Advice during these difficult times is vital, and to help offer that needed lifeblood, Brian Anderson—who founded the advertising and marketing agency, The Perception in Northern Liberties—has offered some cardinal insight.
Anderson founded The Perception in 2011, a few years after he set out to create his own clothing line. With plenty of experience in the advertising world as a creative director, the young entrepreneur had a lot of ammunition to create a successful business, but with the 2008 recession came a lot of unforeseen difficulties. It was during this time that Anderson realized what he needed to survive tumultuous times in business, and that ideology also served him well during the pandemic and beyond when giving advice to others.
“When we look back over the last year, we see that many corporations have shrank in size and scaled back instantaneously due to the unknown future of the pandemic. Some businesses have unfortunately closed their doors and will never open again, some have reinvented themselves, and some, to be honest, are hanging on for dear life. But I think the conversation that we had around partnering with neighboring companies that made sense for your brand, is still a strategy that will work,” says Anderson.
When Metro first spoke to the advertising and marketing expert in April of last year, he broke his advice down to four points: Putting people first, building a safety statement, implementing cross-promotion and utilizing the digital sphere.
“Focusing on a digital future (orders taken online, and products shipped virtually) has definitely paid off for some businesses and will probably continue in some way, long after the pandemic is over. You’ve also seen restaurants really innovate on products and sell things that they usually wouldn’t, but has helped them stay alive. Basically, the truth is, we will all need to listen to cultural shifts throughout the coming year and react with speed and purpose. The brands that do that, have the best chance to make it through,” continues Anderson.
But the pandemic was not the only obstacle that 2020 provided for business owners to overcome. With the heat of the summer also came the heat of social justice in the form of diversity.
“This summer revealed one of our deepest wounds that has never healed, a history of social and economic injustice in America spanning generations. Companies were fast to react and put out well-measured statements to try to get on the right side of history in these times. From CEO letters to brands changing mascots and positioning, I’ve seen a lot occur in the past 12 months,” explains Anderson. “Some businesses pushed an ideology of a better tomorrow; but we have to question, did they always believe this? CEO letters do not define a companies culture, it is more so by the actions of individual team members, and how C-suite members embody their leadership staff. In today’s world, more and more, brand personality is a living, breathing thing. Companies take on specific characteristics and stand up for certain causes, and the crazy thing about promises is that when you make them….you have to keep them. Our society as a whole pays more attention to the companies that they support.”
Anderson says that accountability is more prevalent than ever today and that when a company does something that does not align with their values, someone will follow up or tell a friend not to shop or work there. “It all matters, we all matter, and as long as we as individuals are fair and give these companies time, anything is possible. Non-action is also considered action in the eyes of the consumer, so time is of the essence,” he says.
So, what does Anderson think will actually ignite that change?
“Change is one of the hardest things in the world for all of us to grapple with on a daily basis. We all have our own biases and preconceived notions about all things people. We need to allow time for those who need to change systemic problems that have taken place in this country for decades to be healed,” explains Anderson. “We need to plan for it, we need to execute against it and we need to acknowledge setbacks in the process to propel ourselves forward for the future. We have incredible poet laureates teaching us the way forward like Amanda Gorman and there are also outspoken individual citizens in the state of Georgia calling for neighbors and communities to change their ways of thinking despite what they were taught, like Cory Forrester. What’s going to change this is not going to be a fancy speech by one individual person, it’s going to be a collective understanding and change of value sets for all of us to consider each other as fellow human beings. If we all pay attention, those moments are happening now.”
Another key component to the survival of your business according to Anderson is innovation. The PR specialist refers to Super Bowl commercials when providing an example of just that.
“If you think about the 2021 Super Bowl commercials, they all had to start production primarily in the fall of 2020. At that point, we were unsure who our president would be, who would control Congress, when the first vaccines would roll out, and what the Super Bowl would actually look like. My comment about innovation was in the creative thinking level that would need to take place. First, it comes down to the ideas of, how would the American people vote? Were we optimistic about the future? Will we have vaccines released by the FDA? I’m sure those conversations ruled the creative departments as the sticky notes with ideas went flying. The other side of it was understanding what could be produced; meaning how could you create something in a pandemic that was safe enough for the actors, crew, and the production staff, that also made sense. To me, that’s innovation through and through. I can’t wait to see what came out of those rooms. It may not be cutting edge to me, but it will be all about execution,” he says.
Lastly, Anderson pushed home the point of ADA compliance, which he says most Americans are unaware of.
“The disabled population in the United States hovers around 20% of our people. On a day-to-day basis, they struggle to utilize the internet for all of its glory, like you and I. ADA compliance is all about making sure websites are designed in a way to be accessible so that the whole world can use the internet regardless of disabilities or not,” explains Anderson. “There are enforceable federal laws on the books that outline guidelines that each website owner should review to know if they have a problem. These guidelines cover a lot of different aspects regarding colors, font sizes etc. If you are having trouble sorting through the best practices yourself, you can hire or talk to an agency or design group (one that meets your budget) that understands the procedures and are well-versed in creating a website that adheres to today’s standards. This can save you from being sued and more importantly makes a better online experience for everyone. You want your brand to be accessible to all of your consumers and this is something that should not be ignored or put off down the line. The time is now since more and more people rely on the internet to survive during this pandemic.”
Anderson left his thoughts on the note of what not just organizations can do, but what we can do as individuals as well.
“For companies, this moment is a chance to reset and build a better tomorrow for the employees and customers in society as a whole. Take a fresh look at your internal processes, your audiences you speak to and build a brand that matters. And I can promise you that you’ll be rewarded for it,” he says. “For individuals, it’s a great time to step into someone else’s shoes, breathe in the moment, and make the necessary changes to propel your life forward. Consider this, we may not have all come from the same place, but we are all on our own journey in life headed to our own destinations. In the end, we all need a little help along the way.”