If there’s one thing that I’m not great with, it’s discussing my feelings. You can imagine how well that goes down in the middle of a global pandemic; suddenly it’s all anyone wants to know, all anyone can ask. It’s not as though there’s a manual for how you should act at a time like this.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that this enquiry comes from a place of genuine concern and support, but my answer isn’t particularly upbeat or enlightening. Every CEO and senior management team have had to face some harsh realities over the last few weeks, making the hard calls that no-one ever wants to make, whilst still trying to reassure and inspire their teams to keep positive.

What’s true though is that everyone is in the same situation. Everyone has been caught off guard with how quickly this virus has spread, with panic the knee-jerk reaction for most as we enter a period of uncertainty, with no definitive end in sight. Still, in times of crisis, this is where we have an opportunity to show our resilience, our creativity, our fighting spirit. Today, the trend has changed from looking at an upward curve to staying flat, a shift, which I’m pretty sure no-one saw coming three months ago.

Those that know me well understand how I operate. I’m honest, practical and yes, sarcastic, when the situation calls for it, and in a situation such as this, my approach is to turn this negative into a positive by whatever means we can. In our case, that means operating as normal in an abnormal situation. It’s adapting to remote-working and conferences via video calls rather than in person. It’s remembering that we still have a job to do and still have clients and partners to serve.

Every day brings about a new challenge, a further problem to solve. At times like this, it’s important to stick together and support one another. Physically, we may all be distancing ourselves, but technology is helping to keep the lines of communication open, to help bridge the gap and to stay connected with one another. Staying safe is the best outcome we can hope for right now, and we have the government to thank for helping in this aim with their swift and decisive action so far. It’s clear that they are putting the ‘human need’ above all else, assisting those that need financial support to ensure this pandemic doesn’t escalate into poverty-driven chaos.

To my mind, there’s no point in speculating or reading into every news story; there’s been enough of so-called experts doing that on social media already. No-one can answer when normality will resume, because in all likelihood it never will. You don’t go into a global lockdown and emerge unchanged.

Change at the best of times can be hard to face. When things are good, there’s a hesitancy to ‘rock the boat’ and take risks, yet when times are bad, that’s when we see just how poor decision-making has been up until that point. Contingency plans never made, upgraded infrastructure never made a priority.

We, both as a business and to a wider extent, the industry, have the ‘luxury’ of being able to pivot to an online, remote-working enterprise at a moment’s notice. Fortunately, we already have systems in place that don’t rely on us all being in one space at a time. I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution, nothing ever is, but now more than ever, we need to project an image of control, of positivity and turn our attention to looking for an untapped resource or different avenues of business.

Consider it this way. As the world moves into social isolation, they will increasingly turn to online search and news for answers to their questions and changing needs. As such, there’s an opportunity for advertisers to drive new conversions by paying attention to this search data, and investing in a strategy that can combine reach and relevance in order to thrive. That being said, there’s a fine line to walk between profiteering from a situation and finding a way to pivot your offering in times of crisis.

As people stay grounded and travel less, we can also expect to see more mobile and social opportunities to crop up. According to data from the Global Web Index, there has been an increase in users checking their social media across all age demographics; 27% among Gen Z, 30% among Millennials, 29% among Gen X and 15% among Boomers. As self isolation continues, this spike in social media activity will only increase, becoming the new daily norm.

Staying connected with family and friends will be top of the list, but equally, users will also be looking to their favored ‘brand communities’ as a reassuring presence in their lives. As time goes on, I think we’ll see more ‘escapism-type’ content emerge, especially as influencer marketing begins to mature during this period and prove its value within the marketing mix.

One sector that is likely to remain (for the most part) untouched is big tech. Despite their market losses (Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook lost $1.3trillion in the last month), video calls on WhatsApp have doubled and Microsoft’s workplace software users grew 37% in the last week alone. Facebook are creating grants to help small businesses and are in talks with the US government to use location data acquired from mobile phones to combat the virus. Aside from the brilliant PR move on Zuckerberg’s part (the ethical argument of using location data aside) it’s a genuine effort that is likely to be remembered, especially when they are still combating the spread of misinformation across the rest of their platforms.

Long-term, my view is that the big players will emerge stronger than ever, buoyed by the changes to user behavior forced by this worldwide lockdown. Prepare for ‘social distancing’ to become a part of our everyday lexicon too. You’ve been warned.

It’s interesting that trends which were already emerging or growing this year have accelerated in the wake of this pandemic too. OTT and Connected TV services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and the arrival of Disney+ into the market, are unsurprisingly experiencing a spike, since they don’t require in-person interaction. Elsewhere, e-commerce platforms are reporting a surge in visitors, particularly the online grocery sector, with Carrefour recording a 59% increase in online consumers over the last month.

Given the shift in where consumers are spending their time, it would be wise to invest there and continue the dialogue, providing some level of continuity, whilst still acknowledging the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. Easy, right? Ultimately, all anyone is trying to do is to navigate these waters as best we can, putting safeguards in place that will allow us to stay afloat for now, and come back stronger when this is all over.

For now, I’ll sign off with a few words of wisdom (it has been known) and encouragement. Remain authentic with who you are as a company and the value that you offer. Reassess, realign and reassure, but stay true to your values. Be flexible. Now is not the time to be rigid in your structure or way of working, we need to be agile and adapt as new challenges inevitably emerge the longer we remain in self isolation. And finally, keep going, stay safe and remember: We’re All In This Together.

by Ayman Haydar, CEO MMPWW