Hit the Pause Button

Pause ButtonPosted by Ray Poynter, 23 March 2020

Most of my conversations at the moment are with people seeking advice on what they should do about the mounting crisis caused by the Covid19 pandemic and the social and economic consequences of it. So, here is the first of a series of blogs where I will tackle different facets of the new normal.

In addition, in association with Potentiate, I am running three webinar sessions next week, with a presentation from me, followed by an extended Q&A Session. Find out about those webinars by clicking here.

An Indefinite New Normal

The world before we realised that we were in a pandemic is not the current world. In some countries the schools are closed, most factories and shops are closed, and people need a government permit to walk from their house to the chemist or supermarket. In many, many other countries the process towards this lockdown has started. This is the new normal, but we don’t really know how this new normal works yet.

The key thing about this new normal is that we do not know how long it will last. I am hearing some Government spokespeople saying that it might be over in 12 weeks. Others are talking about ‘social distancing’ lasting for more than 12 months. The simple fact is that we do not know how long it will last, it could be three months, it could be a year, it could be years. Part of the new normal is not knowing how long it will last.

Hit The Pause Button

Most existing plans are irrelevant, they do not match the new normal. The product we planned to launch, the new ad campaign, the customer strategy, or the new segmentation are as relevant as canals were when trains became the new normal, or as bows and arrows were when guns became the new normal. That is why we need to hit the Pause Button. There is no point doing something until we have some idea it is a useful thing to be doing.

First, Do No Harm

This is part of the oath that doctors take, and it is key to what we should do now, in the new normal. Have a look at all your current activities and events scheduled for the near future and see if any them need to be stopped immediately. For example,  I have received emails in the last week asking me to book events, holidays and flights – and like everybody in the UK I am advised by the Government not to travel, and I imagine some automated marketing is going out in countries like Italy and Spain which have advanced lockdowns. This sort of marketing damages your brand. Sending a survey to somebody to explore what sort of holiday are they thinking of in the summer is really quite offensive and bad for your brand.

Simplify Your Decision Making

The new normal is still being formed, all of us are flying blind (which one of the reasons why we need insights and feedback). Whenever you are confronted with a complex task, the best first step is to try and simplify it. If you are planning on doing ANYTHING new, pause it. New hires, pause them. Retendering, pause it. New product launches, pause them. Note, pause them is not the same as cancelling them (cancelling something can take as much effort as doing them), the key is to pause them until the new normal becomes better understood, and until more urgent tasks are dealt with.

This also means pausing buying new things, new platforms, new forms of research, new advertising, new logistics, new operating systems – pause all of them. However, this has a major implication for sales. At the moment if somebody rings or emails me offering a great new product or service, I am a) not going to listen to them, and b) be amazed that they do not understand that I have MUCH bigger issues to worry about.

Assess Your Financial Runway

Food retailers are going to be busy, online gaming may well thrive, but most companies are going to have a substantial and indefinite drop in revenue. It does not matter whether you are selling metal, plastic, advertising, research, or HR services – your revenues are likely to drop because many of your customers won’t be trading. You need to use the pause to work out how the new normal works. This won’t be easy because Governments around the world are throwing the kitchen sink into the attempt to save their economies. To survive you need to match your financial management with what Governments do, you will need to use the pause to align, you will want to know whether the Government zigs or zags before you decide to zig or zag. Use the pause to find out how long you’ve got before you crash – that will inform what you do, and how quickly you do it.

Understand the New Normal

To understand the new normal you need to understand what is happening in society and you need to determine what role your organisation could play in that new normal, and then decide which of the options provides you with the best chance. If you are a food retailer, with restaurants, take-away and delivery, and the Government closes restaurants and take-aways you need to focus on delivery, or close for the duration, or pivot. If you decide to focus on delivery you need to explore what people need in this new normal. In the past delivery to people’s homes was mostly an evening thing, but now many people are going to be eating all three meals at home. Do people want to eat the same thing (e.g. everyone has a pizza), or do they want highly personalised choices (e.g. one eating pizza, one eating Indian, and one eating ramen)? What else might a food delivery service be able to offer to increase value to the customer? How can this brand experience be used to help build associations that will help with whatever normality comes after this current new normal?


There are essentially four things you will want to do, and because my background is in insights, I will describe them in terms of research, but it is equally true of every aspect of your business.

  1. Decide which things you should stop doing. If your restaurants are closed, you are going to stop doing the restaurant customer satisfaction survey.
  2. Decide which things you are going to keep doing. If you have a customer closeness programme/community you need to keep listening to your customers, hearing what they are saying, and helping where you can – even if you are not currently able to offer your normal service.
  3. Decide which things you are going to change. If you have a brand tracker you will want to keep finding out what people think about you, but the attributes are likely to be different. In the past, you might have tracked things like ‘wide range of products’, or ‘stylish products’, but now it might be more about things like ‘cares about me’, ‘makes a difference’, ‘listens’.
  4. Decide what new things you should be doing (even with a reduced budget). You will need to explore the lives of your customers. You can work from home, you still have a job, the majority of your customers will fall into one of four groups, people like you working from home, cooped up for weeks, people on the frontline (soldiers, nurses, supermarket checkout workers, delivery drivers, train drivers) whose lives will be much more risky and harder than yours, the majority who will either be unemployed or at home but not working, who will also be cooped up, and finally the retired, also cooped up and fearful that they are the most likely to die. To understand these people, you will need new research, things like mobile ethnography, online discussions and much more.

Pause and Re-read

OK, that is a lot to take in. So, let’s pause and re-read:

  1. We are an indefinite new normal, don’t assume it will be over in X months – we just don’t know
  2. Hit the Pause Button – do it consciously and tell people you’ve done it
  3. Simplify your decision making – pause any change, purchase, launch, or pivot
  4. Assess your financial runway – how long have you got before you crash?
  5. Understand the new normal
  6. Implement a new plan of action

Webinar 31 March

I will be sharing more of my thinking and advice in a webinar hosted by Potentiate on 31 March, you can sign up for it from the links below.

  • Asia-Pacific: Wednesday, 31 March 2020 at 11.00 am AEDT (Sydney time) REGISTER NOW
  • Europe: Wednesday, 31 March 2020 at 2.00 pm GMT (London time) REGISTER NOW
  • North America: Wednesday, 31 March 2020 at 10.00 am PT (US/Canada Pacific time) REGISTER NOW