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5 CEOs on avoiding the continental drift of your brand during a crisis

We asked five startup CEOs to tell us what’s working for them right now.

5 CEOs on avoiding the continental drift of your brand during a crisis
[Source images: mrgao/iStock; serezniy/iStock]

Consumers aren’t exactly feeling confident these days. That naturally has brands scrambling to earn their business. Sales teams are sending about 50% more emails to prospects, but response rates are less than 2%, according to data from Hubspot.

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When your startup is in survival mode, it’s tempting to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. But shifting too far away from your brand identity can ultimately be bad for business. There are smart ways to pivot during this pandemic. We asked five startup CEOs to tell us what’s working for them right now. Here’s their advice:

Do a gut check

Daina Trout, CEO and cofounder of Health-Ade Kombucha, says as brands weather this pandemic, they must consider a couple of key things.

“First, the CEO must assess if it’s something the brand can authentically represent,” she says. “The second thing to look at is the numbers. Work out the costs and forecasts based on facts, competitors, and data. This is often the sobering part because you may realize that your great idea is more costly or brings less revenue than you dreamed.”

In her case, the company was considering launching an immunity tonic during COVID-19, which would have been authentic to its brand mission of helping people be their “happiest and healthiest” selves. But it just didn’t make sense, she says. “Of the more than 10 ‘great’ ideas I came up with during COVID for Health-Ade, none of them ended up demonstrating on paper that the juice would be worth the squeeze, so we scratched them.”

Think on your feet

Ed Laczynski is the founder and CEO of Zype, a direct-to-consumer video streaming service. He says his company is in the midst of a pivot and learning how to ride the way without compromising its brand. There’s a tremendous spike among fitness companies who need their video solution to serve clients in the age of social distancing, he says.

“We knew we couldn’t spend time with each and every one of them doing demos and deep-diving into their needs, but that sort of thoughtfulness is part of our core values,” he explains. “So, instead we . . . developed a webinar program that preserves our brand and product value,” he says.

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Be strategic

Dave Merkel, cofounder and CEO of network security provider Expel, says during this pandemic, he’s been pushing a simple mantra: “Simple is smooth; smooth is fast.”

“It comes from military unit slogans and it’s usually associated with high-stress situations,” he explains. “Rather than turning our entire business strategy on its head, we instead think about the simple, incremental, and sometimes obvious things we should do in response.”

In his case, Merkel chose to offer a month-to-month plan for first-year customers. He says it allows the company to still hold true to its brand and to “quickly and simply meet our customers where they are, giving them the pricing flexibility they want.”

Embrace tech

Using new tools can help brands stay relevant to customers, says Chen Amit, cofounder and CEO of Tipalti, an accounts payable automation software provider.

“For example, five-star restaurants and mom-and-pop eateries have suddenly become takeout and delivery-based,” she says. “If they didn’t have the ordering and fulfillment infrastructure of the gig economy technologies like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats, it wouldn’t scale and their services would have questionable viability.”

Focus on the future

Ed Buckley is the CEO of Peerfit, which connects employers, brokers, and insurance carriers to local fitness experiences and wellness services. He says while it’s tempting for a brand to be “everything to everyone” during this crisis, that can backfire eventually.

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“If your company finds itself shifting from its mission and value proposition to maintain relevance, it may suffer brand instability once the crisis subsides,” he says. “An organization’s investment in its brand should be solid—crisis or not.”

He says that if a brand finds it no longer has any value to provide, it might be time for a reinvention. But he offers that advice with a caveat. “Do so with a mindset that creates a lasting, sustainable strategy for when the smoke clears,” he says. “Combine your original brand with your new ideas to multiply your value, while acknowledging what happened in the past, and who you will be in the future.”

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About the author

Beck Bamberger founded BAM Communications in 2008 and writes regularly for Forbes, Inc., and HuffPost about entrepreneurship, public relations, and culture.

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