All startups are born on the back of a powerful idea and the passion to see the idea become a reality. Startups live through all kinds of challenges in their normal days, which are a rare occurrence for large organisations
- By Vandana Sandhir
Startups are among the hardest hit due to the pandemic. As businesses start to reopen, organisations are taking stock of how to prepare for the ‘NEXT’, the new normal where no one knows what is in store. This journey is expected to be especially tough for startups as they bear the brunt of the economic impact of this crisis. However, it does not have to be a bleak outlook if startups leverage their inherent strengths of innovation, agility, passion, and a problem-solving approach. These are the traits that drew the investors, customers, and employees to them in the first place. What a startup needs to do is to contextualise its narratives to the current situation and communicate clearly with each of its stakeholders.
The organisation can choose to be in a dangerous ‘wish-it-away’ mode where the company does not say anything or worse still, send out conflicting messages, or it can adapt to the changing environment with clear and consistent communication, staying engaged with everyone who matters.
‘Head-in-the-sand and wishing-it-away’ approach. Here, the leadership sat on the information and preferred not to say anything. With a complete national lockdown, there was growing uncertainty and anxiety among employees and even more so among the customers, which was not addressed in anyway. To make matters worse, a few smart souls in the firm gave their own guidance and assessment, adding to the chaos. As a result, customers moved away (forever, mostly!) or put their purchase decision on hold. Because of the existential crisis, the leadership decided it must let some people go and random layoffs were announced without proper communication. Things went downhill and the company was left picking up the pieces, waiting for a miracle to turn things around.
‘Lets-deal-with-it-with-our-purpose-at-the-heart’ approach. Here, the organisation quickly swung into action by putting its well-crafted and well-rehearsed crisis plan into motion. The leaders focused their attention on the two critical aspects of the business—employees and customers. They adapted the business strategy keeping the purpose of the company at the center. The CEO engaged with the employees to talk about the situation at hand and the steps being taken to handle the crisis. Hard decisions were taken including cost-cutting, but with complete transparency and a clear roadmap for the future. The startup also directed its energy to identify new opportunities to tap into the situational needs arising due to the lockdown. This helped them retain their customers (and win some new ones too) in the short term and build trust in the long run. Investors were shown a clear course of action to recover from this crisis, with a strategic yet practical plan for the coming year.
While both businesses had survival at their core, it is simple to see why as an employee, customer, or investor, you would prefer to engage with the agile purpose-led startup as opposed to its reactive counterpart. All it takes is planning.
If you are a leader of a startup and are wondering how to go about planning your communication strategy as well as crisis readiness, here is a handy toolkit to take it head-on:
Credible: The communication during this crisis must come from the leader in a credible and authentic manner, drawing from the purpose of the company. It is the leader’s responsibility to communicate early and often enough to keep fear and anxiety at bay. A thought-through business continuity plan with employees and customers at the core will help the business sail through this difficult phase.
Change: This is the time to re-examine all aspects of your business and make bold moves for changes to adapt quickly to the current reality, without making yourself irrelevant. A crisis like this should also make you look at where is the money coming from, where is it going and where can you save? You should communicate all the important decisions with your employees and stakeholders in a transparent manner to build trust with the ecosystem around you.
Collaborate: Your communication strategy must address all stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and even your community. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, and you must change your narrative based on the concerns of each group. It must be an active, two-way communication where all these stakeholders can share their questions, apprehensions, and get answers.
Customise: How has the world around you changed and how is it impacting your business? Is your brand purpose aligned with the evolving scenario? It is good to seek answers to these hard questions as a team and customise your value proposition to stay relevant. Once you have a game plan, tell your stories with empathy and authenticity to connect with your stakeholders.
Create: In your journey to protect your business, you must not forget to look at opportunities to participate in helping fight the pandemic. Several state governments and community organisations are partnering with startups to co-create solutions for specific issues arising out of the pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
All startups are born on the back of a powerful idea and the passion to see the idea become a reality. Startups live through all kinds of challenges in their normal days, which are a rare occurrence for large organisations. So, fighting the odds comes naturally to startups. Communicating your story with clear, consistent, and credible messages through a dynamic but a well-defined plan will go a long way in staying alive.
(Vandana Sandhir is Chief Client Officer at Genesis BCW and mentor for Step up, a specialised communication offering for startups under the aegis of Genesis BCW)