Corona Chameleon

March 27, 2020 by Chad Birenbaum

Let’s rewind to two weekends before writing this post. At that time, one of my biggest worries in life was, “What color should we repaint our bathroom vanity?” That Saturday, I headed to Home Depot faced with difficult challenges, such as “Should I get chalk or milk paint?” and “Should it be Vintage White, Farmhouse White, or Harbor Gray?”. As a designer, color choices are a crucial decision to make, but not nearly as difficult as the decisions that the other Duckpin co-founders and I would have to make shortly.

Initially, we decided to repaint the vanity because one of my best friends and her boyfriend were coming to stay with us at the end of March. My fiancé and I set a goal to get the vanity repainted ahead of their arrival. Just after applying the final coat of Vintage White Chalk Paint, my cell phone rang. It was my friend letting me know that she and her boyfriend were canceling their flight because of the coronavirus. At the time, there were only a few cases in the US, but I understood their decision.

The following day seemed to be business as usual at Duckpin HQ. Our recurring Monday morning team meetings and the rest of the day felt normal. By Tuesday, more COVID-19 cases popped up across the US, and the next evening we watched the NBA postpone their season in light of players testing positive for the coronavirus. Thursday arrived, and the Duckpin leadership team faced a decision far more significant than the paint color choice for our vanity.


How We Pivoted After Going Remote

When Andrew Woods, Cara Bonadio, and I started Duckpin in 2013, one of our biggest must-haves was an office that, if need be, could be fully mobile and remote. Our decision stemmed from the desire to create a modern work culture — but in this case, it proved invaluable. That Thursday afternoon we chose to close the office. We huddled our team and told them they would be working home remotely for the foreseeable future. To help with this transition, we immediately set up internal messaging threads to communicate work-from-home issues and established video conferencing lines for recurring meetings. By the following Monday, everyone dialed in without a problem, and we offered a $20 gift card to the winner of our best pajamas contest (high-fives to Director of Marketing Noah Kain for his dinosaur jammies).

My point in telling you this is not to gloat about how good of a decision we made seven years ago, but to acknowledge the ability it gave us to bend and flex during this uncertain time. No one can predict what will come from these extraordinary circumstances. But we can and will adapt, and it’s been pretty amazing to watch other brands adjust their messaging or sales models to reflect the rules and safety measures necessary to fight this virus.

We’ve had several clients reach out to us, asking how they can stay relevant or keep in touch with their customers without any physical meetings or contact.

To help fellow business owners during this uncertain time, my team and I pulled together some tips on how you can adapt and adjust your brand and marketing strategies.

Revisit Your Digital Presence

One of the first things to ask yourself is, “Can my business or brand live digitally if it doesn’t already?” By this, I mean, does it live on a website or elsewhere online, such as a social media profile? If not, it needs to, and now is the time. If you currently have a website and have been putting off a refresh or update, now might also be the time to have that conversation. You don’t have to break the bank to make little updates that go a long way, like updating business hours if they have changed. You may also want to send out emails or add messaging to your website homepage and social media pages letting clients and customers know that your business model or the way you conduct business has changed. The easier you can make it for people to find your business, the better.

For example, to comply with social distancing safety measures, restaurants and craft breweries have transitioned from in-person experiences to delivery and curbside service models by leveraging out-of-the-box mobile apps and online ordering platforms. Some craft breweries have also started promoting online sales and distribution through the use of e-commerce websites platforms. Even though these businesses typically rely on customer interactions on-site, they have found new ways to continue providing consumers with their products and services.

Union Craft Brewing Beer Delivery Instagram Post
Local example of a brick and mortar business making a digital pivot.
Source: Union Craft Brewing

Remain a Subject Matter Expert from Afar

You may be the person that lights up a room at a networking event, or you’re the person that everyone turns to for advice. Just because you can’t work your showroom floor magic, or shake hands (literally) in the open-bar line during an offsite networking function, you can still be a subject matter expert. There are many ways to support business-to-business or business-to-consumer marketing efforts through online platforms.

Does your business service model lend itself to weekly webinars where you can interact and present thought leadership with potential customers from the comfort of their remote office set-up. Alternatively, you can use Facebook Live, LinkedIn Live, or Instagram Stories to engage your audience. Health clubs and gyms that shut down, for instance, have done a great job of using these features daily to post home workouts.

Take the time to engage your audience with regular videos that make their lives a little easier, positioning yourself as a subject matter expert. This work will benefit your marketing strategy when all of this is behind us.

Don’t Sell, Show Support

Something that doesn’t cost a dime but may require a new approach is being open, positive, and helpful without expecting anything in return. Maybe it’s time to modify your brand messaging to be a positive light in hard times. There is a lot of gloom and doom themed information out there; sharing some positivity may help cut through the darkness of people’s inboxes and social feeds. The fitness and performance industry has shifted their marketing messaging and ad campaigns from chest-pounding, high-performance battle cries to a softer, more sensitive approach promoting self-improvement and mental wellness. Outdoor brands have transitioned their messaging from an exploratory mentality to encouraging people to stay indoors and hold off on adventures outside.

REI Zoom Backgrounds Instagram Post
REI offers free Zoom meeting backgrounds inspired by beautiful outdoor scenery.
Source: REI

Re-examine Your Business Operations

I hate to keep harping on transitioning to a digital mindset, but at the end of this period, COVID-19’s main impact on society may be how we conduct business in the future. Presently, most brick and mortar business locations are closed, along with professional service offices. As companies adapt to online and video operations, they may find they don’t require being in a physical location to sustain their business.

To best prepare for the future, you may want to take this opportunity to evaluate how your business can live without a brick and mortar presence. Here are some questions to consider:

Product-Focused Businesses

  • Can you make these available online?
  • How could you get products to customers with minimal need for in-person contact?
  • Is your business set up for mobile payments using tools like PayPal, Venmo, or the Cash App?
  • Are you able to handle inquiries via online/mobile messaging services?

Service-Focused Businesses

  • Could you use teleconferencing, video chats, or digital messaging tools instead of requiring in-person consultations?
  • If in-person work is required, how can you adjust services to minimize physical contact?
  • Is your business set-up for mobile payments using tools like PayPal, Venmo, or the Cash App?

Again, this way of business may become the new normal, so it’s useful to begin future-proofing your business now.

While COVID-19 will undoubtedly leave its lasting impressions, the key right now is to see the light at the end of the tunnel and adapt where and when you can. At the beginning of the year, we set concrete goals as a company, but with every passing day, those goals will have to become more fluid, much like your marketing campaigns and brand messaging may have to.

I hope that someday soon this is all behind us, and my biggest worry is if I should install antique brass or rubbed bronze hardware on my bathroom vanity.

Be well, be safe, and adapt like a chameleon.


Stay Safe, Be Well

Stay Safe, Be Well