Early in my career, I read the book, Who Moved my Cheese?, a leadership parable that introduced me to the concept of change as a constant. The sooner we accept that positivity – not anxiety – is vital to managing change, the faster we can get past our fears and capitalize on opportunities that live in the unknown. Vision, and the ability to move toward it, requires a certain sense of freedom where actions aren’t held back by the limitations of fear. While I agree with this philosophy in principle, over time, I’ve come to understand the importance of balancing adaptation with restraint.
In my work, I’ve seen leaders embrace the thrill of change as if they were chasing a fix to satisfy an addiction, pivoting with the wind to build crisp, inventive offerings to please consumer whims. We commonly see this in tech startups whose test and spin strategies can be so dramatic, they trigger motion sickness in the best of us. The approach certainly has its place, especially in industries where the race to tomorrow promises massive pay outs, most often for players who excel at the sprint, yet lack endurance to stay the course.
More established brands, those who seek to carve a legacy, are better suited to making thoughtful moves within the boundaries they’ve defined in growth models and brand strategies. A framework like Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle can be an empowering space to allow focused ideas and solutions to arise without compromising the invaluable equity at the center of the brand.
The revenue-generating WHATs along the outside of the circle – your product and service categories – are like spokes of wheel that will change with market shifts and consumer demand. For many businesses rumbling through the COVID 19 crisis, this layer has already been displaced. Restaurants and caterers are among the first to feel the impact; we’ve seen rapid transitions from dine in to carry out. Once the shock of this initial blow passes, many will need to seek additional revenue streams to manage debt and some will reinvent their models altogether to accommodate new consumer mindsets.
Some experts believe we’ll be living in a homebound economy where pickup and delivery will become the norm. We may also begin to place more value our health and wellness, seeking foods to nourish and sustain us. Either way, these transformations present fresh opportunities for restaurant operators with the foresight to step up and adjust WHAT they serve and HOW they offer it.
It’s important to baby step into these changes if possible. Consumers gravitate to what they know, especially as they’re processing the realities of their own changes and dealing with the ambient anxiety of a world at risk. They’ll most often seek solace in "business as usual" so be aware that dramatic changes to your offerings may supply a quick pop of revenue that may not have staying power.
Unless you’re in a position to heave your entire business model out the window and start anew, the value based HOWs at the middle layer of your Golden Circle should be maintained, for now. These are the attributes that, together, have defined your secret recipe to success. Ingredients like proprietary processes, deep expertise, commitment to innovation, etc. are not only what set you apart from competitors; they’re essential cues for your cultural values.
Settle into these truths now. Reinforce your HOW commitments when appropriate as you make important announcements to customers and staff. Infusing your communication with notes of clarity that align your actions with your values conveys confidence in times of uncertainty to calm rattled minds and preserve trust.
Most importantly, your organization’s purpose - or your WHY – that lives at the heart of the circle must be held sacred. Hold all decisions up against it. As you consider how to solve for revenue challenges and salvage the bottom line, remember this: If WHAT you sell does not align with your WHY, it does not belong in your brand portfolio. If it’s a worthwhile idea, consider the investment to create an independent or sister brand. Otherwise, you’ll risk confusion about what your brand stands for.
As my husband shuttered his reputable farm-to-table restaurant to avoid incurring a mountain of operational debt during restrictive times, he did so with the intention of revisioning the space to suit a brave new world. There’s no shortage of ideas when it comes to restaurant concepts. In recent brainstorming sessions, well-informed consultants have told him that comfort foods will likely do well to soothe consumers’ change-riddled souls. They suggested a wood-fired pizza place or a burly burger bar as popular alternatives to the fine dining that previously fared well in the space. These concepts could, in theory, satisfy his brand HOWs of “Purchasing, producing and preparing local foods.” Depending on the execution of the brand communications, they could also ladder up to the WHY of “Changing how people connect with food.” The sweet spot is in aligning WHAT people want with HOW they find value and, ultimately, WHY they should care. It’s too early to say what that business will become, but once the positioning decision is made, all actions to build it will be focused, efficient and fun.
Things are moving fast, like a rushing river after a powerful rain. But even rivers have a destination, and they arrive faster when concentrated within the boundaries of the shoreline. As you float along in your journey, stop to anchor with your WHY for perspective and you’ll reduce your chances of being washed away.
About the Author
Jackie Bebenroth is Founder and Chief Brand Advisor of Muse. She works alongside leading brands and executives to develop strategic positioning and messaging strategies that set the stage for long-term success. Her work, from local restaurant branding to six-figure global initiatives, has flown her around the country to speak on the art of content marketing. Jackie has earned a number of accolades, most notably a SXSW Interactive finalist award, the American Advertising Federation’s 40 under 40 award and Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketing Leader of the Year.