How to have difficult conversations using video during coronavirus (+ examples)
By Nick Bennett
At the beginning of March, I had just spent the last five months coordinating with dozens of teams planning for our annual event, Digital Sales & Marketing World (DSMW), to take place the first week of April.
We were approximately four weeks away from the event at the time and coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns were starting to become bigger and more real by the day.
A question mark lingered over everyone’s heads whether or not this it was actually a big deal, so I just came to work every day and continued to plan and sell the event as if it was happening.
The uncertainty was physically and emotionally exhausting.
My mind and energy were being pulled in two different directions in an awful game of tug-of-war.
We couldn't ignore the tension in the air around what the next few weeks would hold, and we wondered if the state would make our decisions for us.
What do we do if we can’t have this event?
It was the least cute “will they, won’t they” story of all time.
I try not to let the news spook me, but with events all over North America and even overseas canceling due to rising concerns, it became harder to stay hopeful.
Then, the messages began to come in.
“Why aren’t you postponing?”
“What are you doing to keep attendees safe?”
States slowly adopted “shelter in place” orders and businesses banned travel for employees.
Public tension rose as new stories started to flood in about how other parts of the world were becoming hot spots for COVID-19.
At this point, we were just trying to do the right thing and not play into the fear.
We worked so hard to put on the best event with the best partners, and there we were, less than a month away, the home stretch, discussing postponing?
It didn’t feel real… until it was
We were wrapping up our weekly event team check-in and I saw this Tweet from Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.
This afternoon I will sign declarations enacting civil preparedness and public health emergencies in #Connecticut so that we can take specific actions in response to #COVID19. I'll have more updates to announce at a 3PM news briefing.— Governor Ned Lamont (@GovNedLamont) March 10, 2020
This was the moment we all knew our goose was cooked and it was time to put our contingency plans into motion and postpone the event.
We knew there would be a lot of questions and we would need to quickly communicate answers to the attendees, sponsors, speakers, and staff.
In my case, it was specifically about our sponsors. I did everything to get them here and I felt responsible for their success.
The event couldn't (and still wouldn’t) happen without them; I wanted them to know their needs were a priority and that we made this decision with them in mind.
To add layers of complexity, most of our sponsors had already paid us some, if not all, of their installment fees.
This meant, during a time when so many small businesses were questioning their futures, their money was sitting in our bank account and not theirs.
They had invested thousands in this event, and now wasn’t happening as planned.
This meant having some difficult conversations
This is an emotional time for us all.
With social distancing in play and almost all of our activities happening behind screens, we’re all craving human interaction.
You may be thinking “oh good, another work-from-home pro-tips article” or “fear-mongering story about how the world is running out of toilet paper.”
But no; this isn’t about any of that.
This is about what marketers and consumers need right now: connection and compassion.
Now, in a time of uncertainty, being transparent, a little vulnerable, upfront, and 100% human can make all the difference in the world to your peers, clients, and customers.
We’re scared, but they are scared too, and even if you don’t have all the answers, you can at least show you care.
For me, I had to tell people something they didn’t want to hear in a time of uncertainty.
The markets were becoming more volatile than ever and they had trusted us with their money.
I wanted them to know they still could.
I wanted them to know that even though the event wasn’t happening right this moment, we had their best interest in mind and things would be even better if they stuck with us.
More than anything, I wanted them to know I and IMPACT understood what they were going through and cared.
Delivering an authentic message with these sentiments is difficult through text because you cannot denote tone, cadence, sincerity, or authenticity, which are even more essential at times like these.
Your sincerity is likely the reason your customers trust you to begin with; it’s likely the reason they chose to do business with you.
We are all in the business of trust, now more than ever.
When things get tough, like they did after postponing our event, you may want to take the easy way out; to try to hide your vulnerabilities and emotion and send a templated bulk email and call it a day.
It was the most effective way to brush past these difficult conversations, but it also felt like a fast way to lose relationships we had worked so hard to form.
That wouldn’t do in this situation.
These sponsors made an investment in us and our event. They were relying on it to generate leads, and relying on us to do right by them.
A cookie-cutter email isn’t what I would want from anyone I do business with. And I don’t think our partners did either.
Enter 1:1 video
If I was a sponsor, I'd want someone to be real with me, to show the respect I felt I deserved.
Our sponsors spent thousands of dollars with us, their entire event budget in some cases, and we had to show enough respect to give them real answers, to have a dialogue on their own terms.
I was (and am) responsible to deliver that to them.
So, I made each partner an individual 1:1 video to explain what decisions we had made and how it was going to affect them.
I decided on 1:1 video because it was the only way I felt I could show that I truly meant what I was saying.
It was the only way each sponsor could see the look in my eyes, hear the tone and cadence of my voice, and witness my vulnerability and sincerity. It was the only way to show that I really do care about them and this relationship.
This isn’t something I could confidently convey over a text-based email.
In each video, I answered what I thought were the biggest questions on their mind, what their options were, and what next steps would look like for us both.
This is not the face of a guy about to deliver good news.
Creating and sending all 25 videos took some time, more than 90 minutes, but when it was all over it proved to be well worth the time.
A Slack message I received from our VP of Marketing, Vin Gaeta, after this initiative.
Why video wins
Over these last few weeks, everyone's inbox has been bombarded with emails about how “our business is handling COVID-19.”
Most, if not all, of them, are completely faceless. Although heart-felt, they are completely heartless.
They’re all the same; blocks of text on how some company is taking extra precaution to sanitize employee work stations and customer contact surfaces and most importantly, that it is okay to do business with them.
Some working remotely, some closed until further notice.
To be clear, I am not shaming these companies for the precautions they are taking; I am saying that in this digital only, video-first world we are calling the “new normal,” the effect of cutting through the clutter of emails with a sincere video message makes all the difference in the world.
My advice — even if your company is not equipped to do high-production video —you should do it anyway.
1:1 video doesn’t need to be fancy or super produced; it just needs to show you care, especially in these circumstances.
Take these examples from big brands:
Check out how this personal message from JetBlue’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Joanna Geraghty.
This video doesn't look like a Hollywood movie, and that is by design.
With just a logo bumper and a few transition slides to break up the questions, this video aims to focus on the speaker and the personal message she is here to convey. You can hear the concern in her voice and see the sincerity in her eyes.
I don’t know about you, but the next time I get on a plane, it’s going to be with JetBlue.
How about how Apple CEO, Tim Cook, addressed the world from Twitter on Apple's efforts to provide healthcare workers with the personal protective equipment they so desperately need.
Apple is dedicated to supporting the worldwide response to COVID-19. We’ve now sourced over 20M masks through our supply chain. Our design, engineering, operations and packaging teams are also working with suppliers to design, produce and ship face shields for medical workers. pic.twitter.com/3xRqNgMThX— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 5, 2020
Apple is one of the world’s highest valued corporations in the world.
With roughly $245 billion cash on hand, Tim Cook could have hired Michael Bay to film a trilogy of COVID-19 response messages.
Instead he propped his iPhone up and talked directly to the world. Unlike JetBlue, he even did it with zero production and in one-take.
You read that right: Apple, the company worth $1 trillion dollars, is making videos to communicate quite possibly the most important information they will ever send to their customers in the most uncertain of times, with a phone.
(Yes, I understand they make the phone, but that's besides the point.)
No fancy press conference with tons of press and cameras, no press release in the paper.
Just Tim Cook.
I am sure there are many others, but these ones stuck out to me because they weren’t commercials for the businesses and they didn’t have a production budget, even though these companies have more than the means to do so.
The rest of us have no excuses.
These are juggernaut businesses trying to set themselves apart, when in reality they already are in a league of their own.
Apple, a product company, that doesn’t have regular or personal interactions with their millions of customers, took the time to speak to their audience as humans.
SMBs, especially service-based ones, can't afford not to make the same effort.
Many SMBs boast having a personal touch or white-glove experience. They provide and pride themselves on not being corporate and covered in red tape — all in the name of delivering quality they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
This type of transparency is what consumers expect should set an SMB apart from a corporation in a positive way.
How you treat people today will resonate with them for a lifetime, and if we are going to make it through this, we must do everything we can to show that we deeply and sincerely care for each other.
People who want to do business with you today may not be able to. They may not have a choice in the matter, but it is how you treat them today when times are hard that they will remember tomorrow.
It is my hope that, through all of this craziness, my clients remember why they chose us in the first place. That they saw how much I and our entire team cares about them, and that when this is all over, we can pick up where we left off.
Relationships and trust are what businesses are built on and using 1:1 video or meeting to speak to face-to-face is one of the easiest ways to maintain them, especially now.
Wondering where to begin?