It’s been a challenging two years for many of us, but hopefully we are moving past the worst of it, which makes it a good time to step back, take a deep breath, and assess the changes that have occurred. We have had much to learn — and even more to gain.
Recently, a panel of leading Bay Area marketers came together to share their deep personal and professional lessons from the pandemic and how they continue to tackle the “new normal” with both purpose and vigor. Panelists included Laurie Dewan, VP Customer Insights at Healthline Media; Yvonne Chen, VP Marketing at Udemy for Business; and myself, Guisselle Nuñez, AVP Strategic Marketing Communications at San Francisco State University. Laliv Hadar, VP Marketing and Branding for inVision Communications and AMASF Board Member, moderated the panel.
Here are a few of the lessons shared:
Lesson 1: Self-Care and Self-Awareness Pay Dividends
“The pandemic helped me realize that I needed more whitespace in my life. That whitespace allowed me to find stillness in my daily life, increased my self-awareness of my feelings, and learn what I needed to be fulfilled in my life.” Guisselle Nuñez
The pandemic forced us to slow down, take stock, and (for many of us) juggle our families and professional lives from home. During this stressful time, improving self-care became a top priority.
Organizations Focus on Employee Self-Care
Yvonne shared that Udemy encourages their managers to find ways to help their employees make time for self-care. Udemy realized this was essential for building and maintaining resiliency in their teams. Udemy offers team meditations, virtual team bonding events to encourage social connection, and a volunteer employee group that provides listening time to fellow colleagues. Yvonne shared helpful health tips, such as one that came from her mom, an optometrist, who recommends we practice the 20:20:20 rule for maintaining good eye health. What’s the rule? Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away.
When the Work-Life Wall Comes Down
Laliv came to the realization that, for the first time in her career, she allowed her professional and personal life to co-mingle. As a mom and busy marketing professional, she was forced to simultaneously manage work and kids at home, during the workday. Realizing and accepting this allowed her to be more authentic and build deeper connections with her colleagues and team members.
Laurie mourned the loss of feeling in control of her life. Two years ago, she had her life planned out. Then the pandemic hit and everything changed. She was no longer certain of anything. She had defined herself by her certainty of knowing what her plans would be, but after mourning the loss of control, she came away more open to uncertainty. Accepting uncertainty opened up the opportunity for her to be more empathetic and compassionate with those around her. She is now okay with saying, “I don’t know.”
Taking Stock and Rearranging Priorities
During COVID many people began taking stock of their lives, rearranging priorities to match their values. Therapists agree that a crisis of this scale can enable people to pull the trigger on major life decisions they’d been putting off, such as quitting a job they hate, moving in with a partner, even getting married or divorced. Such major life decisions could be influenced by people’s ongoing feelings of restlessness and being ‘stuck.’ Sometimes the only way to really connect to these ongoing feelings is by making it a priority to find stillness in your life. In stillness, there can be growth. And the lockdown finally made us sit still.
I shared my own story of how stillness allowed me the space for increased self-awareness. This self-awareness and acknowledgement of feelings has led to a better understanding of my need to be fulfilled in life. I spent months in couples and individual counseling, worked with a spiritual coach, practiced hyper-focused self-care by adding new activities to my exercise routine in addition to my existing meditation and journaling practice, all of which helped me get to the right mental space for making some important life decisions.
How has more stillness, or “whitespace” changed my life? I am committed to re-prioritizing community and personal commitments. I have a deep devotional commitment to remaining spiritually connected and grounded every day. Whatever your path to reducing stress, self-care and improving mental wellness, I recommend staying the course in your practice.
Lesson 2: Learn How to Brand Yourself in an Online Interview Process
“Organizations had preconceived notions on hiring- we thought you couldn’t hire great people fully remote, that it had to be in person. But we were proven wrong, and it turns out you can hire great people in a fully remote interview environment.” Yvonne Chen
Remote Hiring is Here to Stay
Many people across the world have interviewed and started new jobs during this pandemic. Those interviews have most likely taken place virtually. As Yvonne shared, organizations now realize they can hire great people remotely, so even though organizations may not scrap in-person interviews altogether, it’s likely remote interviews are here to stay. So how do you brand yourself through a computer screen during your interviews?
Shine Through the Zoom Box
Here are a few tips that were shared on how to ace a virtual interview and ensure your personal brand is clear and strong.
- Have a strong introduction and closing. Learn how to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself and why you want this job?” in 3-5 minutes, by starting with a high-level overview via a personal brand statement, then relating more specific experience to the job, and sharing something personal about your connection and interest in the job. Use an abbreviated version of the introduction as your closing. Nail this introduction, and you’ll start strong and confident. This will allow you to relax and redirect your energy to ensure you are fully present and authentic during your interview.
- Your Zoom background should show your personality. Pick a lively background that shows your personality, to give the interviewer something to start a conversation. Whether pictures of your family or your favorite books, giving interviewers a glimpse of your personality is a helpful way to connect in a virtual world. I have a large canvas of pictures taken from the varied places I have traveled, and those pictures often become an icebreaker.
- Shine through the Zoom box. Consider your wardrobe carefully, and ensure you wear jewel-toned colors that will brighten your face and skin tone through the computer screen. Also, ensure you use lighting to evenly disperse and brighten your face.
- Practice mindfulness. Make time for stillness pre- and post-interview. Especially if you are already in back-to-back video conferencing meetings, make the time to organize your thoughts and your energy. After each interview, review your experience by jotting down the questions you were asked and let go of any attachments to getting that job – if it is meant to happen, it will. Your job is to prepare emotionally, so that you can stay fully present during the interview experience. To shine through that box, you need to be your confident, authentic self.
Lesson 3: Organizations Changed Marketing Priorities to Fit Evolving Customer Needs
“It’s been an intense year of keeping consumer insights front and center, continuing the content experience that readers needed right now – and we needed to be grounded when listening to our customers’ needs.” Laurie Dewan
Deep Listening is King
Listening to customers’ needs and their unique experiences during the pandemic is how some organizations are changing the ways they market and communicate with their clients. Listening to customers has always been a priority in ongoing market research, but during the pandemic listening became a mandatory and daily and interactive experience with customers for all marketers. The pandemic health information, rules and guidelines evolved almost daily. Thus, the information consumers sought out and decisions they made also evolved.
Laurie, who leads a brand-new team for Healthline Media, now brings together consumer insights, brand strategy, and multi-channel communications. Her team’s goal is to deliver content grounded in Healthline Media’s values, coupled with understanding their customers’ lived experiences and needs. In the early days of the pandemic, the team conducted constant research of their various consumer audiences, ranging from parents to people with chronic health conditions. Listening and gathering insights enabled Health Line to provide not only the basic medical information that people wanted to know about COVID-19, but it also allowed them to understand that their consumers were in real need of mental health content and support. Healthline’s work is grounded in people’s needs, and that includes needs of internal customers such as advertisers and content builders. Healthline’s deep listening has guided their content development to be a true reflection of their consumers’ lived experiences.
Change in the Customer Landscape
Similarly, Yvonne shared that COVID-19 brought about a huge shift in how people learn and the kinds of information they sought online. Organizations, from traditional higher education institutions to online education organizations, had to quickly adapt to the new learning environment. For higher education institutions such as San Francisco State University, the educational landscape during the pandemic brought about a hemorrhaging, creating a generation of lost students who could not learn in the new online environment. For many higher education institutions, the re-opening may not come fast enough. We have only scratched the surface to recapture those students, and those efforts will require additional dollars to provide them with academic and mental health support services.
For Udemy, even though they had an increase in enrollment and usage of their platform by instructors, it was also matched with the loss of employers able to continue to afford the learning platform for their employees. Yvonne’s team made a quick pivot to more closely partner with internal sales and marketing teams to find ways to provide additional value to their employee partners, to help drive their productivity, and find ways to use the learning platform as a tool for them to provide mental health relief and support to their employees.
The Path Forward
Nobody knows what the ultimate outcome of the COVID-19 crisis will be. As Laurie said, we must accept and trust uncertainty. The lessons shared by our panelists show us that we are resilient. Even when physically apart we can still lean on and learn from each other and ourselves – and this should give each of us hope and courage for the uncertainties in our lives tomorrow.
- Laurie Dewan, VP Customer Insights, Healthline Media
- Yvonne Chen, VP Marketing, Udemy for Business
- Guisselle Nuñez, Assoc. VP, Strategic Marketing Communications
- Moderator: Laliv Hadar, VP Marketing and Branding, inVision Communications (Board Member, AMASF)