What Did You Learn? Episode 2
Working as content marketers and copywriters during the coronavirus pandemic taught us a lot. Hopefully, those lessons will carry over into our strategies for the long-term.
On this episode of “What Did You Learn?”, I sat down with my good friend Ann Handley of MarketingProfs. We talked leadership in marketing, what it means to be authentic, and why more companies should prioritize long-term leadership over short-term sales. (Oh, and you might get to see Ann in a TikTok video if you watch the video below.)
Let’s dive in.
Ahava: Hi, everybody, and welcome to What Did You Learn? I’m so excited to have my bestie Ann Handley here. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of Marketing Profs and also the best-selling author of Everybody Writes. Ann, thank you so much for being here today.
Ann: I am delighted that you invited me, so thank you.
Ahava: Yeah, it’s exciting. So, let’s first start with some rapid fire questions about how you’ve been doing during quarantine. Okay. My first question is, what hobby did you take up?
Ann: Oh, you’re gonna love this one. Jigsaw puzzling.
Ahava: There you go.
Ann: You knew I was gonna say that.
Ahava: And what did you bake?
Ann: Oh, man. Well, you know, I mean, in terms of baking, I have been training for the apocalypse forever because, I don’t know, 20 years ago or something crazy like that, I taught myself how to make bread. I’ve just been baking bread like a fiend. I just made some this morning that I set to rise overnight, baked it this morning.
Ahava: What TikTok dance did you learn? Because I actually know this happened.
Ann: It did happen. Man, I don’t know. I learned two TikTok dances, one we filmed, one we did not, so I I don’t I don’t know the name of it.
Ahava: All right, so let’s get into the meat of it. What do you wish you had known before this started?
Ann: I think I wish I knew what everybody wishes they knew, which is, how long is this going to go on? When is this going to end? And how much do we have to plan for the next, you know, is it 10 months? Is it 10 years? I mean, nobody really knows. I wish that I had a an end date. I still don’t have that end date, so, no one does.
Ahava: And what did you learn?
Ann: I learned a few things, actually. I learned the importance of leadership from marketing. So essentially, how can marketing evangelize not just your business or your brand, but also a category. I think one of the things that I learned is the importance of that, of really taking a leadership position in your own industry and not just thinking about it from marketing your own brand or your own organization or your own nonprofit, or your own B2B company or any of those things, but really thinking about: How do we actually think more broadly, what does this industry need? And how can we try to address that need?
I’ve seen a couple of great examples of that. Can I talk about one of my favorites?
Ahava: Yeah, I was just about to ask you, can you give us some examples?
Ann: Yeah so one of my favorites is Toast, a company in Boston. And essentially, what Toast does is they sell point of sale systems, point of sale and management systems for restaurants. Restaurant industry obviously hit super hard in this whole coronavirus situation that we find ourselves in. And their business was obviously threatened. They had to let go of half of their employees, numbering upwards of 1000 people, somewhere around twelve hundred, fifteen hundred, something like that. So, an enormous impact on the company.
But what I love about what they did, despite all of these challenges that their customers have and that the company itself has, is that it’s on a really nice job of evangelizing their category, evangelizing the restaurant industry in two ways. Number one: They put up a microsite. Well, the first thing is they put up a microsite and they invited consumers, you know, just ordinary people like you and me, to buy gift cards for their favorite restaurants.
Now, why did they do that? It’s because those gift cards essentially function as micro loans to those businesses. Really important time when basically sales have dried up. Giving those restaurants just a little boost in revenue is just so useful to them. So that was how they started it, it’s called rallyforrestaurants.com. You can go there now and check it out. But the other thing that they evolved it to was that it became a resource for the restaurants themselves so that they were able to go there and get all kinds of information about: How do they tap into government funding? How do they handle right now with reopening? So, they’re really doing a nice job of not just marketing Toast in a time when no one is going to be buying that. Instead, they’re thinking long-term. It’s long-term leadership at the expense of short-term sales, maybe, but short term sales aren’t happening. And so long-term leadership becomes all the more important.
I do believe that how we act over the next 10 months has repercussions for the next 10 years. And so I think Toast is a great example of that.
Ahava: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because it’s also forcing marketers to think about investing in their communities, not just saying “buy me” about the industry that we work in is a perfect example of something that’s really valuable and important for people. What else did you learn?
Ann: Um, what else? Well, you mentioned the importance of community. I think that’s incredibly important. Not just externally, like we think about who we’re marketing to. But also, internally. I mean, I think marketers themselves, being able to rely on other colleagues at other companies.
Ahava: I think Marketing Profs Facebook page is amazing.
Ann: Yeah, that’s in part why we put that up. So MarketingProfs Pro community, it’s our paying members, we launched at the beginning of May. I was going to say was it April or May? I think beginning of May.
Ahava: 700 days ago?
Ann: Yeah, 700 years ago that we launched a Facebook group specifically for those marketers. And it’s just been it’s been a great resource and very gratifying to see what’s happening in there. Quick example of that: two days ago. Yeah, two days ago, someone posted and said, “I don’t know how to market right now. I don’t know how to message right now. I don’t know how to help my clients figure out what their messaging is,” and it related specifically to the Black Lives Matter movement. So that’s a great example I think of the importance of community, not just how you’re projecting externally, how you’re leading externally, but also connecting with other people.
I think to the degree which you can actually embrace that and bring it into your own self, I think it’s incredibly important.
Ahava: So that leads me into my next question, which is if you’re projecting, okay, so let’s say it ends, whatever that looks like. What do you think are the things that are really going to last from these learnings that we’ve all had?
Ann: I think one very important thing that I do think is going to last long-term is the notion of authenticity. And that’s a word that you know, I have been allergic to almost since marketers started using it at the advent of social media when suddenly it was like, with our customers. No one knows what it means.
But I do think that in this COVID age and the age of coronavirus that authenticity has, I at least feel like it’s finally come to mean something. And what I think it means is that leaders are turning the camera around, getting on camera, speaking directly to their employees, to their customers, to their prospects in a way that feels very genuine and very real. I think when it’s done and it’s done right, I think it’s shown that brands don’t have to be polished and perfect that it’s much better to be in your in your home environment, which we all are, and sharing from the heart. So that’s one thing that I think will really stick around.
Ahava: Yeah, yes. And I feel like it’s authenticity mixed with humility. It’s the ability to say, “But we’re going to find out together.” That’s really what we’re looking for from people is for leaders to have the humility to say, “This is something we’ve all never seen before.”
Ann: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s such a good point. And that’s actually one of the things that I’ve learned about leadership is that it’s OK to say “we don’t know.” We don’t exactly know how to act right now. We are probably going to screw up, but we’re going to try our best, and here’s how we’re going to show up for our community, and we will iterate and we’ll figure it out from there. But I just think coming at leadership from that point of humility is one thing that I’ve definitely learned about leadership as well.
Ahava: OK, awesome. One last question. If you had to sum up quarantine in six words, what would they be?
Ann: Ah, man, Um, in six words. We absolutely will get to the other side. We absolutely will get to the…you know what? I’m doing it like a haiku. We absolutely will get through it. Fun.
Ahava: Perfect. Love it. Thank you so much for being here, Ann. I know, so many people across the world depend on you for great advice on content and storytelling, so thank you so much.
Ann: Well, thank you for having me. I’m honored that you asked.
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Watch our first episode of “What Did You Learn?” which featured Cleveland Clinic’s Amanda Todorovich.
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“What Did You Learn” will feature a new guest talking COVID-19 content marketing every Sunday. Have a question you’d like one of our guests to answer? Email us.