I’ve been hesitating to write this…
In October 2012, I wrote an email to my list with the subject line “The hurricane missed me — and you don’t want to miss this.”
I’d been attending the AWAI Bootcamp down in Delray Beach, Florida. I think that was the year the power went out during Job Fair, and I hung out chatting with direct response design superstar Lori Haller and Darcy Juarez from GKIC for 45 minutes, while it seemed like all the wannabe copywriters just disappeared.
I still regret using that subject line.
Because that hurricane — Hurricane Sandy — eventually wrought massive destruction when it finally hit the coast much further North.
Ever since then, I’ve tried to be much more sensitive about using situations like that as even subject line fodder.
Then along comes coronavirus.
That said, I’ve been watching this play out (thankfully so far, from afar) and thought it might be worth sharing my reflections on it.
For you, as a human being. And for you, as a marketer and entrepreneur, who may be starting to worry about what impact this may have on your business and your livelihood.
A few thoughts…
I read a quote the other day, that I’ll paraphrase.
It’s good that as a society we’re panicking about coronavirus. It’s not good for you as an individual to panic.
On a societal level, we have more capability now than ever before to recognize the spread of a virus like this. And through swift and drastic action, hopefully reduce its spread and impact.
For lack of a better term, this requires panic at a societal level.
Putting entire regions into quarantine may feel like a panic. But if the alternative is a deadly pandemic ripping through massive swaths of the population, quarantine is preferred. Hopefully it can slow the spread and buy us enough time for a fast-tracked vaccine or cure, or at least to understand and treat it better.
And yet, on a personal level, you should make adequate preparations and then go on with your day.
Do what you need to do. Buy some extra food. Make sure you’re washing your hands. Avoid exposure to people with clear sick symptoms, even if it may not be coronavirus. Think twice before congregating in large crowds.
And if you are exposed, quarantine yourself and get into contact with local health authorities for tracking and treatment. (Make sure you call before you go to the emergency room.)
On a personal level, panic will not do you any good. Taking action will. Panic won’t.
Don’t underestimate the danger…
I’ve recently read quite a few comparisons between this and the flu.
I’ve even spoken with medical professionals who’ve even said this isn’t any worse than the flu.
And it’s easy to trot out stats, such as how many people have died from the flu this year versus coronavirus, that make it sound like coronavirus is less deadly than the flu.
But those stats often omit a very important detail: total infections.
Right now, coronavirus is pretty contained. I think today’s number is around 100,000 total infections worldwide. But the death rate is perhaps as high as 3%. Whereas the flu’s death rate is under 1/5th of 1%.
Most people under 50 have very little risk of dying from the coronavirus, if early stats hold constant. But the danger does go up dramatically with age.
And even if you’re under 50, you likely have many loved ones over 50 who face a higher risk.
And so in general, it’s better off to respect it as a deadly virus than to try to downplay it.
Enough about the medical side of it, though — as that’s outside of my expertise…
The virus also poses a large economic danger…
I imagine you’re aware of what’s been going on in the stock markets.
I haven’t been ignoring it.
On a personal level, my portfolios have taken a hit. And as a copywriter for investment publishers, I’m paying attention on another level as well.
As consistently as our stock market has gone up for more than a decade, neither the economy nor the markets have truly recovered from 2008.
I don’t want to write that treatise here, but debt, government deficit spending, central bank interference, and historically rock-bottom interest rates have all been NECESSARY to maintain the tepid economic progress we’ve felt for the last few years.
The stock market’s advance has been more than tepid though — if you only looked at stocks, you’d think we’re in the greatest economy in American history.
But coronavirus exposed a dangerous truth.
There are a lot of people with a lot of money in the markets who’ve largely been optimistic based on the fact that the market has been going up.
Not based on underlying fundamentals. Not based on economic strength. Sure, those things have been good enough to not derail the market.
But fundamentally, the market has gone up on the belief that it won’t go down.
So when the coronavirus popped that bubble of hope, we saw the stock market move as fast as it ever has from a 52-week high to a 52-week low.
Some of this is panic. Some of this is fundamentals.
Think of this like the recent run of retail bankruptcies. Retail stores have long survived on margins of 5-10%. A relatively small fall in retail sales erodes that to zero and then negative. And the retailer, still selling billions per year, is bankrupt. Because with such a small margin of risk, any blip on the radar can turn into a catastrophe.
When entire regions of China, Italy, and other major economies are shutting down in a quarantine, it will impact the global economy. And while the impact may seem small on the surface, it may be big enough that the second- and third-order consequences (this causes this… causes this… causes this…) will have global consequences.
Which probably justified some of the selling in global stock markets.
But then justified selling turns into emotional selling.
And emotional selling turns into panicked selling.
And that’s how you get crashes.
Consider the power of the stop loss…
This is an investing reference, that transfers to business.
A stop loss is a sell order for a stock that is based on a certain price, or price movement. So if you have a 25% trailing stop loss, you sell your shares of the stock if it falls by 25% off its highest price since you placed the order.
I’ve sold a lot of my more active portfolio on stop loss orders in the last couple weeks.
Your business may also have a stop loss strategy in place.
For example, if you are acquiring customers through paid media (Facebook Ads, Google Ads, etc.) you may notice that creative that was going gangbusters a few weeks ago is barely working today.
The faster the market and economy change, the faster a marketing message will tire.
And so you may, for example, set up rules in your Facebook Advertising account to stop running ads if certain metrics cross a threshold where it no longer makes sense.
That is, if your marketing program requires a $50 cost per acquisition for it to make sense, you could have a trigger that any ads over a certain volume of spend that cross over the $50 CPA threshold should be stopped. Once stopped, you can review them and make a smart decision on turning them back on.
There are many places in our businesses that probably ought to be considered for a stop loss. What can we do to identify thresholds for losses, such that we can take a small loss to avoid a bigger one?
With this in mind…
Now is a time to test more, not less…
If what resonates with markets is changing rapidly, you’ll be best served by testing more, not less. By doubling down on your marketing, not pulling back.
Be willing to try radically different messages, to connect with your audience.
Test fast. Test often. Test in large volumes.
What you’ll find is that some things that never worked before start working very well. And your tried-and-true messages are suddenly struggling.
Many marketers today have never been through a bear market or economic crisis.
Many marketers today have been completely spoiled by a 10-year stretch of doggedly-persistent growth.
Volatility can be your friend, IF you embrace it.
Depending on how much economic impact we see, there could be a lot of businesses that go out of business.
But oftentimes some of the biggest, strongest businesses are formed during an economic downturn. Or at the very least, that’s when they gain their identity.
The scrappy, innovative, and ambitious entrepreneurs who step in will find their lazier competition falling off the map.
Meanwhile their — your — willingness to connect with prospects and solve problems is appreciated in a brand new way.
There will be HUGE opportunities in the weeks, months, or years ahead…
In any crisis, there will be losers. And in the case of a deadly disease, I do not want to downplay the personal human cost that many will be unwillingly forced to pay.
But there will be many winners. Survivors in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Who are there ready to provide value in the worst of days.
Those of us with the skills and resources to step in and make something good in the middle of the bad situation.
For stocks, there will be bargains.
If you’re interested in buying businesses, you’ll have opportunities.
If you want a market to serve, they will be there, in many cases without their old standby solutions.
There are many things — such as this virus — that are outside of our control. But we can control how we react and respond to them. And how we are able to step up in the situation they create, to serve both ourselves and the world at large.
We can’t let fear guide us. We can’t be panicked in the short term. We must serve our long-term vision. Focused on what we can do, now, to move toward it.
The world needs this calm thinking today as much as ever.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,