Change is a constant in the human experience, but it’s the sort of constant that we resist with all our might. Think of how even small changes, like switching to new communication software, might trigger fear or discomfort.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” said H.P. Lovecraft
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the planet, it was something that none of us had personally experienced.
I’ve observed how various industries reacted to the sudden economic and social changes caused by a pandemic, which for many of us, is our first experience like this. Even those that were adults through the 2008 recession haven’t experienced things like widespread social distancing, the majority of businesses being forced to close, and more.
In mid-April, it was reported that 7.5 million small businesses were at risk of closing if the shutdown continued in a similar capacity for 5 months. Many of those businesses have fewer than 20 employees. That’s a lot of businesses that are uncertain, which in turn means lots of fear.
We are seeing a lot of states reopening across the nation, but it’s uncertain how much a shift in consumer spending, personal habit changes, and continued restrictions on social gatherings will impact us.
There’s a lot of fear and we’ve been sitting in it for the last two months. That’s a long time to be in such a stressful state, so it’s going to have both personal implications and professional. The market and B2B have been in a steadily growing, secure state for the last decade. Certainty and predictability make us comfortable. Uncertainty can activate the threat circuitry in our minds, which can have detrimental impacts in the long run.
Let’s look at some numbers recorded in email marketing and what those numbers reveal.
How Email Behavioral Data Reveals Business and Personal Trends
In March, many marketers (and all business owners) faced the choice of ignoring change when it slapped us all in the face or addressing it and risk sounding cliché.
In B2B and digital marketing, it seemed like we had the luxury to pretend nothing has changed besides the setting in which we do our work. But the numbers do not lie. Our habits and behaviors have changed radically in the last 2-3 months.
According to a recent Forester report, in February, B2C consumers spent 125 minutes in their email inboxes, while B2B users spent a total of 188 minutes in their emails.
By April, which is when the majority of states and businesses were closed entirely due to the virus, there was an increase in time spent in the inbox. B2C users spent 177 minutes in their inboxes, and B2B users spent 241 minutes in their inboxes.
Many have attributed this to being “bored,” but it’s likely a combination of increased screen time and how many more are holding crucial conversations digitally. Users are also spending more time in their inboxes, cleaning them out.
Users are spending more minutes in their inbox and less time reading longer email messages. In January, emails with less than 150 words got less than 2.5% CTR. Longer emails (between 100-300 words) did much better. But now, all emails under 300 words perform the best. Users have been reading a lot of emails lately but spending less time on each.
Users are likely a little exhausted from all the long messages they’ve received. They want emails that are to the point.
Users are also unsubscribing more. Unsubscribe rates have gone up about 8% in B2B and 11% in B2C. The is likely that users are doing “quarantine cleaning” and being more discerning on what they spend their attention on.
By May 2020, users are less tolerant and more impatient. This is likely a stress response and so you must keep that in mind when writing emails. Ensure your marketing messages both contain elements of surprise and delight and are direct. It’s a tricky balance to find, but the brands that find the balance of spontaneity and value will have the easiest time adapting their business models not just to survive, but thrive.
That’s the state of email, which tells us a lot about B2B, especially when a massive chunk of the economy is currently digital. Here is a list of some tactics that you can apply both personally and professionally to manage the massive changes we’ve faced so far in 2020.
Acknowledge Your Fears
It seems like every bit of media contains pandemic-related content but this is a paradigm-shifting event. Acknowledge how it affects you and how it affects your coworkers. Then determine how it affects your customers, both personally and professionally. It’s not just about budgets.
Salesforce brought Brene Brown on to do a webinar at the end of April, which I thought was an impressive way to both acknowledge the current situation and provide value to their clients. It was called “Stories of Resilience” and I signed up for it, but didn’t attend. I just went to look for it and it was a live-only event.
The reason that it worked is that Salesforce acknowledged that this was a set of needs they and their clients had. Not only that, but they were able to capitalize on it. They took a noted figure in the mental health and wellness space and brought her in to talk about motivation and more. That’s what we all needed after an April of shelter-in-place. On top of that, they created live demand by not offering the webinar on-demand after the fact. They then extend you an invite to their on-demand talk with Mark Cuban. That’s smooth. As a marketer, I felt compelled to sign up because of both relevancy and execution.
Give Fears a Face
One of my best habits is the practice of keeping a notebook next to me during most working (and waking) hours. When I’m executing that habit the best, I’m literally writing down every thought and fear I have while I do other tasks.
Why does it work?
Because I give my fears a face. When you watch a horror movie, often the scariest parts are when you don’t know what the monster looks like. That’s the fear of the unknown.
You can apply this idea to your personal life, but also your work life. What are you afraid of? What weaknesses in your business model or marketing strategy does this situation reveal? A crisis reveals cracks in the foundation. Look at your core offerings and figure out their strengths and flaws. How can you splinter your offerings to make more money?
In the first step, you need to acknowledge that the fear is there. In this step, you need to sit and write it down. Make it real instead of a swirling thought in your mind.
Now that you’ve given the fears a face, it’s time to talk to someone about it. On a personal level, perhaps it’s talking to a mental health professional (many insurance companies are covering copays for remote health services).
As a professional, there are several steps you can take. Everyone is struggling to continue working when there are so many external stressors both inside the home and out. Identify what you are struggling with about your job and consider reaching out to your manager or trusted colleague about them. Reveal those weaknesses in your workflow and processes and open a dialogue.
When it comes to keeping your business running smoothly, consider a similar approach. Let what is not working in your business currently guide you. Figure out how what is working can make you more money.
Choose your words carefully, there’s no need to be accusatory or combative. It’s harder to read things like tone via email or chat. Perhaps hop on a phone or video call if you need to address something more serious.
On the external side of your business, make sure that your customers know their options for getting into contact with you. Make it clear how, when, and what sorts of support services you have to go along with your offerings.
Create an Adaptability Plan
I like to imagine that humans are like wild plants growing in their native environments. When a plant or a tree encounters an obstacle, they don’t stop growing. Imagine a patch of wildflowers growing next to a sidewalk. When the plants reach the sidewalk, they don’t just stop growing.
They grow thicker roots or expand to the next crack in the sidewalk. They grow more leaves or flower blooms. Your business can do the same. Perhaps one offering in your business is doing poorly. How can you build another offering (or splinter the same offering) so it will support you when change disrupts your primary offering?
Plants and people change and adapt to their surroundings. Trees grow around obstructions. Your business and personal growth are the same. You will adapt so long as you don’t allow yourself to get fixated on the obstacle.
There’s always a way to make your company bigger or more secure. You just have to look for space and ways for that to be possible.
My home office window looks out onto a busy main street in Albany. Today, as I wrote this, I watched a teenager cruise down the road in a gap in traffic. His bike was at a 45-degree angle from the earth, and he was crouched on the opposite side of the bike, sitting back to counterbalance.
I had to marvel at his unwavering trust in himself. He knows that he’s in a safe gap in traffic and knows how much to lean to execute such a difficult movement.
Trust your experience and the experiences of your employees. You’ve adapted to massive changes so many times in your life. Your business and life will do the same.
Pull apart your marketing plans and see how you can change them to fit your current reality authentically. What can you do creatively to make your business more resilient to future changes?
None of us has experienced something like this before. Be patient with each other and yourself. Show up, do your best, and know that change is a constant. It’s usually not this extreme. But creating a mental system and a business process to be agile and open to change will ensure both personal success and success in business.
Open up to us:
- What are your biggest fears personally? What about professionally? What about in a business sense?
- What would help alleviate some of those stressors?
- What actions can you take to face those fears?