe you’re wrestling with or feeling something entirely different. Either way – maybe we’ll find some common ground here together.

I’m going to start with sadness.

I’m so sad for all of the families here in the United States and abroad that have had to say goodbye to a loved one, way too soon, because of COVID. I have several at-risk family members and friends — as I’m sure you do, too — and we’d be devastated if we were to lose any of them…ever.

My heart is also broken for business owners who have had to shut down…who are now questioning the livelihoods and the livelihoods of their employees. And to make matters worse — many owners played by all the rules when seeking financial assistance…and yet…they were left out in the cold.

How could this possibly happen?

And — I’m embarrassed to admit…when I think about my feelings of sadness…they quickly transition to anger and frustration.

Even as I thought through and then wrote out what I wanted to share with you today — I felt my eyes welling up as I reflected on my sadness and then I heard my fingers pounding on my keyboard harder and harder because my level of tension grew.

I’m angry and frustrated when I hear of instances where our courageous healthcare workers and first responders who were asked to run toward the fight…yet had to do it at great personal risk because they didn’t have the gear they needed. And yet – our brave men and women didn’t stop — they did their duty because we all needed them to.

Or – I feel myself get angry when I hear politicians on both sides of the aisle and bureaucrats seemingly make decisions with their own best interests in mind and not their constituents. With the end result being that many small business owners were left out of the original stimulus – and have been forced to dangle in the wind and hope they get the assistance they desperately need — because someone, somewhere, was playing favorites.

Yet through it all — as I talk with business owners, Onward Nation – as I’m hearing similar emotions felt — I will tell you what I’m NOT hearing…and that’s the word QUIT.

Out of all of those calls — and all of the emails I have received — literally — not one person has said to me that they had decided to throw in the towel and quit. Not a single person. And that is one of the many reasons why I love business owners as much as I do.

You’re some of the most tenacious, generous, and committed people I know. You give, you sacrifice, and you lend support wherever you can. I love that about you.

So when the roles are reversed and support is promised to you…and you’re told by a big box bank that they’ll be there for you…and then we come to find out that that was never their intention…you bet, Onward Nation…that makes me really, really angry.

I’m angry for every business owner who was given a promise and then that promise was broken. Yes, I get it…life isn’t fair but I was hoping that during this crisis we would have demonstrated that we learned some important lessons from the mistakes of the past.

I’m frustrated that the answers and next steps for business owners have been few and far between.

So – I built this solocast as a way to provide a roadmap for where we as owners can and should go next in the coming weeks. What can we do to rebuild — and if we work hard at it — could it be possible to come out of this crisis in a better position than when we went in?

And that’s is what drove me to do the research. To look back through past recessions, past recoveries…to study the winners and the losers…and to share with you what they did…so we can all take some lessons out of their playbooks and put them to work right now.

I’m going to give you the data points and examples to show it’s possible. And — I’m going to share the next steps that you and your team can take and apply.

Okay — two final housekeeping items before we dive in.

First — thanks for listening to me vent — and I hope you were able to blow off a little steam in the process, too. We all need to give ourselves the grace of being able to do that from time-to-time. Yes, our teams deserve the best leadership and direction we can provide. But — you’re also human — you’re not a rock and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to take a step back and to honor the fact that this is an emotional time…even if that’s for 5 minutes. So thank you for giving me that grace just now, Onward Nation.

Second — all of the citation and references sources that I have included can be found in the endnotes section of today’s show notes on

And third — as I mapped out all of this content on my whiteboards and worked through the written drafts — holy bananas — I quickly saw that there was no way I could cover everything in the level of detail necessary within one solocast. It would be too long and too overwhelming.

So today’s solocast is Part 1 of 2. But by the time you listen to this episode — I will have likely finished up Part 2 so we will be airing it very soon.

Stepping through the research…

Okay, Onward Nation — with all that said — let’s start stepping through how to market your way through the crisis.

And we will start off by reviewing three research studies and articles published in the Harvard Business Review. Again all linked within today’s show notes.

Okay, Onward Nation — with all that said — let’s start stepping through how to market your way through the crisis.

And we will start off by reviewing three research studies and articles published in the Harvard Business Review. Again all linked within today’s show notes.

The first article is entitled “Preparing your business for a post-pandemic world”, which was published by HBR on April 10, 2020 and was written by Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter, both professors at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.

I decided to pull golden nuggets out of Pedersen and Ritter’s work and share it with you because of their emphasis on planning before and during a crisis — and how if your planning process was sound, Onward Nation — that the end-result could be that you will not only survive the current crisis but you will have future-proofed your business so you can survive and thrive future threats.

But in order to prep the proper response plan with smart strategic decisions, you must first understand the position your business holds in the market. You can do that by asking yourself and your team some fundamental questions like, “who are we in our market”, “what role do we play in the market? (Are we price-sensitive suppliers, are we market leaders, do our clients and prospects see us as thought leaders, etc.?).” And — what if we make immediate course corrections…could we emerge as a market leader fueled by developments, new ideas, service offerings, or new markets that we invest in during the lockdown? [1]

Onward Nation — we all know that a plan is a course of action pointing the way to the position you hope to attain. But — the right plan should also map out what you need to do today to achieve your objectives tomorrow. And this is where business owners get snagged. Their plans consist of either lofty ideas without any of the tactical detail their team can challenge, make better, and then implement — or often times — there’s no plan at all because the business owner relies on winging it. Winging it may work during good economic times — but it doesn’t work during a crisis.

And yes, I think Mike Tyson had a point when he famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” And that is exactly why when the U.S. Navy Seals create a mission plan along with 13 contingencies for each mission they execute. They recognize that there will be ebb and flow to the mission plan as the situation evolves and changes with new data points, variables difficult to predict, or sudden changes. But if they didn’t have a plan – they wouldn’t know what gear to take, how much gear, transportation, extraction, and the litany of other things that need to be considered.

And yet – I know many business owners who bristle at planning because they don’t want to feel boxed in or the constraint on flexibility. The Seals would tell you that it is because of the intensity of their planning process that they can be more flexible on the battlefield because they have already anticipated their options – and – have everything they need to proceed with a new direction.

Here’s the reality — and I think the authors of the article were spot on when they wrote, “the lack of a plan only exacerbates disorientation in an already confusing situation.”[2]

Yes, this crisis is confusing. It’s stressful. And there have been times when working with my leadership team at Predictive when I felt overwhelmed and just wanted to start doing things to see if anything would stick. But — we didn’t until we had a plan. I encourage you to take a step back…have discipline…look around…ask yourself and your team questions…look at today…this week…this month…and map out in writing the steps you intend to take quickly for both the short-term — and — identify how those steps will set your business up for success in 12-months as it relates to your 3-year mission.

In addition to the planning process that you and your fellow leaders within your business need to be working through — you also need to communicate the plan as well as the process to create the plan — with your entire team. If you or your leadership team works through the planning process in a vacuum and doesn’t share highlights, milestones, or progress as the plan is evolving — I’m telling you — your team will feel lost and your culture will suffer.

Your team is just as confused, scared, and concerned as you are. And many of them might be super scared and concerned for you – way more so than their own job security. So — I’m not suggesting that your entire team needs to be involved in the creation of the core plan.

But what I am suggesting is that you take a lesson out of the book, “Extreme Ownership” where you and your leadership team create the core plan — brief your entire team on the objectives and intent of the plan — and then ask junior members of your team to meet and work out the tactical details for implementing the plan.[3]

Your job is to make sure you are clear on the objectives and the intent of the plan. Then set your expectations for the timing for the completion of the plan — quickly…like 24- to 48-hours — and have each of the junior team members present their portion of the plan back to you and your leadership team. Then everyone asks questions and in doing so – does some stress testing of the plan. It’s crucial to create space for the plan to evolve but that doesn’t mean your planning process needs to take weeks. It can be days and you will be off and running.

I assure you — your greatest challenge during the planning process will be to prioritize. You need to be careful that you don’t start numerous projects that all depend on the same critical resources. If you do — you will burn out your team and nothing will get done with excellence. Instead — take your five, six, or 10 great ideas…apply pressure to them…and distill them down to one to two great ideas with clear steps for the next 30-days. And then keep a list of all of the other ideas and come back to it in 30-days and re-evaluate what should be next.

Okay — before we move on to another ingredient in the planning process – I want to give you a warning so you don’t fall into a mental trap. I learned this lesson during my mentorship with Darren Hardy, former publisher of SUCCESS Magazine when he was on our board of advisors at Predictive. And one day he shared some marketing strategies and tactics with me…and candidly…while he was sharing them with me…I was arrogantly thinking to myself, “Yes, good ideas, Darren but I’ve heard these before.” And then came the two-part question from Darren.

“Stephen – you may have heard these ideas before but…”

Question 1: Are you doing them?

And as soon as he asked me the question – I immediately felt embarrassed. When he was sharing the ideas – I was affirming my own smarts in my head because I wanted to show myself that I had similar ideas to Darren. When instead I should have been thinking… “Yes, I have heard this before…and why aren’t we doing this?” So his challenge landed exactly the way he wanted it to land.

And then the second question…

Question #2: If you are doing it…can you do it better, greater, with more excellence?

So – if you’re already planning…rock solid awesome. I commend you because most business owners aren’t planning right now — they are reacting without a plan, which is dangerous because it forces them to aimlessly wandering through the wilderness while trying to wing it.

So my challenge to you is — can you take a nugget out of what Pedersen, Ritter, and the Navy Seals do for planning and make your planning process even better?

My guess is…we all can.

Now let’s shift our attention to imagination — because we need it now more than ever.

Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, both part of the Boston Consulting Group’s Henderson Institute, wrote a brilliant article entitled, We Need Imagination Now More Than Ever which was published by the Harvard Business Review on April 10, 2020. A link to the full text of the article can be found in the endnotes section of today’s show notes.

Reeves and Fuller put forth the argument that imagination — in the face of uncertainty, economic crisis, and the historic challenges we are facing right now as a nation/world — is exactly what we need to solve the problem. But it is difficult to apply imagination and all of its benefits when we are in full-on crisis management mode.

Why? Because when something unexpected and significant happens our first instinct is to defend against it. Then we later move to understand and manage whatever caused the crisis so we can get back to the status quo.
But we may not be able to return to our familiar pre-crisis reality. Onward Nation – no one knows for sure of course – but if I had to guess – I’d predict that COVID-19 is going to permanently change attitudes, needs, behaviors, and industries.

The authors believe – and I agree – “that your capacity to imagine…to create, to evolve, and to pursue ideas — is a crucial factor in seizing and creating new opportunities, and finding new paths to growth.”[4]

But the challenge is — and my guess is when I impressed upon you the importance of planning a few minutes ago — you felt the pressure to act and may have said to yourself “Stephen…there’s no time for planning – I need to take action now.” Same thing with imagination — because of the pressure of COVID-19 — it will be one of the hardest things to keep alive within your business right now.

However — imagination — re-thinking how you can double down in being helpful to your clients and prospects right now is exactly what can help your business survive this recession.

For example — in recessions and downturns, 14 percent of companies outperform both historically and competitively because they invested in new growth areas. Apple released its first iPod in 2001 — the same year the U.S. economy experienced a recession that contributed to a 33 percent drop in Apple’s total revenue. Still – Apple saw the iPod’s ability to transform its product portfolio so the company increased R&D spending by double digits, which sparked an era of high growth for the company.[5]

Later in today’s solocast — I will share with you some data points from a special coronavirus report from Edelman, which shows that what your clients and prospects want from you right now is to be helpful. Share, communicate, educate, teach, and be supportive. Onward Nation — you cannot do any of those things at a high level, with excellence, by reacting…by winging it…without a plan…and with no imagination.

The authors also surveyed more than 250 multi-national companies to understand what leaders were doing to manage the COVID-19 epidemic and its impact on their businesses. Interestingly, only a small number of companies are at a stage where they’re identifying and sharing strategic opportunities. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising since big companies take longer to pivot than what our teams within our small businesses can do. But it also paints a picture of opportunity, too, doesn’t it?

If you can rally your teams — create an imaginative plan that everyone buys into because they had a hand in building it — you will likely be way of ahead of your competitors.

And yes I get it – you likely don’t own a multi-national company and you don’t have an R&D budget like Apple did back in 2001. But think of it this way – if multi-national companies that have budgets capable of doubling down on R&D – yet aren’t because they are in reactive mode – just think of the possibilities if you could actual reimage what’s next for you in your industry.

You might be the only one serving your niche that is actually thinking about how best to double down on being helpful. The rest of your industry might be thinking about that next promotional push…something…anything in order to get in a few dollars to survive. But you can imagine a completely different path. One that shares your smarts, your insights, the best of what you have in a generous way while everyone else is reacting and frozen.

You may have a blue ocean of possibilities in front of you if you can take the time to imagine all that can be.

But how do you do that? Let me help by giving you a push from the authors. Instead of asking yourself and your team passive questions like “What will happen to us during this crisis?” — flip the script — by asking active, open questions like “How can we create new options?”

Or — “How can we double down and be even more helpful to our clients and prospects during this crisis?”

What could we teach?

What research could we share?

What online event, webinar, or forum could we host for our audience that would share the best of what we’ve got to help them navigate what’s next?

I know — there are no easy solutions. And my Predictive team and I have wrestled through many options when we were building out our 30-day Priorities. Rest assured — we have worked through everything I’m recommending to you…I have seen it in action. But through it all – in order for this to work for you – you need to be open to new possibilities and not constrict the funnel.

Okay – the last nugget I want to share with you was a game-changer for me. I have been a student of mindset, attraction theory, and the power of the mastermind for years. I am a firm believer in that which we focus on we get more of. Perseverating over negative thoughts produces negative results and I have seen the reverse happen, too. And when blended with a great plan, intentional execution, and hard work – that within the plan becomes reality.

But what I learned from this article and wanted to share with you is how this actually plays out in the world of statistics, too.

For example — “when we lose hope and adopt a passive mindset, we cease to believe that we can meet our ideals or fix our problems. In statistics, Bayesian learning involves taking a belief about a statistical distribution – prior results – and updating it in the light of each new piece of information obtained. The outcome of the entire process can be determined by the initial belief. Pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”[6]

So – if you focus on being imaginative, being open to the possibilities, giving your team grounds for hope, encouraging them to be innovative…and all of this is done with the intent of being helpful to your clients and prospects in a way you never have been before…you will make progress. Meanwhile – your competitors will be bogged down in the thickness of things and trapped in a short-term survival mentality that requires them to TAKE from their clients and prospects…and it won’t work.

Onward Nation – as a leader in your business – ask yourself whether you are giving people grounds for hope, imagination, and innovation, or whether you are using pessimistic or fatalistic language, which could create a downward spiral in organizational creativity. Dealing with real risks involves taking imaginative risks, which requires hope.[7]

Trust me when I say that the trench you are fighting in every day – that trench of pressure, doubt, fear, anxiety, and at times…overwhelm…yes, I know that trench well, too. And I’m right there with you…slugging it out, too…and working hard.

But one thing I’m grateful for is that we quickly built a plan at Predictive, we prioritized, we mapped out how we could be helpful to clients and prospects…and we did all of that from the spirit of imagination…and then we shared it with our team. Now – taking you behind the curtain in full transparency…we did all of that in 48-hours. This is not a 4-6 week process. Don’t get bogged down…get moving.

Let’s keep up the momentum of the planning process and begin to think about how you should deal with the myriad of business pressures right now. Do you cut operating costs, do you furlough employees, do you work to open new markets and invest in R&D, or some other combination of strategies? And – is there an ideal combination or blend of the strategies – and if so – what have been the result outcomes from other companies as they worked to navigate past crises.

Thankfully – there is some excellent research available on all of the above. With that said – it might seem a bit odd that I am going to now turn our attention toward an article / published study in the Harvard Business Review from 2010. Why would I pull from an article that is 10-years old?

The article is entitled, Roaring Out of Recession and was published in HBR on March 3, 2010. I’m recommending you and your team study it because the data points within the article provide a whole lot of context that matters during today’s crisis.

Back in 2010 of course – the country was looking for any and all help in pulling itself out of the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. But in order to make smart recommendations to their 2010 readers – the authors went back and gathered data from the past three global recessions: the 1980 crisis (which lasted from 1980 to 1982), the 1990 slowdown (1990 to 1991) and the 2000 bust (2000 to 2002). They studied 4,700 public companies, breaking down the data into three periods: the three years before a recession, the three years after, and the recession years themselves.[8] It took the researchers over 12-months to complete the research project and they focused on publicly traded companies because of the availability and access to data.

At the high level — and I will slice the big nuggets apart in just a minute — but as a business owner this data is helpful because right now you are in the heat of battle. You are a battlefield general. You’re commanding your troops…you’re asking for the best intel…and you and your fellow leaders are trying to react and respond. But without taking the time to plan…to imagine…to think about long-term positioning…I assure you…you will be busy tackling short term priorities and your outlook on the future will continue to be obscured by the fog of war.

Here are some of the highlights…

Seventeen percent of the companies in the study didn’t survive the recession.

About 80 percent of 4,700 companies in the study (3,760 companies) had not yet regained their pre-recession growth rate for sales and profits three years after the recession.

Forty percent of the 4,700 companies (1,880 companies) hadn’t even returned to their prerecession sales and profits levels by the end of the three years post-recession.

So for the majority of the companies – the financial impact of the recession were long lasting.

Only nine percent of companies flourished after a slowdown, doing better on key financial parameters than they had before and outperforming rivals in their industry by at least 10 percent in terms of sales and profits growth.

Interestingly — companies that cut costs faster and deeper than their competitors didn’t necessarily flourish. In fact – these were the companies in the study with the lowest probability — 21 percent — of pulling ahead of their competition when the economy rebounded.

Counter-intuitively — the company leaders that decided to double down and boldly invest more than their rivals during a recession also didn’t fare well. They only enjoyed a 26 percent chance of becoming leaders after a downturn and then into an economic rebound.

And most surprising to me was learning that 85 percent of growth leaders heading into a recession are then toppled because of the crisis. So if you’re not currently the leader in your niche – the current crisis could absolutely be your opportunity if you lead your team correctly over the next several months.

The post-recession winners were companies that mastered the balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow. And the proof is in the results with 37 percent of the post-recession winners breaking away from the pack.

“The post-recession winners were the companies that cut costs selectively by focusing on increasing operational efficiency — meanwhile — they invested relatively comprehensively in the future by spending on marketing, R&D, and new assets. This is the best antidote to a recession.”[9]

The researchers called the segment of companies that had taken this strategic approach, “Progressive.”

Progressive companies deploy the optimal combination of defense and offense. Conversely — the “prevention-focused companies” in the study were the ones whose leaders quickly implemented policies that reduced operating costs, shrunk discretionary expenditures, eliminated frills, lowered headcount, and preserved cash. They also postponed making new investments in R&D, developing new businesses, or buying assets such as plants and machinery to expand their capacity. Prevention-focused leaders cut back on almost every item of cost and investment and reduce expenditures significantly more than competitors.

Focusing solely on cost-cutting causes executives and employees to approach every decision through a loss-minimizing lens and pessimism permeates the organization.

Post-recession profits for prevention-focused enterprises typically rose by only $600 million, whereas for progressive companies they increased by an average of $6.6 billion. Prevention-focused companies were the ones that suffered the most during the recession – and – took the longest to recover. Or – never recovered to their pre-recession levels for sales and profit.

So let’s flip that — is doubling down on promotion is the right strategy?

Unfortunately – no – it’s not that simple. A focus purely on promotion develops a culture of optimism that led companies to deny the gravity of a crisis for a long time. They ignored early warning signs, such as customer’s budget cuts, and were steadfast in the belief that as long as they innovate, their sales and profits will continue to rise. They didn’t notice that because the pie was shrinking, they must capture an even larger share from rivals to keep growing. And this typically leads to intense price competition and a zero-sum game. No one wins in a race to the bottom.

However — progressive companies — which is where I’m urging you to begin thinking, Onward Nation — they are the companies that cut costs by improving operational efficiency rather than by slashing the number of employees. Only 23 percent of progressive companies cut staff — whereas 56% of prevention-focused companies do—and they lay off fewer people.

And the offensive moves by progressive are even comprehensive. Progression companies develop new business opportunities by making significantly greater investments than their rivals in R&D and marketing, and they invest in expanding their capacity. Progressive companies develop new markets and invest to enlarge their asset bases. They take advantage of depressed prices to buy property, plants, and equipment.

All of that combined is why the post-recession growth in sales and earnings by the progressive lead companies was the best among the 4,700 within the study.

Okay — let’s do a quick recap from what we have covered so far. First — by the data — you need to have a plan that involves your entire team – you cannot afford to wing it through any crisis…and definitely not this one. Second — you need to find ways to stay open to imagination and letting it impact your R&D and how you approach doubling down on being helpful to your clients and prospects. And third — if you want your business to make it through the other side of this crisis…and potentially…be in an even better position than when you entered it…now is the time to be progressive. Yes, reduce your operating expenses to boost efficiency…keep your team intact the best you can…and make investments in your marketing and R&D.

Let’s take the ROI around marketing investments a bit deeper with some data points collected from a study commissioned by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI).

“ASI studied 2,662 firms from 1970 – 1991 to determine the effect of marketing on a company during a recession. Firms that marketed during a recession increased in value and got more marketing bang for their investment. In some cases – up to three years after the recession had ended. It seems like common sense – if you market when everyone else stops marketing – your message is more likely to be noticed due to a less cluttered market and your business is more likely to be remembered once your competitors begin marketing again.”

In my opinion, Onward Nation — this crisis is the time for you not to be silent. You need to be in front of your clients, prospects, and audience — and yes — that is marketing. But — this isn’t the time to be selling. This is the time to be helping. So yes — I want you to have a progressive mindset about how to lead your business to the other side of this but I want you to be very thoughtful about the content you and your team create and shares.

This is why I also want to share some highlights from a recent special report from Edelman because the context here will help guide the context of your content.

You can access a full copy of the report from the Edelman website using the link at the bottom of today’s show notes.

Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote, and protect their brands and reputations. Edelman employs 6,000 people in more than 60 offices. And they have been studying, researching, reporting on the topic of trust for the last 20-years. Their report has become the standard for excellence on the topic.

Edelman just conducted a 12-market study on the critical role brands are expected to play during the coronavirus pandemic, completed on March 26. We interviewed 12,000 people in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the U.S. This follows on a study that we released two weeks ago on the role of the private sector during the pandemic.

I’m going to walk through a high-level overview of the key points…

If you were ever in doubt that your brand(s) mattered, this new data reveals the power and necessity of brand as well as the urgent need for you to act.

You and your team need to find solutions (think “imagination” – remember that from earlier in this solocast?) instead of selling passion or image.

Your solutions need to be tangible and fast, not impressionistic and conceptual.

Respondents recognized the need for specific actions to help address the societal challenges posed by COVID-19, from protecting the wellbeing of employees to shifting products, services, and pricing to create a sense of community. This crisis is indeed an opportunity for you to step up in a whole new way to be helpful in your niche.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said that their country won’t make it through this crisis without businesses playing a critical role in addressing the challenges. At the same time, 71 percent agree that if they perceive that a business is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that business forever.[10]

So Onward Nation – if you’re not smart about your context ensuring it’s on-point – you could cause more harm than good from your marketing effort.

Businesses must focus their messaging on solutions, not selling.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said they want brand advertising to focus on how brands help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges.[11]

Seventy-seven percent said they want brands only to speak about products and services in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people’s lives.[12]

And Onward Nation — the study showed that there’s a deep desire for expertise. Eighty-four percent of respondents globally said that they want businesses to be a reliable news source that keeps people informed. They want to receive this information from multiple sources, in part because they are skeptical about any individual medium given the epidemic of fake news. The most credible combination is mainstream media plus email.

Taking that further — eighty-five percent of respondents want you to be an educator, offering your audience instructional information about the virus and its effects and how to protect yourselves from it.

With the said — I’m suggesting that you play doctor or infectious disease expert. But what I am recommending that you do is pick up the torch and lead the conversations in your niche about the business impact the virus is having on your customers, your vendors, your industry as a whole. And — champion the distribution of resources, research, or anything else you think will be helpful to your community of clients and prospects who are desperately seeking answers.

If you’re on our email list – you’ve likely received updates from me with PPP resources, calculators, applications, etc. Our expertise isn’t in the public health arena – but – we absolutely believe we can be helpful to business owners within our community by sharing resources we have curated. And the response from our community has been incredible because we shared the right resources, at the right time, with absolutely no expectation of return.

Helping – not selling, Onward Nation.

The team at Edelman believes that this global crisis will fundamentally change how we think, behave, and consume. There will not be a rapid return to normal. And the new world will have trust at its core, with the brand mandate expanded to solve problems for all, protect all, care for all, collaborate with all, and innovate in the public interest.

Business owners that act in the interest of their employees, clients, prospects, and other stakeholders will reinforce their expertise, leadership, and trust and immeasurably strengthen those bonds. Your community is looking to you to share your thought leadership and expertise – and you can’t do that by shrinking or by being quiet. They want you to demonstrate your authority.

Don’t be promotional – be helpful. Don’t focus on selling – but be solutions focused. Double down on sharing your expertise like you never have before. We’re all faced with economic challenges right now – no one is immune – and if you can resist the temptation to sell…I assure you…creating an authority position will deliver a financial return on your investment.

In an upcoming episode of Onward Nation — Susan Baier, founder of Audience Audit – an exceptional research firm and our partner on a recent study on the ROI of Thought Leadership will join me to walk through the findings with you. I will tell you – the results are shocking. Yes, there is an ROI on your thought leadership when done well.

For example…

When a prospect chooses to work with you and your team instead of a competitor – 62 percent of the time that choice was made because of whether they consider you to be an authority or not.

Susan and I are preparing an executive summary with some of the biggest findings from the research. It will be available soon. If you’d like to ensure you receive it when it’s available – go to our Resources Library at and download one of the resources to ensure you’re on our mailing list – or – you can also email me directly at [email protected] and I’ll make sure you get on the distribution list.

Okay – let’s begin to wrap up an come in for a landing by circling back to the Edelman data and then some additional framing about what makes someone an authority.

Onward Nation — all of the data points to the fact that we’ve entered the era of the Authority…even before COVID-19…and now even more so as a result of the virus. And while you may be sick of the phrase “thought leader”, the truth is there aren’t that many of them in the niches where you have decided to focus your business. If you haven’t yet niched down – I highly recommend you listen to Episode 930 where Eric Lanel and I talked through the importance of claiming your niche.

But what makes a thought leader a thought leader?

Thought leaders don’t write content that anyone else could claim. Thought leaders don’t write about anything and everything. And thought leaders don’t compete on price. And because of COVID, the data from Edelman, the data from our own ROI of Thought Leadership study, and many other relevant sources — I will argue — that the ideal time for you to double down on your own thought leadership to build your authority in your niche is now.

Churning out generic content to get ahead in Google rankings may have worked 20 years ago – but it doesn’t work today and it’s not helpful to your audience.

In our recent book entitled, “Sell with Authority”, my co-author, Drew McLellan, and I shared highlights from the 2019 Trust Barometer study from Edelman, a global PR agency, which has conducted the study each year for the last 20-years. It’s a worldwide study with 33,000 consumers participating in 27 countries.

One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that buyers assign a high level of trust to people they believe are just like themselves. When you think about the impact that ratings, reviews, and influencers have with their audiences, you begin to see the power of that belief.

But Edelman’s research isn’t about the celebrity influencer. This study documents the rise of the common man influencer – business owners just like you and me, Onward Nation. It’s noteworthy because it gives statistical validity to the idea of real people as influencers and the impact they can have on the beliefs around a brand.

The one attribute that ranked higher than the trust we have in people like you and me is the trust we have in highly educated experts. The only three groups of people we trust more than people like ourselves are company, industry, and academic experts.

Experts are afforded the highest level of confidence and trust because they have a depth of knowledge in a specific industry or niche. So why in the world wouldn’t you capitalize on that? Instead of creating generic content that looks and sounds like everyone else during this crisis – take the opportunity to create thought leadership content that is unique, different, and helpful – not promotional. Your competitors aren’t. So you should.

Now more than ever — you can own an authority position – you can do it – and it will help you future proof your business. There has never been a better time in history to start.

The data is all on your side.

The 10 Truths of an Authority

If you were asked to think of an authority on any subject, who would come to mind? What about them designates them as an authority? What’s true about them? And what does someone have to do to earn and keep the title of authority?

Truth #1: They have a focus area or subject matter expertise.

Truth #2: They don’t just repeat what everyone else is saying.

Truth #3: They have a public presence where they share their expertise.

Truth #4: They don’t stray from their area of expertise—think specialist versus a generalist.

Truth #5: They aren’t equally attractive to everyone. In fact, they probably bore most people to tears.

Truth #6: They’re significant—which is different from prolific—in terms of content creation.

Truth #7: They don’t create any generic content that someone with far less knowledge or experience could have just as easily written.

Truth #8: They’re perceived as an educator in some way.

Truth #9: They have a passion for their subject matter.

Truth #10: They have a strong point of view, which is the foundation of all of their content.

A true authority has something specific to teach us, and they want to be helpful or illuminating. They’re eager to share what they know because they have a genuine passion for it, and they don’t fear giving away the recipe to their secret sauce (or so it’s perceived).

That confidence and generosity are contagious. Their expertise is something specific groups of people (their sweet-spot prospects) are hungry to access. Call them an expert, a thought leader, an authority, a sought-after pundit, advisor, or specialist. They’re all words for the same thing—a trusted resource that has earned that trust by demonstrating and generously sharing the depth of their specialized knowledge over and over again.

One way to recognize an authority is the ability to define them in a single sentence, like Simon Sinek. He’s “the why guy.” Brené Brown is “the dare-to-be-vulnerable woman.” They’ve so narrowly and so carefully defined their expertise that we can capture it with a word or phrase.

Does Simon Sinek talk about other things? Of course. But he always ties it back to his thing—the “why.”

Does Brené Brown write about additional topics? Absolutely. But she always loops it back to being vulnerable and the power that comes from being brave enough to embrace vulnerability.

Beyond that, Drew and I would argue that a true authority has a strong point-of-view or belief that influences how they talk about their subject area. A narrow niche, a strong point-of-view, and being findable in multiple places are the hallmarks of an authority position.

And — they have a plan for creating content that is helpful to their niche and not focused on selling. All of the data points to the validity of leveraging your own thought leadership as your core strategy to proactively market your way through the crisis and to make it through to the other side in a stronger position than when all of this happened. You need a plan, with some imagination, some hard work, progressive ideas, and the willingness to invest your time and attention toward execution.

But if you do that – and your clients, prospects, and audience can see that you are being helpful and not selling…when they are ready to enter the market again…you will have put yourself in the best possible position for a new trajectory of growth.

Your plan – will need to address what my team and I call the 6 tenets of how to Sell with Authority. And I will cover those in full transparent detail in Part 2 of this solocast series.

Okay – whew – was that a lot?

Holy bananas – it sure felt like a lot.

And remember — all of the research sources can be found in the endnotes in today’s show notes on

As always — I look forward to your feedback. The emails you send me — and your comments on social media — all help us get better every day — so thank you for that Onward Nation and keep them coming.

And if you need me — you can reach me directly at [email protected]. Rest assured — that’s my actual Inbox and I read and reply to every email.

Okay, Onward Nation — this is the time to double down like no other in history. But — be smart about it. Invest in the right areas. Make progressive decisions. And if you do all that — you will market your way through this crisis.

I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Until our next episode — onward with gusto!

[1] “Preparing Your Business for a Post-Pandemic World”, Carsten Lund Pederson and Thomas Ritter, Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2020.

[2] “Preparing Your Business for a Post-Pandemic World”, Carsten Lund Pederson and Thomas Ritter, Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2020.

[3] “Extreme Ownership”, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

[4] “We Need Imagination Now More Than Ever”, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2020.

[5] “We Need Imagination Now More Than Ever”, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2020.

[6] “We Need Imagination Now More Than Ever”, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2020.

[7] “We Need Imagination Now More Than Ever”, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, Harvard Business Review, April 10, 2020.

[8] “Roaring Out of Recession”, Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria, Franz Wohlgezogen, Harvard Business Review, March 3, 2010.

[9] “Roaring Out of Recession”, Ranjay Gulati, Nitin Nohria, Franz Wohlgezogen, Harvard Business Review, March 3, 2010.

[10] “Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic”, Richard Edelman, Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, March 30, 2020.

[11] “Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic”, Richard Edelman, Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, March 30, 2020.

[12] “Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic”, Richard Edelman, Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, March 30, 2020.

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Sell with Authority Podcast

The Sell with Authority Podcast is for agency owners, business coaches, and strategic consultants who are looking to grow a thriving, profitable business that can weather the constant change that seems to be our world’s reality.

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