ED: Molly, we’ve talked about this whole notion of this being the new normal. And I think we’re both on the same page where, we’re voting for this to be like a hiccup or a case study or our present reality. Our joking is only half-hearted because there are a lot of serious issues that, we all individually and collectively, as people, nations, countries, business owners, entrepreneurs, employees, family members… no one is untouched right now. And frankly, if you think back to say… February 1 and what 2020 was looking like and what it looks like here, at this time, very few people predicted what we’re facing. At least, if they predicted it, I missed it. But that being the case, I think it is safe to say that everyone has had to reassess nearly every, let’s just call it multiple factors of their life, right? So, as we’re taking the common lens we share, is that we have had leadership roles in large corporations, that have served multiple customers, and done it with world class merit, you know?
ED: We have devoted our lives to helping smaller companies, that perhaps don’t have access to the resources to have a 20-30 person disaster preparedness team ready to go. So, what I want to do is visit a little bit about the things that we would hope entrepreneurs and business owners are considering, relative to consumer dynamics. That we just hope they’re considering based on some observations we’ve had. Some may be more scientific than others, but anything that you’d sit down with an entrepreneur tomorrow and say, “okay, as you look out the next 6-12 months, here’s some considerations you really better keep top of mind.” Want to go first or want me to?
MOLLY: I’ll throw one out there that is near and dear to my heart, and one of the things that I think is really important to consider is how your product is packaged. So, I’m passionate about packaging anyway—I love everything about it—but right now safety in packaging and communicating clearly around the functional attributes of your packaging is really important, you know? As consumers have really been driven towards online grocery shopping, other categories as well… right? So, not just grocery, I always tend to think in terms of food, but online shopping in general, has skyrocketed. That’s a learned behavior, that my prediction is it’s not going to change back to what it was before. It may change back, but I don’t think it will go back to where we were. There’s just been too much momentum in the other direction. And that really drives how you present your product to the consumer, when it gets shipped directly to their home. Kind of how the packaging presents itself, both functionally as well as aesthetically, and I think the repercussions there are enormous. So, if you’re a packaging engineer right now, good for you.
MOLLY: Endless opportunities!
ED: And if you’re a packaging manufacturer, you better get ready.
MOLLY: Exactly. I agree.
ED: So many categories are gonna have to be reimagined.
MOLLY: Oh yeah.
ED: You know one of the things that I think of, that perhaps is even outside of the whole retail world directly, is that almost every consumer is living in a certain amount of fear, that perhaps they’re not used to. I was visiting with some folks Friday morning and I made a comment, just kind of half-haphazardly. I said, “You know, it’s really weird. It’s like, several months ago, when I would dream, I would dream about something in the future. Right now, I seem to be dreaming about what I just did today or what I’m about to do tomorrow and I wake up, and I’m not really sure if I was dreaming it or living it.” Like 80% of the people in the room went, “Yeah, me too.” Are you seeing that Molly?
MOLLY: Oh, you know, I thought it was just me until I read about the exact same phenomenon. It was either the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
MOLLY: And when I read that about what’s happening collectively, with people and their dreams, it did solidify in my mind that first of all people’s fears are their own, right? So, just because you don’t fear the same thing doesn’t mean that they don’t fear it just as deeply, or more passionately, or more powerfully, and they can never be trivialized because it’s so profoundly, personal. But the fact that the most of our nation is having nightmares right now, something is going on and it’s deep and it’s psychological and, who knows what it’s driven by? It could be because you’re, you’re afraid that your children aren’t getting the education that they need. You may be afraid because you lost your job, and you don’t know when you’re going to get it back. You might just be afraid of getting sick. You might be afraid of getting sick, with an illness that people don’t know a lot about. It’s deep, and that piece alone, Ed, when you think about where consumers’ minds are right now, us waging against that fear is critical. Acknowledging that fear and then working around it, boy that’s a big strategic platform right now.
ED: I think given that, as a business owner, we’ve talked about the utilitarian purchases that people are learned to make are a little less right now unclear. It’s better really, if you, if you’re selling, no matter what customer you’re selling to. I would suggest whether it be B2B or business to consumer, you better understand how your product really fits into the necessity of your customer’s life. Would you agree with that?
MOLLY: I totally agree. I completely… I agree.
ED: You know, and I don’t mean, that it has to be functional like you know bleach, but on your, on the hierarchy of needs, relative to your brand and your customers life and this is kind of like being empathetic, it’s like putting yourself in their place, how important is it that they buy your product, and how important it is they buy your product quickly? Multiple businesses were stalled, were closed or shut down. Some by mandate some by, just proactiveness, some by necessity, multiple reasons why. But if as, as, as businesses are continuing to restart, let alone having to pivot, you really better take a hard look at understanding your customer and how your product fits in their world. Because if you don’t, you may build up too much inventory or not enough, you may put focus on one product category versus another. You may forget to check in with your customers and just start selling and not realize that they’re not ready to buy.
MOLLY: That’s right.
ED: And I’m actually more concerned for businesses trying to project quarter three and quarter four than I am surviving quarter two, because everybody was kind of in the same boat for several weeks there, but now, as soon as we are reopening, there is a bit of survival of the fittest, right? And so, if you don’t…
MOLLY: Well, I was gonna say, that what, but what what’s interesting is when you look at it almost academically, haven’t you seen a tremendous amount of innovation right now?
MOLLY: And I love that. I love where, people start to react to the world around them and they come up with innovative solutions. I have to tell you that is something that makes me so proud to be an American, is I look around and I see like this ramp up of American ingenuity. It happens all over the world, but this happens to be the only country I’ve ever lived in, right? So, I look at it, I’m like, “Oh, this is amazing.” People are just diving in and coming up with ingenious solutions, and they’re doing it because they understand what others are going through as well. Right?
ED: Well, and it’s weird that, it’s where their brand intersects with the customer needs, but also understanding what the constraints are. You know, we had a client that has a brand that has been around 25 years. It’s a restaurant, and they had never done online ordering. They’d been tremendously successful, but that wasn’t part of the DNA of their brand. And literally within 72 hours they were up and running with online ordering and basically delivery to home.
ED: And while it wasn’t perfect, it was pretty amazing.
MOLLY: It is.
ED: And so the, the fact of the matter is, it’s not just the necessity of your product, but the way the customer needs to get your product from you. You know, so much of what we did as BTYcreative was a lot of in-person meetings, like everyone else, we’ve been living on Zoom.
ED: And you know what? It’s amazing what’s done. But you can see as you’re talking to business owners, that just while our consumers have fear, we have fear as well. Are we using every single dollar to the right purpose? Because we’re not sure exactly what dollars are gonna be around third quarter, fourth quarter, right?
MOLLY : No, you’re right. You’re deeply concerned about the health and well-being of your clients, your employees, your friends, your family. And that will cause you to—even though you owe rent, even though you, you got to keep paying the bills—know that I really need people to feel good about coming to work and feeling like they’re not going to get sick showing up. I hate to call this an enormous case study, but I have to tell you what the world has been through, since, let’s say January, February in particular it’s really been, overwhelming. In so many ways, when you look at the positive side of it, you’re able to see just how inventive people can be about solutions, to try to retain a little bit of normalcy in their life and to continue to make a difference in the lives of others.
ED: That’s right. And I think there’s opportunities with multiple brands to realize that the difference they were providing three months ago, could still be there, but if they can go back into that empathetic mindset and realize how they could be even more of a difference maker for their customers. It’s going to pay dividends long term.
MOLLY: I agree.
ED: I believe customers are going to remember, for quite a long time, how brands have responded to all the situations we’re facing today.
MOLLY: I agree. And in lots of different ways, we’re seeing some brands evolve, that haven’t evolved in a very long time. We’ve seen brands that have really stepped up and kind of into a leadership vacuum or a leadership void, out of necessity. But all of those things have been heartening, interesting, and I agree with you. All the brands that really couldn’t cut the mustard, I think that consumers are gonna have a memory of it. Ultimately, Ed, as you know, it’s all about how you feel, when you interact with the brand.
ED: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And, you know, as we look at that, and we look at the fact that to truly be in, to really step into your full brand relevance, you really have to have the capacity to really put yourself in the place of the consumer. And if there is, I can’t think of example where there’s really any brand that can put, can keep their customer in the place they had them three months ago and be successful long term.
MOLLY: I agree.
ED: I can’t think it was single category. And my concern for business owners or business leaders is that, speaking from personal experience, we’ve all been in a mode of triage. The last three months, it’s been, “okay, which one’s bleeding more.” And that’s probably not as likely go away anytime soon. But, you gotta be thinking ahead as far as what place—irrelevant of meaning or of value—do we serve our community and how can we do it even better? I know, you and I, I would say the commonality we have is this whole principle optimization, is like, well, this is good, but how can it be better? Another aspect that I know that has been exciting about the different things that you’ve gotten to work on as well is the opportunity to add value. To enable products, brands, people to do things that perhaps they, either didn’t think they could do or didn’t know they should. One thought I’ve had is that, value add, the definition value add, that equation has changed significantly over the last three months as well. Would you agree with that?
MOLLY: Yeah, I definitely have, and I think that one is going to be interesting to see what consumers go back to. So, when you are kind of locked down in your home, and you haven’t had the luxury of going to restaurants, the knowledge base around cooking over the past three to four months, has increased exponentially. You either have regained skills that you forgot about, or you have learned skills that you never had. And you, out of necessity, had to do that. That I think is really a fascinating thing to think about, when you think about food in particular, because I don’t know how much of that is going to go away. And when it’s going to go away. As our little family, we’ve enjoyed eating together, and you know, sitting around our dining room table and talking and normally, your lives are so crazy, and it’d be a matter of like, “okay, I’m on my way home from the office, can I swing by and pick something up?” And that went away overnight. So that’s a trend that’s going to be really interesting to keep an eye on.
ED: You know, a little bit of disclosure, and a bit of dichotomy, but as you’re talking I thought of two things. One was that a shout out to, I want to get her name right, Kelsey Barnard Clark, she was Top Chef winner last year. She’s got a restaurant Eat KBC I believe it is and Dothan, Alabama. And my wife and daughter learned that they could get online, and zoom in to a cooking class to where they, they receive a PDF of all the ingredients to buy, and the instructions and then get to cook along with 50 other people, with Kelsey from her kitchen, teaching how to make biscuits, I got to participate in that one. That was amazing. What that represents as far as just a dynamic, would those 50 people have taken a cooking class at your grocery store, at Sur La Table or something like that three months ago? Are those people going to take more cooking classes when this is over? Who knows? Talk about ingenuity. I’m not sure exactly what Kelsey was facing with her restaurant, but the fact that she was able to figure out a way to monetize, her gift to the world, and do it in a Zoom cooking class and get 50 people to pay $75 for an hour. I mean, hats off to her. And the fact that not only did it teach us something, but it created a memory. We actually did cinnamon rolls on Saturday me, my wife, Kathryn, our daughter, Sarah, and our son, Parker. We have not cooked together, the four of us at same time, for months, maybe years. But we made cinnamon rolls together, and it was a precious memory. And Kelsey made about $5,000 in one hour. Love that! Okay, is that a necessity? I don’t know. But it served a necessary need for our family. So, you could call that value add, you call it superfluous, but I believe it is reality to your point that that people are cooking and doing things they never imagined they would be doing three months ago.
ED: The contrast of that is this whole utilitarian mindset and, I’m embarrassed to say, but probably more people would admit this than they want is that I don’t like eating food that doesn’t taste good. And what I mean that, is that I’ve been known to throw away food that is perfectly edible, but it doesn’t taste good. I try not to be wasteful, I try to be diligent, but I have not had a situation, ever in my life where I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, okay? And so that has created a behavior which is perhaps, not as grateful sometimes of what I’ve got and being, “there’s too much salt, I’m not gonna eat it.” Well, I had a situation this was late March, early April where I was making dinner for myself and we had some leftover cooked chicken. We had some cauliflower rice, and I thought I came up with a great sauce to go with it to make it like have flavor because you know, cauliflower rice and chicken, not much flavor. Well, it had flavor, but it was not a good flavor. And it wasn’t unsafe. And it wasn’t inedible. It just didn’t taste good.
MOLLY : Unsavory.
ED: Unsavory, uncravable. But you know what? And I don’t say this righteously, I say this like kind of embarrassing. I ate it. Yeah, I was not about to pour out that bowl of cauliflower chicken that tasted really kind of like blah. I’m not about to throw that in the trash can, or down the disposal, because you know what? We had one package of chicken left, thawed, in the fridge, and we were trying to go to the grocery store as little as possible. And I’ve never lived in that kind of world. It just kind of resets your tolerances. Have you seen anything similar?
MOLLY: I have. And here’s what what I’ve personally learned. It’s kind of my hope for everyone who’s gone through this collectively, right? And the hope is that you can always internalize and understand your own behavioral motivation, as well as kind of comprehend and perhaps build some understanding around the motivation of others, right?
ED: Are you saying like, empathize with others?
MOLLY : Yeah, I am, but I can’t tell you how many times since February, that I’ve talked to people, and this is interesting, right? Because the way that you know me, it’s not like I’m usually a calming balm for others. I’m kinda like well, you deal with it, move on down the road, but several times, I literally have said, “look, I really think right now is a time to extend grace, towards yourself and towards others. Everything we’re doing is unprecedented. Have a little grace.” I have said “please” more and that’s, it’s not a bad habit of mine, I say “please” a lot. I have said “please,” to a fault. I have said “thank you” to a fault. I’ve thanked people that normally I would just like okay, they, well they provided a service, that’s great, and you kind of keep going. I hope, that those types of lessons, are the lessons that we’re going to take away from this, right? Which is I learned how to cook a little bit. I learned how to really appreciate special time with my family, where, all we did was make some cinnamon rolls. I learned how to make a mask and if you don’t think I was cussing like a sailor while I was making that stupid mask, I was, but I’ve got ’em. But it’s all those little things that whenever I see something like this, as a person, I always try to figure out how do you make that go forward for the next while in your life, the next chapter in your life? But then ultimately, as a businessperson, what does that look like? And what does it look like to extend a little bit of grace, to build that knowledge of what consumers had to go through during a really uncertain time? That should be foundational for every decision we make in the future. It’s a great, powerful learning.
ED: Well, and with that, extending grace, and I love the fact that you said extended to ourselves and others because you know, I have felt imperfect multiple times daily, the last three months.
MOLLY: I was gonna say.
ED: But, if, we genuinely take the deliberate action to imagine, to understand, to relate, to everyone around us, and if we intentionally as human being to human being go, “how can I add value to that person’s life?” And we do that deliberately. That’s kind of funny. It works for business, but more importantly it works for life. Right?
MOLLY: Sure does. Yeah, I agree. Truly my greatest hope is that we all as a world, we come out stronger, at least for a short period of time, right?
ED: What I love is that, I think it’s safe to say universally, that it’d be hard to understand someone, anyone, trying to rationalize how they want it to go back to the way it was, in any facet of life right now.
MOLLY: Yeah, you’re right.
ED: Thanks for the great chat. Always enjoy visiting.
MOLLY: Thanks, Ed. Take care!
ED: So that’s it for today. If you like what you’re learning from this podcast, we ask you first, subscribe to this podcast and second, please leave a five-star review. I’m Ed Howie and you’ve been listening to Howie Grow A Brand. Hope we’ve inspired some joy in you and you’ll inspire some joy in others. See you soon.