fbpx
Home » Business » Crisis Marketing with Jeremy Miller

Crisis Marketing with Jeremy Miller

We discuss crisis marketing with brand strategist and bestselling author, Jeremy Miller.

We visit about how the 2008 financial crisis reshaped and grew his family’s recruiting business, and how it’s helped him guide businesses through today’s crises.

If you’d like to learn more about how to adapt your business to the current health and financial crisis and the best ways to market your business during this crisis, you are in the right place.

You’ll learn how:

  • Jeremy grew is family’s recruiting business during the 2008 Great Recession
  • Important it is to be helpful (and check your ego) right now
  • Critical it is to create and launch products quickly
  • Business owners choose between closing, hibernating and innovating during this crisis
  • To market your products without being icky

Don’t miss Jeremy Miller’s other interview, How to Name Your Brand, Product or Service with Jeremy Miller.

Have you adjusted your marketing approach — and message — since coronavirus? Learn the secret sauce to how you navigate this crisis. #marketing #podcast #business Click To Tweet

Meet Jeremy Miller

jeremy miller sticky branding

Jeremy Miller is a brand strategist and bestselling author. His blend of humor, stories, and actionable ideas will inspire you to innovate and grow your business and brand.

Jeremy’s path into branding wasn’t traditional. He fell into it out of necessity. After watching his family’s business nearly hit rock bottom, he was forced to take a hard look at the way the company was run and at their industry as a whole. Jeremy realized it wasn’t his sales people or marketing processes that were failing, it was the brand: their customers couldn’t distinguish them from anyone else. This insight caused him to rethink, reposition, and rebrand the business. The strategy worked, and within a year the company turned the corner and rocketed into growth mode. And in 2013 Jeremy sold his family’s business to focus exclusively on what he does today: build brands.

It was this experience that compelled Jeremy to embark on a decade-long study of how companies grow recognizable, memorable brands. He and the Sticky Branding team have profiled and interviewed hundreds of companies across dozens of industries to uncover how companies grow Sticky Brands.

Jeremy’s first book, Sticky Branding, is a branding playbook for how small- and mid-sized companies challenge the giants of their industry to grow their brands. It was a #1 Globe and Mail Bestseller. His next book is called, Brand New Name. It launches in October! The book provides a proven, step-by-step process to create an unforgettable name. It shows you how to name anything — a brand, company, product, service, or ideas — by unlocking the creative genius of teams.

Sticky Branding Website

Instagram

LinkedIn Group

Facebook

About Host Jen McFarland

Jen McFarland Jen McFarland Consulting Third paddle

Jen McFarland, MPA, has over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. She led large-scale public sector projects affecting over 50,000 businesses, handling millions of dollars.

Today, she is the founder of Women Conquer Business, a boutique firm dedicated to helping women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community build sustainable businesses. She’s a frequent guest speaker and trainer. You can find her online by listening to her weekly podcast, Women Conquer Business, or at jenmcfarland.com.

Free Business Resources

crisis marketing with jeremy miller sticky branding women conquer business podcast

Transcript: Crisis Marketing with Jeremy Miller, Sticky Branding

Jen:

Hi and welcome to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. I’m your host, Jen McFarland. Today I interview brand strategist and bestselling author, Jeremy Miller. We talk about how the 2008 financial crisis reshaped and grew his family’s recruiting business, and how it’s helped him guide businesses through crisis marketing today. If you’d like to learn more about how to adapt your business to the current health and financial crisis and the best ways to market your business during this crisis, you are in the right place.

Jen:

Hi. My name is Jen McFarland. I’m the founder of Women Conquer Business. I have over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning and digital marketing. Each week on the Women Conquer Business Podcast, we teach you how to help you and your business thrive. Are you ready? Let’s go forth and conquer.

Jen:

Jeremy Miller is a brand strategist and bestselling author. Over the past decade, Jeremy and the Sticky Branding team have profiled and interviewed hundreds of companies across dozens of industries to uncover how companies grow sticky brands. Jeremy shares his expertise as a writer, consultant, and keynote speaker. His blend of humor, stories and actionable ideas will inspire you to innovate and grow your business and brand. Yes, even now during COVID-19. Please welcome Jeremy Miller to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. Hey, Jeremy. Welcome to Women Conquer Business.

Jeremy:

Well, thank you, Jen. It is such a pleasure to be back.

Jen:

Which people don’t know actually that you’re back, because I haven’t issued out the first episode that you’re on.

Jeremy:

Fair enough.

Jen:

But that’s because COVID-19 happened and I’ve been doing COVID-19 related episodes. But here’s the brilliant thing; you’ve been speaking about COVID-19 all along, even before I was, and helping people through some crisis marketing.

Do you want to speak a little bit about your background, because this not your first rodeo with recession and making business work, so do you want to just start with that?

Jeremy:

Sure. So I find this very interesting, because this is a part of my story that I haven’t told very much until recently. But when March 11th happened, that was when they put in all the travel advisory bans, and that’s when the start of the crisis hit North America, and it became very real for us. As soon as that happened, within days we started to see the lockdowns taking place, and I could see what was happening is we’re being thrown globally into a recession. That triggered all of my programming, because I grew up in a family business that was in the recruiting sector, and what happens in recruiting is it goes up and down with the economy, so when you’ve got a hot job market, you make lots of money. When there’s a recession and the unemployment rate spikes, it really sucks.

Jeremy:

I can tell you in vivid detail what every recession, starting with the 1989 market crash, was like. It’s not that I was active in business. I was 13 years old when the ’89 recession kicked in, but when that happened, it hurt the family and it hurt my parents and it left an indelible mark. There’s moments that I can tell you through high school that I can remember very deeply from that. So when I joined my family’s business in 2004, we timed it to be in between recessions, but from the moment I started, we knew the next recession will be around the corner, and we made a commitment to ourselves that when that happened, we weren’t going to fall backwards. So when the market melted down in 2008, we had the financial crisis and the Great Recession, we kicked into gear and implemented a strategy. What actually happened is our recruiting business grew. While the rest of the market was cratering, we brought on a new customer per week.

When the market melted down in 2008, we kicked into gear and implemented a strategy. Our recruiting business grew. While the rest of the market was cratering, we brought on a new customer per week.

Jeremy:

So when March 11th happened and we saw the changes happening, all that playbook, everything that I thought about back then suddenly became really, really relevant again. I dusted off the old strategy, combined it with everything I do at Sticky Branding, so it’s been like this. I feel like I’ve been preparing my whole career for this moment.

Jen:

I will tell you, it really seems like it. I’ve sat in on a couple of your webinars, and they’re so great and so helpful. Just to underscore for everybody listening, you had more recruiting clients during the Great Recession when nobody had jobs than you did before, and I think that that’s really amazing, and it really shares what’s possible. So I’m wondering if you could maybe fast forward and talk about that in tangible ways for today.

Can you compare what’s happening today with what you saw in 2008?

Jeremy:

Sure. So the thing that is different, all the previous recessions versus today, is that COVID-19 or the coronavirus isn’t a financial or an economic recession, it’s a health crisis. What’s totally interesting on this is while it is sad and everything else, the disruptions are very hard and the difficult, what’s fascinating is this is a shared experience. Every person, every company from around the world is going through this at the exact same moment in time, so this gives you incredible liberty to innovate and change, because what you were before coronavirus doesn’t necessarily matter after coronavirus. It’s this strange BC-AC dichotomy right now, and after coronavirus, I think the real question we need to ask ourselves is how do we be really, really helpful? It’s asking question, what is your expertise? What are your products? What are your services? What are your capabilities? What are your interests, and how can you leverage that to help another person, another company, another industry, anyone else that could be possibly put into a state of need based on what’s going on right now? By being helpful, this is actually, I think the secret sauce to how you navigate this crisis.

Being helpful is the secret sauce to how you navigate this crisis.

Jen:

I totally agree, and I’ve seen new ways that I can be helpful, and I’ve stepped into new things that I can do. Like we talked before the show, this is the first time for me as a business owner going through any sort of recession, and I’ve kind of had to check my ego a bit and really respond to what’s actually out there instead of what I want to do. I mean, are you seeing that as well?

Jeremy:

100%. it’s a brave new world. So let me ask you, so what are the steps that you’re taking? How are you checking your ego and innovating or doing new things?

How are you checking your ego and innovating or doing new things?

Jen:

Yeah, so we talked a little bit about this. I’ve been steadily growing my email list through this whole process, but I’ve been paying attention to what it is they’re subscribing, what it is that they want, and then developing products that are related to that. Not high price point at this point, just to kind of ease people into that and then kind of build that ladder.

Then I’ve also done a lot of just listening and meeting with people, because in doing that, I’m also learning and getting new information about how I can be helpful specifically, not just reading social media. It’s a lot different when you’re actually meeting with people and talking to your clients and your former clients, asking people what it is that they need, and then you’re able to respond to that. When you talk to enough people, you know what it is that they want and then you have to have that hard conversation with yourself about, “Well, I’m going to do that instead of fighting it.”

You just have to lean into what the needs are, anything that you can address and be helpful.

Lean into what the needs are and be helpful.

Jeremy:

I think that’s a great articulation of what I’m suggesting.

That was exactly what we did in my family’s business through the ’08-’09 recession. Before that recession, our clients were large global companies with huge sales forces, and we would just have a few really large accounts that our whole team up, but those businesses all contracted very quickly and they had hiring freezes on and layoffs and everything else, so they were no longer viable options. So we had to think broadly of who else could we serve? Interestingly at that moment in time, it was primarily US-based companies that had greater economic damage in the US, so were coming to Canada to be looking to develop new markets, so they were hiring one or two sales people in Toronto. We had, rather than having a few big clients, we had a lot of little clients doing transactional projects.

Jeremy:

So is that the ideal in terms of growing your business? No, but it’s serving a need, and I think you’re hitting that key idea, which is how can you be of service and what do people really want/need? There’s a bit of experimentation that goes on with it, because you can get people in on your email list and sometimes it works and you nail it, and other times you’ll launch something and it doesn’t resonate. So the other way we need to think of these needs is almost like minimum viable products. It’s how can you create an offer, launch it and test it within, say, two to four weeks, versus building a product launch that might come out in September?

Create an offer, launch it and test it within two to four weeks, versus building a product launch that might come out months from now.

Jen:

Exactly, and I was hoping that you could speak to that a little bit more. Because I know that you have ways that you help your clients with kind of that let’s get through our ideas a little quicker and get it out there. What do you suggest to somebody who’s maybe used to that more typical cycle of developing a product?

What do you suggest to somebody who’s maybe used to that more typical cycle of developing a product?

Jeremy:

Well, the thing is everything is fluid right now, so when you’re developing a product and launching it six months or 12 months or even 18 months later, you have a pretty good indication of what the world’s going to look like. But if you’re today, can you adequately predict what your market will look like a year from now?

Reality is this pandemic is not going to run its course until we get to herd immunity or there’s a vaccine, and the economy’s not going to recover until there is a way to manage this virus, so we could be talking another 18 months of recovery here, and in that time, entire economies, entire markets and industries are going to change, so doing a long a forecasted cycle is really difficult. So the answer really is looking at the immediate needs, so what’s going to happen in this recovery, and we’re already seeing signs of it, is new needs are emerging, what I would describe as green shoots.

Jeremy:

A green shoot is that little spurt, like the spring when you’ve got the plant starting to come out and grow. They’re little identified needs, and what you’re trying to do is rather than trying to create a brilliant product launch, how can you identify a need and then take what I would describe as a sales sprint, create an offer and they pitch it 10, 20, 50 times. If you get to the end of that and you’ve pitched 50 people and you get 50 nos, well, then go find another green shoot. But the thing is when you find one that grows, and say you get 10 sales, well, then try and do another 10, and that plant might continue to grow. What’s interesting is the that are forming now could be new markets, new industries for you at the end of this crisis.

Jen:

I love that. I think that that is so great, and I totally agree. It’s so important to not spend all the time ruminating on what you think might work and spent a lot of time developing it, because even in the two weeks or so since we’ve talked, things have changed dramatically. I think that we all as business owners are lying to ourselves if we think that this is all going to go away in a few weeks, because it’s not. Harvard is saying it could be 2022 we’re still doing some social distancing, and let’s face it, the contact-free economy is growing in ways that we’re never going to go back to the old normal. We’re very much in a new normal.

Jeremy:

Isn’t that exciting? I agree.

Jen:

I love it.

Jeremy:

On one side, I feel really sad because I have clients for example that are in the hospitality and restaurant industries, and they are really, really hurting, and they don’t have a clear path forward. But I look at it just through my own lens, for example, and all of these contactless virtual markets are creating new needs and new opportunities at a pace that is … It’s unprecedented. The volume of opportunity that sits in front of us based on how the market is shifting, the faster you act, the faster you adapt, you could be sitting in a business twice the size of where you started, just simply on the steps you take today.

Jen:

Absolutely, I feel the same way about the … I love change, so I get excited by seeing change. I’m also sad about the restaurant and hospitality industry, and at the same time, there are ways for them to innovate as well. There’s a restaurant that I’m thinking of here in Portland in particular that is closed. They chose to close and wait it out. It’s like one of the most popular restaurants in town, and their reason was we can’t afford to have the 12 people it takes two to make the meal and do delivery. I was like, “Well, wait a minute. Why is it taking 12 people, and can you shift your thinking on some of that so that you can be making revenue if you’re one of the most popular restaurants in town?”

Jen:

Before we started, you were talking about people can choose to close or hibernate, so you see that there are three options for people. What does that look like for you, and what do you think about the restaurants that aren’t adapting or the businesses that aren’t adapting?

You told me businesses can close, hibernate or innovate. Can you explain this further?

Jeremy:

I see, from a small-midsize business owner perspective, not conglomerates, the Walmarts, that kind of thing, but for companies like yours and mine and companies that are even a little bit larger too, we really sit in one of three options today. We can close. We’ll take the chips off the table, take our money out and maybe we can come back later. We can hibernate, which is hopefully we can reduce our costs and ride the storm and not burn through all our retained earnings, but we’ll figure maybe we can make it to this time next year.

Or the third is we try to innovate and find new sources of revenue and cash, so that we can still fight another day. I think hibernation is the hardest and the most risky opportunity here, and if you can avoid it, I would. Unless you own the building and you don’t have to pay rent, you can cut your overhead to nothing, then it’s going to financially cripple you.

Jeremy:

Closing I think is a very real and viable option for many businesses.

If you are in the restaurant trade, the profit margins are so thin on that. One of our clients is a large restaurant group, and they’ll be fine at the end of this, but the CEO told me, he said, “It’s a myth to think that a restaurant can operate with social distancing. If you take 50% of the tables out of the restaurant, they’re dead. They can’t pay for their overhead, their staff and the food and everything else.” He went on and said, “If you took five tables out of that restaurant, they’re dead.” So they’re running on such thin margins that the economics don’t make sense, so if the economics don’t make sense, a very reasonable option, and I would never have advised us before coronavirus, but today is if you need to, take your chips off the table, gracefully close down, but you could still come back at the end of this crisis.

A restaurant can come back in another location with the same name and the same staff, and people will be okay with that.

Jeremy:

I don’t think delivery is going to work for a lot of restaurants, especially a high end restaurant. There’s just not going to be enough volume or margin to support that. So if you’re in that case, make that hard choice, but I do believe innovation is a very plausible case for the majority of businesses.

Even retail, if you can sell online, that’s another revenue stream. If you can use your location for, say, other services or your warehouse capabilities to support other eCommerce businesses, those could all be potential revenue streams you never considered before. As consultants, like people like you and I, we can pivot and reinvent our services on a dime, but a more traditional business can look to new markets, new challenges.

Jeremy:

I’ll give you one more very specific example. One of the fastest opportunities, especially for a traditional business in, say, manufacturing or distribution, is to look at your competitors and look for their weaknesses. One of the things that’s really intriguing right now is many large companies have their products coming from China, so they’re having supply chain disruption disruptions.

But if you’re a local manufacturer and you don’t have those supply chain disruptions, you can actually be filling in the holes that your competitors are opening up for you, and that too could be a green shoot, because you can be serving a need and taking market share at the same time.

Jen:

And who knows what it’ll be after? It might continue to grow. It might be viable longterm. Going back to the restaurant example, so another high end restaurant in town last weekend caused massive traffic disruptions. It’s a high end steakhouse, and they were like, “We’re selling steaks out of our parking lot,” and it was like the whole city of Portland came to go buy aged steaks. It was shutting down bus lines and all kinds of things like that, so that’s kind of what I mean.

Jeremy:

Because they had to sell their inventory off, right?

Jen:

Yeah they had to sell their inventory off. So that’s what I mean about does it really take 11 people, and can you do something different? That’s not to say, because they’re probably closed now. That’s kind of my thing is they sold the inventory, and then they probably shut down because they-

Jeremy:

Well, that’s a hibernate.

Jen:

It’s a hibernate strategy, and that’s what I meant about does it really take 11 people? Can you get rid of some of your inventory? Can you do something other than just … and that’s a way to innovate, I think, if you are in an industry where, honestly, you probably can’t stay open.

Jeremy:

Well, the other … There’s a lot of industries that … There is definitely haves and have-nots in this situation. Travel and tourism, hospitality, the event industry. They’re in a really challenging spot, but we all need to ask those personal questions of what do we want from our business and what’s reasonable, and how much are you willing to spend or burn in order to get to the other side? I think cash and cashflow management is very critical conversation here, but I also think the number of companies that are innovating is a source of hope, and with that, it’s very much purpose-driven. So can you give yourself a purpose and direction on how you and your team can be helpful right now? How you can adapt your products and services for the moment, how you can change your sales and marketing so you don’t come off opportunistic and icky but still continue to be present and of value. I would suggest that, while there are some industries that are adversely affected right now and have low options, the vast majority of businesses do.

Jen:

I would agree with that. Could you speak for just a minute to how to market without being icky?

Could you speak about to how to market without being icky?

Jeremy:

Sure. I think it comes down to helpfulness again. How can you be helpful and present? I’ll give you an example. So a client of mine and a friend runs one of the largest CrossFit gyms in Canada called Element Fitness, and like all CrossFit gyms and all gyms basically, they were forced to shut down right at the start of this whole thing because obviously it’s a place you go to get sweaty, and that’s probably the worst place for COVID. But what they did really effectively was they understood their value proposition. They said, “We’re not like most gyms. We’re not in the rental business. We’re not renting equipment. We’re in the service business. We give coaching and community.” So the first thing they did is they created online programs like most people do, but they gave that away for free.

Jeremy:

What they did that was part of the membership was everyone got assigned to home coach, so everyone had dedicated one-to-one accountability. They created Zoom-based classes. They created evening programs, so every night at 7:30 there’s a dancing class or a wine class. That’s all community-driven. Their members are providing all this, and they continue to survey their members and find out what they want. The net result of it is they’ve had a 92% member retention rate at full fee with a 9.8 net promoter score, so 9.8 out of 10 customer satisfaction. To me, that’s really where the marketing kicks in is if you are able to speak to people honestly and not selfishly in terms of, “I’m going to pivot so we can survive.” It’s, “How can I be of service? How can I serve your immediate needs right now,” they won’t view that as marketing.

Jeremy:

They will view that as you are trying to provide expertise. Nobody is telling Purell that they’re being opportunistic by selling hand sanitizer. It’s something of need. The same thing when you looked at the steak example. By selling off their inventory, they were perceived as generous even though they probably sold it at a premium rate. With marketing, marketing only feels opportunistic and icky when you’re talking about yourself. Think of it as we statements. We are the oldest, we are the greatest, we are open, we have inventory. We, we, we. Nobody likes to be wee-weed on, so … I thought you’d appreciate that.

Jen:

It’s true.

Jeremy:

So flip it; how can you be of service and speak to that need deliberately, in doing so, no one will ever judge you negatively.

Jen:

I think that that’s so great, and yeah. The restaurant is called The Ringside, and when they decided to sell steaks, it’s also intersecting with a time when the supply chain on meat is going low and people are freaked out about it. They did not sell it cheap. I didn’t buy any, but that’s what I heard. It was a great restaurant, and I’m sure people missed it. I think that in communities where people just want to support each other, look for those opportunities that you can be of assistance to your customers, because in in pockets, like I think Toronto where you are in Portland, people do want to support local business.

Jeremy:

For sure.

Jen:

You have to give people the opportunity. Be helpful.

Jeremy:

Yeah. If you shut down and stop selling or give everything away for free, are you really doing people service? They want to support you as much as you want to support them. But then the other side of this, it comes down to pricing. That the way you price your services are very key right now, so whether you’re in restaurant, retail consulting, people may not be able to bet on a large investment. They might still value the service, so the question comes down to risk. It’s not about necessarily discounting. It’s can you sell it in smaller chunks? Can you set your pricing up in a way that helps someone mitigate their risk or cashflow so that they can contribute, they can get what they need and support you, and that reciprocity is all there. But pricing, I think, is a big part of this whole conversation too.

Jen:

Absolutely. So how are you meeting customer needs right now?

How are you meeting customer needs right now?

Jeremy:

So it goes back to what we talked about at the beginning, that I feel incredibly purpose-driven based on what happened. When we went through this, the first thing we did was, like everybody, we started talking about crisis communication at the first few days of this. “We’re open. This is our COVID response,” those types of cliche marketing.

But as soon as we realized the recession was kicking in, I combined my family business experience with everything we do at Sticky Branding, and we created crisis marketing. It fundamentally asks the question, “How do you recover the customers and revenue taken by COVID-19, and then how do you use these opportunities today to come out of this crisis even stronger?” So the majority of the work that we’re doing today is very much focused on the near term, what we call sales accelerator, which is finding those green shoots and then nurturing and developing them so that we can create short term cashflow. As we get through this, we’re going to see which ones we can grow to be the next customers after the brand or for your brand at the end of this.

Jen:

I think that is so great, and you’re so knowledgeable. Please let people know how they can reach you.

Please let people know how they can reach you.

Jeremy:

So the easiest way to connect with me is just Google Sticky Branding, the website, Sticky Branding. I’m on all the social networks at Sticky Branding. Even the book is called Sticky Branding, and there’s Brand New Name. I didn’t get that there, but Sticky Branding is the fastest way to connect, and if anyone has any questions, feel free to reach out to me anytime, whether off of the website or on social. I’m happy to take any questions, and no fee. Just if you’ve got a marketing challenge or business challenge and you want to ask a question ask, I’ll be happy to engage with you.

Jen:

That’s so cool. Thank you. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Jeremy:

Thanks, Jen. It’s always a pleasure.

Jen:

Thank you, Jeremy, for appearing on the Women Conquer Business Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please be sure to subscribe. I’ll be releasing my first interview with Jeremy in a few days. We talk about his book, Brand New Name, which I have recommended to countless businesses, because I find it so useful. And guess what? It will help you even today, so you don’t want to miss out on that. Please subscribe and let us know what you think with a review if you have a chance. Take care and have a great day.

Jen:

Thank you for listening to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. If you’re wondering what’s next, here are a few suggestions. If you love the show, be sure to subscribe. If you want to follow me on social media, you can find Women Conquer Business on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. And finally, if the episode today brought something up for you and you need to talk, email me at hello@jenmcfarland.com. The Women Conquer Business Podcast is written and produced by Jen McFarland and Foster Growth, LLC in beautiful southeast Portland, Oregon. Thanks again for listening.

Leave a Comment