Learning from the Chinese word for 'Crisis'

By Julie Knox, US, April 2020

The other day I learned that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ – 危机 – is composed of two characters, one signifying ‘danger’ and one signifying ‘opportunity’. And thinking about it, there are plenty of other sayings that echo this sentiment: Necessity is the mother of invention, Out of a crisis comes opportunity, Every cloud has a silver lining…

But the Covid-19 outbreak has pushed the global economy into freefall and forced many businesses into survival mode – including larger corporates in ‘mission critical’ industries, who have been planning for a pandemic for more than a decade and have more resources to cushion the blow. In this crisis management mode, it seems counter-intuitive to divert cognitive resources to the future. When all efforts are focussed on keeping the business afloat, we simply assume that getting ‘back to normal’ will take care of itself.

However, the landscape could be permanently altered by the dramatic changes in behaviors being imposed. Brands may well be judged – and their reputations and images changed – by how they are reacting, behaving and talking. Responding to the new set of circumstances therefore feels unavoidable, whether it takes the form of a short-term adaptation or a longer-term transformation. The opportunity is to get ahead of the curve by thinking strategically and building a path to recovery.

This raises a number of central questions that research could potentially help with…

Ensuring effective communications:

How do companies maintain the trust of both their employees and their customers in the way that they communicate with them during this crisis management phase? Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to get right even in normal times but is a key challenge now, with a difficult balance to strike between transparency about what the impacts are and how companies are adapting – and responding to the need for reassurance and security that anxiety and fear are giving rise to. How do companies acknowledge the challenge whilst offering hope?

There is also the question of how companies ensure their communications cut through the tidal wave of ‘Covid-19 updates’ hitting our inboxes and reach their intended audiences in a timely fashion – what must they do to engage?

Protecting / building brand reputation:

How should companies be adapting their broader brand messaging, both tonally and in terms of content, to respond to the new landscape – whilst at the same time staying true to their core values? What is the risk to brand reputation if they don’t?

And for companies / sectors where the literal connection with customers is being suspended, how can they create opportunities to deliver proof of their brand values and help the brand stay alive through behavior and messaging – whilst at the same time managing for heightened concerns around exploitation by opportunistic companies with the ‘perfect product’?

Responding to changing needs for products/services:

How is the new ‘wfh’ / ‘sah’ scenario changing peoples’ everyday routines and how is this impacting the way they are using, or wanting to use, existing and new products/services? While some categories are clearly being hit hard, others have an opportunity to adapt, even grow, in response to new demand (eg for information and entertainment – and the internet services that support this). So how do companies keep on top of these changing needs and ensure they are in a position to quickly fulfil them?

Accelerating digital transformation:

Business closures and social isolation are forcing late adopters of digital technology into the game as a matter of survival – many of us have stories of our Boomer parents trying to buy groceries online for the first time. What help and support do they need to get through the process and what opportunity is there for companies to convert them permanently to digital channels?

Beyond these late adopters, how is the sudden and rapid shift from retail to e-commerce changing broader expectations for the type of digital relationships customers want with providers in both the short and the long term – and what is the customer experience gap that needs to be closed?

As we settle into a new ‘normal’, what is clear is that companies:

In order to adapt to a rapidly changing situation, we need to be connecting with consumers to find out how they are thinking, feeling and behaving – both personally and professionally. And we need to unravel the very complex set of factors that are now influencing decisions.

At Jigsaw we are working closely with our clients to help them address some of these questions…

Applying frameworks for thinking such as:

And deploying agile approaches to get fast feedback on new initiatives.

If you’d like to hear what we’re doing, trade thinking and ideas – or even just talk about what’s going on – please drop us a line!