Building Community in Troubled Times with Shane Barker

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Shane Barker is a digital strategist, influencer expert, teacher, podcaster, and speaker. He has a long track record of helping companies grow their revenue through the art of digital marketing. He has an equally stellar track record of helping influencers grow their careers.

Yet right now he’s not focused on numbers and deals. He’s focused on connection. Community. The COVID-19 crisis has shifted his perspective and his approach. Maybe it will shift back when all is said and done…but it sounds like Shane is welcoming the change, ready to move forward, not backwards, even after the dust clears and the world starts working its way towards recovery once more.

Hear what he’s got to say here on today’s episode of Agency Ahead.

The highlights:

  • (1:26) Don’t play hardball with contracts. Do this instead.
  • (4:54) Doing sales the right way during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • (6:02) How conversations are changing–for the better.
  • (9:40) Opportunities for businesses to make a change in the wake of COVID-19.
  • (12:02) Managing a marketing budget during a crisis.
  • (15:00) How agencies can use empathy to inform their approach.
  • (16:08) Building and supporting community and connection, and how businesses and individuals can help each other.
  • (22:00) How to choose the right messaging.
  • (28:29) Why “messaging” may be the last thing you want to think about.
  • (31:21) Shane’s causes. 

Don't play hardball with contracts. Do this instead.

Shane speaks of two high-profile clients he’d just signed, weeks before the crisis hit. When they called him to cancel he asked to set up a meeting.

They expected him to fight…to stand firm on the idea that they’d signed a contract. That legally, they couldn’t just drop him. A ‘nothing personal, it’s just business’ sort of approach. 

Shane took a different path.

“I was looking at this thing and thought the reason they’re doing this isn’t because of the service we provide. They’re doing it because they’re scared. And that’s understandable.”

When he got these clients into a meeting he said, “I’m going to tell you this time we’re a little fearful, and yet we’re doubling up on our marketing. I’m just going to tell you what we’re doing. This isn’t to push you guys in a direction where you feel like you have to continue with us, or where you feel uncomfortable. I’m going to tell you my initial thought was the same as yours. Very fearful. Code red. How are we going to handle this.

As he speaks, one can almost imagine Shane leaning forward to earnestly look his clients in the eyes, radiating empathy while trying to get an important message across. One he happens to believe and stand behind. “But then I said, you know what − we can manage this.”

Then he gave them an offer they didn’t expect.

“Outside of the contract. Let’s say we decided to stop. 100%. I’d still be willing to jump on a call with you guys once a week. Give you half an hour of my time, an hour of my time, whatever, just to help you guys out.”

At first these clients misunderstood. They were ready to brush him off with a we’ll think about it kind of response.

He said, “You don’t understand. My point isn’t to charge you for this stuff. Could I use that money? I could. But at the end of the day it’s not about money. It’s about helping you as an individual. As people. You need to figure out how to pivot, and you know, I’m really good at that.

He was sincere. He would have worked for them for free, but his clients appreciated what he had to say so much that they came back and worked out a new plan. 

In short? Empathy will carry you much farther right now, and perhaps in the long term. Kindness you bestow won’t be wasted, even if it’s hard to extend because your instinct will be to pull in and protect your own. 

Doing sales the right way during the COVID-19 crisis

Businesses shouldn’t stop, and neither should marketers. When everything stops, says Shane, that’s when things get scary.

Not stopping means at some point you’ve got to make some sales. Yet there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.

“When I do sales, I don’t really do sales. I educate you. And then, if you want to work with me, that’s awesome. I’m not going to hound you. You’ve reached out to me for a reason.”

Shane says it’s important to go at it from the human aspect. He says he also expects to see a lot more of that during and after the crisis. 

“It’s about helping each other.” 

He speaks of some of the things he’s seen, conversations he’s heard that used to be fringe that have now gone mainstream, like getting the homeless people sheltered and fed. 

“Moving forward — asking how can we be more humanistic when we talk about things? Whether marketing or life in general?” 

Sales goes back to empathy here too, and in approaching someone with a genuine desire to provide real help and value. You don’t need hardball tactics. People can genuinely sense when you’ve got their best interests at heart, and when you’ve got something that could genuinely help them meet their goals.

Opportunities for businesses to make changes in the wake of COVID-19

Shane points out that most people may not know it, but most businesses operate paycheck to paycheck just as many households do. 

“It sucks, but in the future I’m hoping people will maybe look at this a little differently. What do I need to do to prepare if something like this happens?”

He notes that prior to this event this pandemic was something that only happened in movies, so nobody prepared for it. That everyone was focused on putting out the daily fires.

“Hopefully this will get people to maybe put some money aside, and really kind of think about how to prepare.”

Managing a marketing budget during a crisis

“You can’t stop your budget. You don’t have five or ten or fifteen thousand a month? That scares you? Great, but you can’t stop your budget 100%. Because if you stop your budget 100%, you’re like everyone else.”

Shane points out that there are going to be real, concrete, monetary advantages for marketers and businesses who stay in the game.

“From a PPC perspective, people are pulling out. Guess what happens? Everything’s a bidding process. So if it used to be $5 a click and now it’s $1.50 because there’s no competition, guess what? You’ve just increased your budget.”

He points out that there are historic patterns here that marketers and business owners can look to.

“When the real estate market or the stock market crashes, 98% of the people stand back and say: oh my god, what are we going to do?

The people who get rich?

“The 2% that comes and says: I’m going to buy some houses. Time to go buy some Nike stock. Some Tesla stock.

Shane says it’s the same thing with marketing right now. Though he does offer some cautions.

“Look, don’t spend money you don’t feel comfortable spending, but spend enough to stay relevant. By staying relevant, you’re probably going to beat out 80% of your competition, because they’re stoned.”

Shane himself plans to double up on his marketing.

“I’m looking at all my competitors who are going to pause for 3 months and I’m saying thank you. Go ahead and pause it out, because this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to strike ahead. I’ll see you in my rearview mirror.”

What's your right now cause?

Shane is extremely passionate about supporting local businesses, particularly Mom and Pop shops. He has a background in the restaurant industry himself, and so understands what they’re going through.

“Buy gift cards. When will you use this? Maybe in a few months. Maybe never. But the point is to support people and their businesses.”

He acknowledges these efforts may feel small.

“Listen, your $30 meal probably isn’t going to keep that restaurant open, but if you have 10, 20, or 30 people that order, it makes a difference. This is something you can do to give back. These small ripples will equal big ripples, which is important.”

He’s eating takeout every night right now to support local, and urges people who can afford to do so to do the same. If they can’t, he encourages them to do it as they can, or to leave positive reviews in the venues that are currently accepting them, or to share the business on your social media sites. Or to pay half up front for services you won’t need until later.

“We’re in this together.”

Connect with Shane Barker

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building community shane barker

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