Navigating the Forever Different

Comms and brand advice to CEOs and founders from the new Mixing Board Community

“Take a stand. Pick a fight. Find friction. You don’t need to take a negative tone to draw a contrast between what’s been and what can be. Align yourself with possibility, and show others how to model what you hope to see in the future. “Controversy” isn’t as risky as it seems. Show up and do something for people.

“There’s an endless list of real problems to solve, and countless ways in which our government is falling short. Take your budget for a giant commercial campaign and spend it on something useful, instead. Earned media will make up the difference.”

“Brands that try to lend their voice to issues but only as lip service without clear actions tied to them will be held accountable by employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities where they operate. Further, shaping policy and the political landscape isn’t necessary or appropriate for every brand. Brands can lean too hard if they haven’t done the homework with their stakeholders.”

“Your comms, marketing, and public policy colleagues are your allies. They are your guides in an increasingly complicated world that has both employees and the general public seeking to conflate corporate interest with the public interest. They can help manage employee expectations as to when the CEO (and/or the company) will take public positions and when they won’t. It’s advisable for comms/public policy teams to get out ahead with standards & guidelines so companies are not scrambling to react every time there’s a major news story. Some topics may seem tangential to core business interests at first, but when they have major implications for society — such as addressing racial justice, human rights, or climate change — employees and the public will increasingly be looking to corporate leaders to have an opinion, to speak out, and to take action.”

“Nothing is apolitical, to the extent that every brand is now playing in the political sphere. And while in the past you could have one life at home and one life at the office, employees now have much more at stake when it comes to their personal values because of the disintegration of the spheres.”

“People at all levels and of every generation want more alignment around values from the place they work. Employees want to understand alignment to a greater purpose, vision, and mission, and how those are driven through values and culture. For organizations that have not prioritized this work, it’s a long road ahead as it is not easily reverse engineered. There is always a culture that forms — even in the absence of values and intent. Leaders who have not prioritized this work may be startled to find out what tribe-sourced values were created in their place.”

“Especially now, if you need a group of people to know and trust your information, you need to think about who’s telling it to them. That could be publications or it could be other people. Understanding the path to belief or the path to trusting is more convoluted, complicated, multi-player and important, than it has been before. Are there stakeholders who are really important and can help you tell your story, and have you thought about those people with enough rigor? How can you tell stories or create language that other people will grab to be able to tell your story for you and have you given them what they need to actually communicate for you?”

“Consumer discovery has fundamentally changed — accelerated as a result of the pandemic and the move online, as well as increased fatigue with media new cycles and distrust in consumer-focused editorial content. It’s no longer about being found by consumers, but about proactively seeking out, identifying and FINDING consumers oneself — engaging with them where they already (passively) exist. Organic content is going to play an even bigger role than it has in the past as a result.”

“WFH is creating echo chambers within organizations that make it much harder to understand how external audiences are interacting and engaging with brands. Employee feedback is magnified, and in many cases, drowning out the data and feedback of consumers.”

“Actual *good ideas* are more interesting and important than ever. Goods and services that actually *work* and fill a need. There’s too much crap out there.”

“Being solely reliant on spend ratios from 2020 as people’s worlds evolve post-vaccine is a good way to get stuck. I think a lot of companies want to plan 2021 as if it is a normal year and it still doesn’t feel that way yet.”

“While every business was rocked by 2020, very few were at the center of public attention during this period, given far bigger concerns. Once we are through the worst of the pandemic (fingers crossed), 2021 is an opportunity to reset, to find your new narrative and proactively frame how this unexpected moment in history has shaped your path forward.”

“Q1/Q2 will be a completely different experience than Q3/Q4. Different politically, different economically, and different socially. My advice is to keep your head down in Q1+2, focus on the things we see and know, but thinking about a more aspirational, almost political agenda for Q3+4.”

“I think now more than ever brands need to focus on the positive. Not in an insensitive way or one that avoids needed topics to touch on, but in a way that gives people common positives to focus on.”

“There’s a big opportunity for renewed action on climate change. Going forward, I don’t think companies will be able to get away with making mediocre pledges on climate action and hope to get a brand boost. Employees and the public will want to know what concrete, impactful steps companies are going to take beyond just happy green talk. Real action will get noticed and will put companies right in the jet-stream of where consumers are trending.”

“Agility is key in 2021. We are in a current moment of quicksand shifting actively beneath our feet, but also *just enough* stabilization to be able to see the horizon and plot an accelerated (and differentiated) path towards it. Weird things will still happen in 2021. There will be surprises. Some will be ugly or dangerous to the business. Being nimble and actively anticipating the need for many adjustments will be critical. We can and MUST think beyond the quarterly report. We can and MUST plan and execute for more than the bottom line alone.”

“We’re going to emerge from the pandemic with some major assumptions about what its aftermath will look like. Let’s be humble. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know what’s coming next.”



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