Ferrari F1 car racing around a track

Rumour has it that when the great Michael Schumacher used to sit on the front row of the F1 grid waiting for the lights to go out, apparently he always had a complete belief that he was about to win the race ahead of him.

At that point, he was an unbelievable driver, in a great car in a strong starting position. In fact, he was so confident that he even fancied his chances when he was occasionally forced to start the race from further back down the grid … the ‘Ferrari Schumacher’ package was that good and it’s why they dominated Formula 1 for years.

However, I suspect that if that very same car was sitting, covered up in the team garage while the driver himself was watching from the stands, then not even Michael Schumacher could have won the race from that position … although to be fair, I’m pretty sure he’d have given it a good go.

This may be an odd analogy to make when it comes to Coronavirus, but it is most definitely one that business owners and marketing directors should pay attention to as we look to come out of the ‘public lockdown v business shutdown’.

Let me make this very clear … it’s not about what you do as a business when we get out of this, it’s about what you do now. That will define where you start the race from when the lights go out, that will define what position you take on the grid against your competitors and that will define whether you’re Michael Schumacher or whether you’re Enrique Bernoldi (don’t worry, I had to look him up as well).

A few weeks ago, Fuel’s Creative Director, Ed Watson, wrote a piece called ‘Are we heading for a Brandemic?’ and the simple answer is ‘yes’; many brands are and you only have to look at Ryanair and Hoseasons as the perfect ‘Exhibit A’s’. However, if you want to answer the question on a slightly more complex level, the article also highlighted how the actions that brands take now will have an impact when we exit this whole thing.

It’s about making sure that you do something now in terms of marketing and don’t just leave it, in other words ‘keep the engine running, don’t turn it off and whatever you do, don’t bloody stall it’.

Take our favourite pizza chain, Franco Manca. Famed for their unbelievable Neapolitan sourdough pizzas, they have 50 sites across the UK (sadly our closest is in Exeter). As a business, they fully understand the lockdown and those implications but far from sitting back and waiting, they very quickly shifted into ‘preparation mode’ making sure that as a business they are perfectly placed for when ‘lockdown lift-off’ is given the go-ahead.

They were one of the first restaurant chains to start delivering free food to NHS staff with volunteers preparing and delivering the food for nothing. They didn’t do this for commercial gain they did it because they wanted to help. However, the knock-on effect will definitely help redefine them as a business with NHS staff and the wider community, presumably many of whom regularly live, work or pass by a Franco Manca restaurant.

Then there’s the social media side of things which they instantly started using to dispel myths and lift the lid on trade secrets. No top-secret approach to ingredients with these guys (spoiler alert: the secret ingredient in KFC is salt). Instead, they actively sought to share their sourdough recipes with their customers because they thought ‘people might be missing us’. I think it was the Chancellor that said ‘we will be judged by our capacity for compassion’ and that people will ‘remember the small acts of kindness done by us and to us’ and that is no different for businesses or brands.

This is a new and slightly novel approach for business, it’s about being decent, kind and generous and will it undoubtedly help these organisations in the long run when this is all done and dusted.

If you want to return to the Formula 1 analogy our advice to businesses and brands is reasonably simple. This pandemic is like a tyre changing pit stop. There’s a loss of time as you drive into the pits, then there’s the standstill itself and this is then followed by the rejoining of the race … you may only be stood still for 10 seconds but the overall time loss is significantly more and potentially creates a race losing position.

Like any formula one driver emerging from the tunnel at Monte Carlo’s world-famous race circuit, your business will soon have the opportunity to exit the dark moments and move into the light. The brands that succeed will be doing so in top gear, not first or second.

So take our advice as experienced marketing experts and get yourself ready now, do not leave it until the lockdown is lifted because that will definitely be too late…