“A healthy society is good for everyone. … Helping your community is good for business. It's why some countries thrive. When communities thrive, businesses thrive.”
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, made these remarks a few months ago in the Equality Lounge at the World Economic Forum. How prescient they proved to be. On the other side of the world, people were experiencing the first ripples of a pandemic that would soon sweep across the planet.
Over the course of a few short months, the impact of COVID-19 has taken over most of our lives. Attending an international event such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, sitting shoulder to shoulder with people from around the world, feels like an alternate reality right now. People are grappling with life-changing circumstances, personal loss, job insecurities, anxiety, illness and insolvency. Business is anything but usual.
To go back to Dimon’s words, a healthy society is good for everyone. How can we, as marketers, contribute to a healthier society in these profoundly trying times? The first and most crucial step sounds deceivingly simple: Just be human.
At a time when people are missing the human connection, this is the greatest gift we can give to our customers, colleagues and ourselves. “I’ve been studying the workplace for over 20 years. I never thought we would get to a point where going to work would feel like such a privilege,” said workplace expert Erica Keswin in our recent Virtual Equality Lounge. While we have entered protection mode and retreated into our homes for the safety of our communities, we still haven’t lost that desire for human connection—and that’s where marketers can provide a value-add.
To find out how brands are turning the theory of human connection into business practice, we spoke with Stephanie Buscemi, chief marketing officer of Salesforce. Below are her top takeaways.
Do: Focus on empathy
Right now, when many people are at their most vulnerable, it is our job first and foremost to be empathetic and support them in any way we can. “I’ve told everyone on my team that our No. 1 job is to help our customers right now,” says Buscemi. “Always be helpful.
“At the end of the day, I believe Maya Angelou’s quote that people will never forget how you made them feel,” she continues. “I keep that quote at the forefront of my mind. We have to remember that everyone is going to have a different journey on COVID-19. Geographically, we all will experience it at different times. Having sensitivity to that and being thoughtful is critical.”
Don't: Retrofit for our current reality
These aren’t normal times, and businesses must pivot accordingly. “I don’t want people moving old ideas into our new reality,” says Buscemi. “We need to rethink the way we’re working. In the first couple weeks [of social distancing measures], we—like everyone else—were retrofitting our existing ways. Now, every week, we are reimagining how we’re going to do our work in this virtual world.”
While retrofitting is an initial coping mechanism, it’s not a recipe for long-term success. Customers want products and services that reflect their current reality. “Talking to customers every day,” she says, “it feels like too many are taking existing processes and making tweaks here and there.”
Do: Innovate with intention
“Right now, being relevant to our customers and what they’re currently dealing with is our top priority. Is what we have for them really going to help them right now? If it’s not, get out of their way,” Buscemi advises.
While the pandemic has pushed most companies out of their comfort zone, some leaders may be able to use this time as a springboard for innovation, she says: “The reality is that this time is ripe with opportunity to innovate—and leaders will be tested on that.
When in doubt: Tap into your feminine leadership qualities
Although women make up less than 7 percent of world leaders, this minority has earned widespread recognition for their handling of the pandemic. Female leaders on both the global and local stages have been praised for their decisive, communicative and relational response to COVID-19.
As numerous bodies of research show, women are more likely than men to have a transformational leadership style. This means that they, to use the American Psychological Association's phrasing, “act more like a good teacher or coach and encourage creative solutions to problems.” If there was ever a time for each of us to tap into our feminine leadership qualities, this is it.
Buscemi agrees: “A lot of the leadership qualities required right now happen to be in the wheelhouse of women. People need effective communication more than anything, and women tend to be very strong communicators. People want transparency, set expectations, decision-making and action.”
She also points to the high emotional intelligence of women. “Women are great readers of people. We are in challenging times, and being on the pulse of that is more important now than ever,” she says. “If you don’t have the emotional quotient to understand where people are coming from, you can’t help them.”
To go back to Dimon’s words, a healthy society is good for everyone. Right now, our No. 1 job is to do our part to contribute to a healthy society and help our communities, families, friends, colleagues and customers. And perhaps the most impactful North Star for marketers to follow during these trying times is also the simplest one: to be human.