The Struggle is Real.
Brands today face a challenging environment of declining consumer loyalty, as endless new product and shopping options continue to emerge.Familiarity no longer precedes preference as consumers have more options than ever for getting exactly what they want, however they want it. No longer limited to options made available by a few brands, consumers demand products that are personalized to their needs. And word-of-mouth influences their decisions more than any well-designed advertising campaign ever could.
So how can brands win loyalty in the face of so many obstacles?
Resilience. That’s how.
What is Resilience?
noun re·sil·ience \ ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s \
an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
* Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Resilience is about adjusting to change—and thriving. This is far different than surviving, which is simply continuing to exist. Resilience is bouncing back, sometimes different, and hopefully even better than you were before.
Chances are you have discovered your own resilience at some point along your personal journey.
Some of these experiences are ones we purposefully seek out to test our own strength and endurance. For example, I ran my first marathon and completed two 100-mile century bike rides through the deserts of Death Valley, California—all in two years’ time.
Other experiences can happen unexpectedly. After completing my last century ride, I began building a consulting business while raising three children under the age of three, when I was diagnosed with cancer—Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Faced with this daunting and terrifying challenge, I wound down my business and embarked on a six-month fight for my life.
This was the most difficult challenge of all my experiences, but also the most enlightening. I was able to survive and thrive, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and the support of friends and family—but also because of the lessons in resilience I had learned from those adventures from years before. And, to be sure, this fight taught me new, powerful lessons in resilience that I continue to draw on to this day.
4 Lessons in Resilience
As I continue to work with brands in a wide variety of industries across the globe, I see firsthand how resilience is not only achievable, but absolutely necessary for businesses to remain relevant in today’s dynamic environment.
With that in mind, here are four lessons that I’ve learned through my personal experiences that can help businesses thrive in the face of adversity.
1. Dig Deep—Discover What you are Made of and Unleash Your True Power.
I’ve observed how the toughest challenges can help us find clarity and perspective around what is truly important. In the most difficult moments, we have to dig deep to find our inner strength—where what matters most lifts us up and pushes us beyond our limits, and where what is less useful falls by the wayside.
Consider asking yourself, “Why does my brand exist?” (Hint: it’s not to grow market share or make profits.) For many businesses, activities that create short-term growth can be the very things that cloud vision for long-term success. For example, look at Kodak. The company was so invested in protecting their film and camera business, they lost sight of their true purpose—capturing moments—and they failed to find inspiration in the digital technology that would have transformed and expanded their ability to do just that.
In today’s fast-paced world, brands must be willing to create space for reflection as they navigate the many challenges of the marketplace. With purpose as their guide, they can ensure their efforts are focused on the right path while remaining open to new possibilities.
2. Change Your Expectations—and Begin to see What’s Possible.
We all get knocked down. But it’s how we pick ourselves back up and continue on that defines us. When I decided to run a marathon, I had never run more than a few miles at one time. I was in my twenties and naturally athletic, so I assumed I would pick up the additional miles fairly easily.
I soon realized that this was not going to be the case. My goals were too aggressive. My technique was inefficient. My body hurt. I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts were overwhelmed with obstacles. I wanted to quit.
Instead of quitting, I changed my expectations. Instead of continuing to do the same things that weren’t working, I adjusted and sought out new techniques. I set more realistic goals, changed my habits, and slowly worked my way up to the long runs that prepared me for a finish I could be proud of.
The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes our own expectations can get in the way of finding a better strategy.
Where does your brand fit in this scenario? Does your challenge seem too complex or too big? Are your teams focused on the obstacles, but losing sight of the destination? Are you stuck trying to do the same old things, hoping for a different result? Resilience is about using setbacks as an opportunity to let go of expectations and opening up to new and different possibilities that could lead to even better outcomes.
3. Stay Human—True, Meaningful Connections Matter Now More Than Ever.
Just as self-reflection is a critical component of resilience, so is connecting with others.
What do long runs, long rides and long chemotherapy sessions have in common? Besides taking a lot of time, all of these experiences offered me opportunity for deep conversation and a powerful connection with the people on the journey with me. These relationships were crucial to making it through the most challenging moments.
Hearing others’ stories strengthens us. It gives us perspective, empathy and a mind that’s open to new possibilities. Listening is part of what makes us human, and in an increasingly digital world, our human-ness is more important than ever.
Social media, artificial intelligence, and other digital tools have disrupted the way brands interact with consumers. But while these things can give us a lot of useful information, nuance is often where true insight into consumer needs and tensions exist.
So many brands have found themselves lost in debate over huge piles of data that don’t really tell them anything useful—and they have forgotten to listen to their consumers. Certainly, there is a place for data, but it must be used in the context of real consumer understanding. It’s those gray, hard-to-define areas that make us human—and that is where the most powerful truths lie. Listening and having real conversations that help you form real connections with your consumers will undoubtedly lead to a clearer, more successful vision.
4. Enjoy the Ride—Bring Passion to Your Journey and Celebrate Victories Along the way.
If you are thinking about the 95 miles you have left when you are at mile 5 of a century ride, your challenge will seem daunting. You are tired before you even begin—and too frustrated to notice how fresh the cold wind feels on your face as you ride through the quiet morning desert, or the beauty of the changing colors as the sun rises over the valley.
I talked earlier about changing expectations. This lesson is about changing your frame of reference. Having a vision will guide your “why,” but having milestones will make the journey achievable and enjoyable. This is critical to staying resilient.
Do you love your brand? Does anyone else? If you have ever faced a challenge that seemed insurmountable, you know that preparation, talent and knowledge can get you far. But without passion, you will not succeed. You and your team must be invested in the outcome to be able to persist and find success.
Find what it is that you are passionate about and let that lead you through the most difficult setbacks. Communicate your vision to the leaders of your organization so they, too, become invested in your journey. Embrace failures and seek the lessons from those moments. Celebrate the little victories and contributions of others along the way.
Resilience is where new paths are discovered and transformational change can happen. Our most successful clients—the ones who have created truly disruptive innovation—have always been people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones and take risks. They know who they are, and they listen to their consumers. They accept failures as part of the journey, and their companies support them along the way. Their energy and dedication are infectious and the entire team enjoys the ride to success. That’s the brilliance of resilience.
Donna Zaring is VP, Strategy at Seed Strategy, and she knows a thing or two about resilience. She has completed a marathon and two century rides. As a working mother of three children, she defeated stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was named Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—and she’s only getting started.
Edited by Adam Siegel. In addition to being the Editor of The Accelerator, Adam is a Creative Director at Seed Strategy where he draws upon his diverse experience in advertising, research and innovation to craft breakthrough creative and winning concept copy.