Johnny Molson: Businesses want to talk to their customers, and that’s perfectly understandable. But in the last month or so, it seems like businesses have forgotten how to talk to their customer like the intelligent grown ups that they are.

[commercial excerpts] During these difficult times. In these troubled times. Challenging times. Trying times. In these times of uncertainty. During this time of great uncertainty. During these uncertain times. During these uncertain times. In uncertain times…

We’re getting choked with an unending parade of companies who want us to know that they are here for us.

[commercial excerpts] Our teams are here. We are here. We’re here. We are here. Here for you. Here for you. We’re here for you. We are here for you. We are here for you. We’re here for you.

And it’s turned into this super saccharin approach that says “We understand that COVID-19 is scary. And if you understand that COVID-19, is scary, and if you know that we know that COVID-19 is scary, maybe you’ll do business with us now.” And it may feel natural to take this sort of Hallmark card approach in your advertising. It’s not exactly helping your business by essentially saying what everybody else is saying and saying things that we already know to be true. These are the kinds of conversations that we’re having with ourselves and conversations that we’re having with our clients, conversations you’d normally only hear if you were sitting around the Wizards roundtable.

We start today in Toronto where Stephen Semple is going to tell us that right now is probably the worst time to try old sales tricks like adding urgency and false deadlines in your advertising. Just north of L.A. is Jerry Cassandro. He’s going to tell you to watch for social proof. This is the phenomena that makes us feel better about doing things when we see other people do the things that we want to be doing.

It’s going to be an important indicator that things are turning and coming back to normal. But we start today in Toronto with Stephen Semple and we start with that very question. When will things look like they used to look like months ago?

Stephen Semple: The world has changed. Even when we go through this, we are not going back to what it was before. There’s so many things that have changed. There’s so many habits that have changed, so many things that are completely different. It’s almost like this event you and I were talking about earlier is so huge because it’s happening also at a time where there was acceptance of a whole pile of other things going on at the same time. So it’s almost like we’ve got this convergence of all sorts of things happening that is going to change the world. You know, just even a thing like Zoom, right. How much were we using video conferencing previously?

The other day I was sharing with you, you know I live next to the lake. There’s a path along the lake. and an elderly couple were walking on the path. And they’re all like in their eighties and walking six feet apart, social distancing and having hearing aids in. And so they’re having to yell at each other. So everyone heard the conversation. And what are they talking about? They’re talking about Zoom. They’re talking about ordering groceries online and going to the store and picking it up. This is stuff that there’s no way would have been broadly accepted before. And now, we’ve all grown comfortable with those things. So are we necessarily going back to shopping in the store? There’s all sorts of things that we’re not returning to. I’m fully convinced that 30 percent of office staff are not returning to their offices because all sorts of companies were like, “Oh, we can’t have people working remotely. Oh, it won’t work.” And they’re now going, “Huh, this works out pretty well…” Or they’re also looking at it from a health standpoint. You know, there’s a company recently I heard about where they’re having half their staff come in one week and half the staff come in the next week so that if people get sick, they’re protecting half their staff.

Johnny Molson: Jerry, what do you think that means for advertising in the future? We know some places have adjusted now. Well, what’s that going to look like in a post COVID-19 world?

Jerry Cassandro: Instead of advertising to get people through your front door now. It’s more like reaching out and connecting with them. With this virus going around, a lot of commercials are for top of mind awareness. For example, what about the customer experience? It’s changed. Completely changed. Now, let’s just say, for example, that we get over this COVID-19 and we get back to normal, whatever normal looks like in the future. Still, it has changed because people have still kind of adapted to certain behaviors, and we’re adjusting now to a new world. And I think advertising is is going to change the way that we communicate our business to the new world.

Johnny Molson: So do you think the Zoom meetings in the future will have a commercial break right in the middle of it?

Jerry Cassandro: I think so, could be. But the thing is, though, my wife works four days a week. She spends one day a week at home. She’s in property management. Her boss told her about five years ago. “No, I don’t want you working for home. You can’t work from home.” Now he’s telling her “Oh, please work from home.” That’s a whole different thought process.

Johnny Molson: Stephen, how does that apply to just the changing trends? So if advertising starts to change, if the way we buy starts to change, how does that affect how a business communicates? Not the method they use to communicate, but I’m curious about what they’re saying to communicate.

Stephen Semple: You know, the funny thing is I don’t think what we say needs to change much. You know, proper advertising is about building an emotional bond with the consumer and making the consumer think of you first and like you the most. I don’t think that changes. So I don’t think our message long term changes.

I think maybe some of the ways that we deliver our message may need to change. Because if drivetime pattern changes, that’s going to affect the effectiveness of certain things. We do things in a different manner and may change some of the delivery mechanisms. But I don’t think it changes the messaging. Because at the end of the day, what do we want? We want the consumer to generate an emotional bond with us. How do we do that? Origin stories. Talking to them about the things that they care about. Making our message emotional. None of those things change.

Johnny Molson: This is a lesson for thinking long term. The businesses that are getting slammed right now are the ones who were living off of the sale of the weekend. And you know, the car dealers, you know, “Let’s get them in this weekend…” And the ones who aren’t having as much of a problem right now are the ones who are already known entities and have some place in people’s minds and hearts.

Stephen Semple: Let’s look at the psychology a little bit deeper on this. So I think it’s safe to say that people feel a little off. They feel a little bit stressed. They feel a little bit scared. They feel a little bit worried. I think that’s safe to say right now, right. Well, if we think about what happens in the human brain, as soon as you put those stresses on it, we all know what happens to physiology. The blood flow reduces to the prefrontal cortex and we have a harder time making decisions. Now let’s run a sale with urgency [chuckling]. Does that work when I’m already in a state where I’m feeling a little panicked and a little worried and a little bit scared? Let’s just crank that up, shall we? Let’s add urgency on top of that, because that will make everything feel better or let’s even do worse. Let’s say “We’re running a sale due to COVID-19.”

Stephen Semple: Let’s remind everybody of the panic situation and then slam urgency on it. It’s not going to work. What people want to hear right now is they want to hear calm and they want to hear caring and they want to know that I can trust you. Those are the messages that are going to resonate because what are people looking for? They’re actually looking for leadership. They’re looking for that type — and comfort — those types of messages. So comfortable, reassuring, “I got you, I’m a great guy, we love each other,” messages I think are going to work better now than they ever have.

Jerry Cassandro: People are looking for comfort. And people are looking for hope.

Stephen Semple: Yeah.

Johnny Molson: I’m going to challenge you both because you both are talking about the things that are going to change. What’s going to stay the same?

Jerry Cassandro: The message is going to stay the same. The basics, because you still need to burn your message into the brain of the public — your buying public. And you still have to have top of mind awareness. So there’s a lot of talk about “Should I pull my advertising back right now because we’re in this virus type situation?”

No. I mean, right now change it to where, like Steven said, it’s “comfort” and “we’re with you”. But be ready to go full throttle when this thing calms down. Look, I think when people start to see what they call social proof. It’s an influence principle called social proof — they’re going to look to what other people are doing. I think this economy will start to build slowly at first. I think a lot of people will be a little bit afraid to go out. They’re going to look to other people to see what are they doing. But gradually we’re going to come back into mainstream and I think we’re going to get powerful again. But when it comes to advertising, I think you’ve got to be ready to go full throttle at any given time.

Johnny Molson: What do you think about that, Stephen?

Stephen Semple : I’m going to answer your question, I’m just going to highlight one change. And we can talk later about why I see this trend as being this way. But I believe online retailing is going to explode and is going to blow past brick and mortar sales. But here’s the thing that’s not going to change: local advertising.

Just because somebody transacts online does not mean, “Oh, my God. That means we’ve got to advertise it online.” That’s kind of like saying, “You know what? All the sales happen in my store, so I have to advertise in my store.” It’s the same logic. What we do in terms of local advertising, in terms of getting the right amount of repetition and speaking to a large enough percentage of the population in that local environment does not change. Doesn’t change. Totally is not going to change because that is about all the things Jerry was talking about in terms of the type of message. How do we drive the message deep into the person’s mind so that it becomes part of long term procedural memory where the person thinks of us first and likes us the most? What are some of the tools? There’s the message, as Jerry spoke about. There’s also the repetition and there’s also reaching the right number of people. And the only way you can do that as a small or medium sized business is by advertising locally, to the degree where I’m going to argue that if you had an online retail business that was strictly online, that that’s how you should still advertise. Pick a local market, advertise like you’re in that local market and use all these techniques because that is not going to change.

Johnny Molson: From a sociological standpoint, there are things that are true about the human condition that won’t change either. I think we are a naturally social people. I don’t think we are — I know we are. And this need to come together in groups has always been strong and it feels like it’s going to be stronger. And so it’s interesting, Jerry, that you mention the customer experience, because that’s always an important thing. Now we’re talking about a customer experience in the online world and through the front door. And I’m anxious to see how we as a society address that. Because right now people are yearning just for some sort of actual contact, to hang out with people and just sit at the bar and go to a restaurant or go to a play or something. Jerry, it’ll be interesting to see how that changes the customer experience. And it feels to me like they’re going to have to be really, really on top of it and welcome people in with open arms.

Jerry Cassandro: Yeah, they’re going to have to think of creative ways to invite that experience. But yeah, you’re absolutely right. They’re going to have to welcome those people into the business with more of a comfort level. But what you were saying before is the advertising completely expanded outward. Radio, TV, whatever, “This is what we have, this is what we have to offer, come into my store.” Instead of getting people in through the door, I think it’s more of “Let’s gather the people around us and create a different brand.” I think creating a different brand, like Stephen said earlier, the message is important, but I also think that comfort level, “We are with you, every step of the way.”

Johnny Molson: That’s really interesting because people are going to go back kind of in slow motion. And there’s gonna be that trepidation. And so all the more reason to start your marketing and your branding efforts before that happens. Don’t wait for it to happen because you’re gonna be way too late. You’ve got to figure out a time. If it’s not now, probably in the next six months, you ought to start welcoming people back in because they’re gonna come back in.

Jerry Cassandro: They’re gonna come back in, exactly. Yeah, I agree with that. They’re going to come back in as soon as they feel comfortable with what’s going on. As soon as they get the confidence in the economy again, they’ll start to drift back again. Now, it’s gonna be slow in the beginning, I think. There’s going to be a little bit of trickle. But it’s like I said before about the social proof, as soon as they start seeing other people doing it — it’s like the dance. Remember the teenage dance? Nobody’s dancing. And then once that first couple gets on the dance floor and starts in then everybody kind of floods the dance floor. I think that’s the way the economy is going to pick up. And that’s the way I think stores are gonna get refilled again with customers.

Stephen Semple: I have a little different take on that. Well, I’ll tell you one thing I am looking forward to, I’m looking forward to interactions becoming three dimensional again rather than these 2D dimensions.

Johnny Molson: Oh, heavens, yes.

Stephen Semple: But think back to 9/11. So 9/11, I think there’s a lot of parallels between 9/11 and this because it was this scary event that happened and it wasn’t like all of a sudden somebody said, all right, the terrorist threat is over, right. There was no ringing of the bell that this is over. We all gradually returned to things. But think about how security used to be in an airport and on an airplane before 9/11. Think about those security measures, how the door was open, people could go in and talk to the pilot, all this other stuff. If you permitted that today, people would not get on an airplane. They’d go “Are you nuts? Where’s the security?” If the security was not there, we would actually feel uncomfortable getting on an airplane.

There was all sorts of security measures that were done that were hidden, and there was all sorts of security measures that were done that were very in front of people, because what we needed to do was make people feel safe going on an airplane. But it also changed how we went to a hockey game and a baseball game and a football game and a concert in terms of the security levels and the metal detectors and the scanning of this, that, and the other thing. Without that, we would not have gone back to those places. It’s been long enough that things become a habit. You know, they say after 21 days something becomes a habit, right.

So, you know, I’ve gotten used to going to the grocery store and you line up six feet apart, you line up outside, and you go in and the person hands you the cart that’s all brushed off. And there’s the markings in terms of you stand here and you go down the aisles these direction, right. And it’s all normal now. The first time that you went up to that cashier behind the plexiglass, it was scary, right? “Oh my God, what’s going on?” Now, it’s like normal. The longer this goes, the more if a store does not have those things in place, people are not going to go in the store. And what my concern is, there’s a lot of retailers right now who are closed, who are doing nothing to prepare their store for reopening. They’re going to reopen their store exactly the way the store was when it closed. And there’s going to be two or three social posts about, “I cannot believe this store hasn’t done anything,” and they’re done.

Johnny Molson: Yeah. I think you’re right, and I think, too, that 9/11 point. Yes, it changed how we go to concerts. Yes, it changed how we get on airplanes. But we eventually started doing that more than we were beforehand, just in a different way. And I think there’s probably a lesson in there for retailers and for brick and mortar stores. Be thinking right now how you are going to reconfigure your store. And in such a way that it’s easier to get around and there’s more room and there’s a Purell thing at the door. I think those are the kinds of things we’re going to see a lot more frequently.

Stephen Semple: Yeah. And look, what are you doing right now? You’re not busy right now. You might as well be figuring that out right now.

Jerry Cassandro: I think when you you have true values of what’s important in your life. What are the things that we truly value? Not all these superficial things that we thought we valued. But what do we truly value? Family, convenience, comfort, togetherness? People are sitting home wondering what to do. Write a book. You can go for walks. I mean, we have been totally stripped away from all the superficial things that we thought were important in our lives. And we’re finding out now. They’re not that important. What’s really important are our true values. Family. Maybe a hobby. People are doing things today that they didn’t think they have time to do.

Johnny Molson: Yeah, that’s really interesting. You know, we were becoming more of an experience economy anyway. People were going after doing a great thing instead of buying a great thing. And you have to wonder, will that be even more important post COVID-19?

Stephen Semple: Probably. You know, I don’t want this all sound doom and gloom because to a certain degree this is sounding doom and gloom, right? “Oh, my God there’s this and there’s this…”

Johnny Molson: Well that’s your fault, Stephen. Jerry and I have a nice smile on our face [laughter].

Stephen Semple: Because I’m such a negative person [chuckling]. But the point is that there’s an opportunity here. That the companies that get this right and grab this by the horn and do this are garnering major, major market share. That the leaders today became leaders today on how they came out of the last economic challenge. Every time there’s a challenge, that’s actually the moment in which the winners are determined. And it’s the winners who are determined based upon who looks at that and says, “Holy smokes. The world’s changed. This is my opportunity. I can reconfigure this. I can make this work for everyone. And guess what? By extension, I win because everybody else gets it wrong.” So it’s actually an exciting time because it’s a massive opportunity.

Johnny Molson: We get creative when our backs are against the wall. And we’ve seen this time and time again and in recessions and depressions and wars and terrorist attacks. We get creative when we have to. Again, now we have to.

Stephen Semple: Yeah, now we have to. And fortunately I’ve been talking to a lot of people. But one of the things that I’m hearing is, “Well, when this gets back to normal,” and this belief, that it’s going back to what it was before. And if you have that belief or that approach, I think times are gonna be tough for you.

Johnny Molson: Thanks to Jerry and Stephen for their insights and the conversation continues with you in the YouTube comments. We’ll answer your questions on upcoming episodes of the Wizard’s roundtable.

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