If you don’t like stress, do not choose a career in marketing. At some point, the stress can eat you alive. This coronavirus crisis is likely the most stressful time in anyone’s life. I spent 20 years in marketing and no matter what level, stress was part of the job.
The most significant stress for any marketer is managing through the ambiguity of the unknown. The impact of the Coronavirus will cause the most ambiguity we have ever felt. Working against ambiguity is the stress of hitting deadlines, which required a degree of certainty. On top of that, if you are in a situation where the sales are falling off dramatically, it might scare you. While we are all making cute memes about Zoom and Skype calls, the distance from your trusted experts can heighten the conflict. Finally, it would help if you still managed your personal life and your career.
Managing the ambiguity of the situation
At the best of times, ambiguity is one of the hardest stress points for marketers. Some can handle it, but for many, the stress of ambiguity can chew you up and spit you out.
During this coronavirus crisis, the world’s greatest scientists can’t tell you when the work stoppage will end, but your finance person expects you to tell them various scenarios related to sales forecasts, your marketing spend and e-commerce.
With marketing, there is no right or wrong answer, but there is the best answer that will either work or will not work. Avoid perfect answers, but try to get to the best answers. Get used to saying, “I don’t know” more than usual. And, try to turn every issue you get into a question for your experts around you until you feel getting closer to a better answer.
The fundamentals always matter
Always reach for fundamentals, using your deep thinking, and trust your instinct to make the smartest choice. Realize it is your “best guess” but stop using the words “best guess” when delivering your answer.
As a leader, persistence, patience, and composure helps you sort through the stress. The consequence of not remaining composed is that your behavior will create a scared team, and it risks them choosing quick decisions that lead to the wrong results.
The consequence of stress is terrible decision-making. So take your time, slow down your thinking, map out decision trees, use tools to help you support your instincts. Also, make a decision. Most marketers faced with A or B, try to find a way to choose both, but that depletes your limited resources by spreading them against two options. You have to focus your limited resources on those solutions that will bounce back with the best results.
- Who are your best customers? These are the customers who will likely stick with you out of habit, necessity, or loyalty. You need to keep these customers. Not with some lame email or cutesy ad, but what can you do to help genuinely. McDonald’s is selling milk and bread at drive-thrus, and State Farm is returning money to customers because lower driving means fewer accidents. What can you do to help your best customers to keep them engaged now so that they stay with you during the crisis and long after?
- What does your brand stand for? Reach for your brand positioning to understand the functional and emotional benefits that your brand stands for. Now will be a time when you want the less randomized message and more consistent messages. People will want to try new things, and you need to make sure those new ideas fit. Dove nailed their “real beauty” ad to salute healthcare workers because it was perfectly on-brand.
- What are the best ideas for dealing with the current situation, the short-term and the longer term? When dealing with your finance people, you need to divide your thinking into three simple buckets:
- What to do during the Coronavirus shutdown
- How to kickstart the brand once the economy starts back up
- How to drive growth once things seem normal again
The stress of time pressure
Time pressure works in the opposite direction of ambiguity. People will want answers now, but without reveling in a degree of ambiguity with a bit of soaking time, to let the answer come to you, you risk picking the answer right in front of you.
Stay calm, so you continue to make the right decisions. When you stay cool in the face of deadlines, you can use those time constraints to get everyone focused on fundamentally sound solutions. Time can focus your team, as long as you stay cool. When you get overly stressed, everyone around you will feel your stress, and they freeze.
Watching the uncertaity of the sales results can be scary
Regardless of what growth rates your business is facing, you will be stressed. With the coronavirus, some brands have completely fallen apart (restaurants/tourism/retailers), while others are seeing their highest growth they have ever seen (toilet paper, items for cooking at home, or Zoom). While we all wish we were in the high growth space, all cause stress.
- When your sales results have fallen completely, that will scare you and everyone around you. People will be worried about their jobs.
- If your brand has been thinking of shifting to more e-commerce, the new skills needed could scare the team. And, the panic of not seeing those early results could cause everyone to doubt you.
- When you are growing more than ever, if you are a grocery brand, you might be growing, but that growth will still cause stress on the system.
The key to making sure you can hit your results is to make smart, reasonable projections. It would be best if you always were doing regular deep-dive analysis to ensure you know what’s going on and can summarize the key issues.
When faced with struggling results, reach for your logic as you re-group. Force yourself to course correct, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat.
As the leader, putting a time frame on how long it might take to turn things around can relieve stress. The problem for you as the leader is you do not know if this will be three months, nine months, or two years.
Try to find timelines to help manage the stress level of your team by creating bite-size timelines, even if they are fictional. (e.g., For the next three months, we’ll need all hands on deck as we turn around the extra strength business) The focus can help cut the ambiguity. The problem for you is that you cannot keep going back to this for two to three rounds.
Keep an eye out for burnout on your team. Find small rewards or surprises. An afternoon off, Amazon gift cards, or dinner delivery. Find small ways of keeping your team engaged. It will go a long way.
Handling conflict from a distance will add to your stress
At every time in your career, relationships can cause you much stress. Organizations have natural conflict points with conflicting priorities. This Coronavirus impact on business is going to amplify every stress point.
While everyone on your zoom call will say one thing in front of ten people, everyone will be having random side-bar email conversations you won’t be part of. You will need to work extra hard to get a feel of what has been said when you are not on the call.
For example, you might spend hours with your forecast team on a new sales forecast. You feel great only to find out finance had a side-bar conversation with your supply chain person and told them to cut safety stock in half. You didn’t know.
For most marketers, the sales team can be one of your most significant stress points. Many salespeople focus on trying to close any short-term gaps while you try to drive the longer-term health of your brand. As a result, they will be feeling more stressed than you. Be pro-active in making the first move to maintaining relationships with your salespeople. Listen to understand and reach for common ground, which most times is not that far away. Have regular touchpoints, to hear them out.
The other conflict to manage is with your ad agency. Every cut you make will create stress for them. You can’t pass them half and expect the same service levels.
Read our story on how to manage your brand during the Coronavirus
Work-life balance impact on your personal life
During your career, there will be tons of things happening in your personal life that can trickle into your work life: you could be getting married, buying a house, and having kids. Or it could be negatives like a breakup, bad investment, or losing a loved one.
I have always believed that work-life balance is essential for marketers. The more we can get away from it all, the better we are when we are back in it. When work infringes on your personal life, you lose that escape.
You have to learn to be able to compartmentalize and almost separate your personal from your professional life. While you shouldn’t take your personal life to work, you can’t take your work-life home.
During this Coronavirus crisis, it will be even harder to escape. With only twelve stairs to work, how do you make sure you can still compartmentalize when at work and when at home. Every buzz on your cell phone connects you back into your job.
Build your own rules for how you separate work and personal, whether turning your phone off, not working weekends, or having designated personal time (6-9 pm). Find activities that can help you switch from the high pace of work to the relaxed pace of home.
The stress of managing your career hasn't gone away
Your career will never be on hold. The best marketers are ambitious and want to get ahead. It’s a lousy time to be looking for a job, but you still have to have your eyes open.
If you take a few months off from looking for a job, that doesn’t mean you should be taking time off from getting better. While you are stuck at home, it might be the perfect time to engage in self-improvement. Think of your career as three different aspects: skills, behaviors, and experiences. Identify your gaps, and look to close those through your career choices. Below is a list of 20 marketing skills you need to keep working on at any level of your career.
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