The coronavirus (Covid-19), a once in a century event, is life threatening for people and equally dangerous for businesses, although defeating this threat is different for people and for businesses and while a ‘wait and see’ (lockdown and social distancing) approach is tipped as being key to our personal survival, the same cannot be said about businesses. In fact, a ‘wait and see’ approach is not an option for any business. On the contrary, you need to immediately spring into action with an anti-virus business plan.
This crisis is unlike any other previous one we have witnessed and we need to prepare for the worst (and count ourselves lucky if the worst does not happen). All businesses face the high probability of substantial revenue disruption, leading to a liquidity crisis that can up-end their entire business model. Recovery will not come quickly and companies must plan for multiple financial quarters at lower revenues to even get back to the point they were at before the crisis hit. To this end, experienced and fully dedicated ‘anti-virus’ business teams should be created that are focused on implementing a strategy that will lead us back to where we were. In this respect, it is critical for brand leaders to lead from the front with well planned and thought out actions, based on the worst possible scenarios they can think of.
Consumer behaviour patterns are changing during this crisis and they may not easily revert back to their previous habits. My recommendation is to organise your ‘anti-virus’ game plan around the following ‘3Ps’.
They are your greatest asset and they need to stay healthy in order to take your action plan forward. Start by monitoring global health guidelines and best company practices and fine-tune where needed. Your people will be worried about the future and the uncertain scenarios that lie ahead and you need to communicate with them with full transparency. Put your cards on the table so that they will own and be a part of the solution (they will provide even better solutions than if you had not involved them). You also need to be even more connected to your key leaders across all functions, so that they have a sense about what you are thinking.
Draw up several financial scenarios for 2020 that take into account the country and the market situation. Given that the economy was not doing very well before the Covid-19 crisis, take those figures into account in order to work out several profit and loss scenarios. Then take a position on your company’s fixed and variable costs and relook at your capital expenditure and investment plans and work out capital and cash flows for the balance of this year. In this regard, my advice is to build on worst case scenarios. In addition, outline the major operational actions required in terms of your pre Covid-19 2020 plan and decide where you need to apply the brakes and where you need to pull the plug. While taking these short term measures, look ahead to the ‘new normal’ and decide what steps you may need to take in two to three months’ time to secure the longer term (in other words ‘future proofing’ your company). This will involve making your cost structure leaner – minimum and more variable staffing levels and further digitisation – to make your company more shock resistant. Remember, all businesses have been facing increasingly difficult times in the last decade, so don’t expect things to change in the future; they will only get worse for one reason or the other.
Is your business leadership style aggressive or defensive? This is the time to attack, yet most people are very defensive. This is the time to go against your instincts, because performance will matter more than ever before. Adopt a consumer centric view; will a new consumer emerge from this crisis? How will you build trust and loyalty? How will you evolve your brand communication message? Do not assume it will be business as usual and you can resume doing what you were doing before the lockdown. Define how you will outperform your competitors, what your marketing and advertising strategy will be, how you plan to rebound from this crisis and your strategies for the different scenarios you are creating. Marketing is about action and a lot can be done even now. Marketing people will be divided into those who take a wait and see approach and those who believe that now is the time to be creative, smart and do even more than what they did before. I hope your people are in the latter camp; marketing has many tools and many tricks of the trade that no lockdown can ever stop.
Good luck in your anti-virus business plan!
Shoaib Qureshy is CEO, Bulls Eye DDB Group. firstname.lastname@example.org