The People-Centric Will Survive

During the pandemic all organizations have had to adapt and reevaluate. The ones that survive will be those that listen to their customers, partners, and every other stakeholder in their universe that sustains their business.

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Originally published on Forbes for the Forbes Technology Council

All companies are rethinking their propositions in some way right now, whether that's reevaluating their products and services, their delivery or their marketing and sales processes. The ones that will survive (and even thrive) in the future will be the ones that are scrupulously people-centric — those that listen to their customers, partners, and every other stakeholder in their universe that sustains their business. 

Seventy-five percent of people at the start of 2020 believed it would be a good year for themselves and their families. In just a few months, this perspective has been completely overturned. That doesn't mean it won't be a breakthrough year for many organizations that are nimble enough to pivot or refocus on their core value — even if that transitions to a virtual paradigm.

There is a temptation to go into survival mode and make knee-jerk decisions that ensure continuity in the short term. But this will hinder operations in the long run. Instead of shutting out the outside world, leaders have an opportunity to strengthen their relationships — by communicating openly and facilitating dialogue with their networks. 

Refreshing Relationships

McKinsey recommends taking the time to "renew and refresh" connections now with the people that you serve. It's important to recognize what's happening now and respond through engagement and gathering dynamic customer insights. 

Business is ultimately based on relationships and trust. In crisis periods, cultivating this and remaining true to your values will strengthen your market position. People will remember your organization for the right reasons, and this will lead to new opportunities once the crisis passes. 

Creating Support And Belonging

If a customer has a sense of belonging with a brand, they will remain loyal throughout tough times. Fifty-one percent of consumers do business with a brand based on how aligned the brand's values are with their own. The same research finds that people increasingly view brands as community property — shaped, grown and monetized by many others instead of being the sole domain of a company. 

That's why it's vital to show support for your community during challenging times. When the world is chaotic, people intrinsically turn to each other, and by showing your humanity, your brand can stand out as a beacon of hope, helping people through uncertainty. Isolation has far-reaching effects on our physical and mental health. A virtual community for your organization can mitigate these effects by providing interactions our current day-to-day is missing. Although it isn't a complete alternative to physical face-to-face contact, it can bridge the gap. The internet is available 24/7 and has the ability to create long-lasting interactions over days, weeks and years. 

Expert-Driven Meeting and Sharing

It's worth considering the traditional role that events used to play in fostering connections between businesses and their customers. With social distancing in place, many businesses are stuck trying to find an alternative to the immersive and engaging experience of in-person events. A knee-jerk approach might be to turn to event tech. But a smarter one is to consider first the eventual goal of an event — why people attend in the first place. Often, it isn't to see X number of sessions but to take a break from their day-to-day routine — to be given space to meet with peers, become part of a community and share ideas. 

That can also happen online. Winmark Global, a Zapnito client, just pivoted its C-suite member networks to an online space, where business leaders learn from their peers, share knowledge and network. It provides a digital solution to their event series, allowing for greater inclusion from members who are geographically disparate and time-constrained.

Although in-person events remain a hugely powerful medium that cannot be fully replicated, going forward, having an online community and expert-driven network will be a crucial complement and contingency to physical events. In-person events will punctuate the engagement generated and nurtured throughout the year in online spaces.

Supporting Business Decisions

Communities work the other way, too. Business leaders need support, especially when facing tough decisions. Executing on knowledge is power right now, so opening lines of communication with your community will be invaluable. Fellow business leaders can provide their experiences and lessons learned. Meanwhile, customers can tell you what they truly need and desire right now and help you remain true to your values and authentic to your brand. 

All organizations operate within a community. Understanding how your people are being affected by current events and responding to this in a helpful way will provide a framework for your short-term decision-making and long-term thinking. It will shape the role that your organization plays in your customers' lives. 

Honda's recent campaign, "The Power of Something Greater," focuses on the strength of communities coming together, to emerge stronger after a crisis and change the world for the better, acting as a catalyst for the company's wider actions in supporting its customers and communities during Covid-19. 

Rapid Action

This highlights how communities can be quickly galvanized into action. Many online groups have achieved incredible things during the lockdown, from providing tablet computers so Covid-positive patients could communicate with their families to feeding vulnerable children. Nextdoor and Barclays have become synonymous with the pandemic efforts, and this is going a step further with the new "Get Local" partnership that will connect local small businesses with their neighborhood communities.

Opportunities To Better Your Business

The pandemic has provided a force stop for many business leaders, giving time and space to think about the role that their organizations play in people's lives. Times are challenging, yes, but there are also opportunities that leaders have never had before. 

The chance to connect with audiences and foster a community builds resilience and agility into your decision-making — a chance to rethink the norm, to find new ways of reaching your business goals and meeting the needs of your customers. Your business can come out of this in better shape than it did going into it by harnessing the knowledge, insights and support of your community — and vice versa. 

Charles Thiede

CEO and Co-Founder, Zapnito Ltd.

My background is in technology, professional services and digital media. I co-founded Zapnito due to a number of related observations from my time in these sectors: 1) the social web is creating a huge amount of noise 2) expertise that brands have built up over decades is being drowned out and hidden from those that need it 3) these brands are therefore losing their audience to often undeserving and unhelpful sources, and 4) people are finding it harder to access the expertise that they truly value. I therefore decided to create Zapnito, a white-label platform to help trusted brands reclaim their audiences via expert-driven knowledge networks.

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