Decisions, Decisions: Challenges confronting businesses and brands in a multi-crisis world and the framework to move forward

Imagine if only half of America had undergone World War II.

Imagine if only half of America had experienced the Global War on Terror.

What if you had to bridge the divide in one country, all in one year…?




The world has changed. There is no going back. We need a map for the future. Decisions have to be made. And your customers are going to make decisions regardless of your action.  It is only by taking action yourself that you can influence your future.And there’s a way to do that, with practical advice for real-world problems, by understanding some key foundational information. Let’s call it the “Boldest Safe Decision.”

Your Background: A Tale of Two Countries 

Divisions pervaded this country before COVID-19 across race, gender, income, and politics.  And now there’s an even bigger divide…

Half of the country experienced a shutdown of a few weeks…while the other half experienced it for months.

Half of the country believes we need to shut down to save lives…the other half believes it’s an affront to constitutional rights.

Half of the country did more, did new, streamed more, worked from home…while the other half did not.

Half of the country feels that racism is a problem…while the other half does not.

Half the country either lost their job or is underemployed…while the other half is still going.

The data tells a singular story – we have a country even more divided. But data tells us where the divide is and how to bridge it, or when we need to come down on one side of it.  There is a framework to determine your way forward.

Your Context and Framework:

America is a country divided, on top of its existing political, gender, racial, and income divides. In almost every single behavior, belief, or action, the country is divided almost exactly in half. And now the challenge is meeting both Americas.

But a framework can help.

We’ve laid out several challenges based in data –core areas where the divide and its impact are most pronounced.  That same data, however, also shows us the way forward, with clear paths to acknowledging consumer differences, and bridging them.


All those divides that teetered on the verge of spilling over before COVID-19?  They’re still there.  And now they’ve amplified the divide of the virus, which impacted low-income and communities of color disproportionately, and created an even grater divide.  So everything we did before now has added complexity.  This is four-dimensional chess, with amplified sensitivities.

The way forward?

Start with empathy and a focus on people as humans, not consumers.  Relate to them, understand them.

Focus on those people, not on you.  What do they need, what do they feel, who are they?  Speak to them in their voice, their needs, their wants.

Make sure your brand message doesn’t split audiences –they’re already split.  But even accidental and subtle images and copy can have a huge impact – a wealthy woman on a Peloton bike, hyper-expensive accessories, details, etc.

Stop and think.  Take a beat.  When in doubt, there is no second chance, so get it right.

Look to subject matter in the space internally and externally.


In the past, you could make a mistake and recover. You could take time to evaluate pros and cons.  Now you need to prepare in advance, and you have one shot.  Swift, decisive, and thoughtful action isn’t just a ”nice to have,” it’s now a requirement. In a divided America…If you dally, both sides will come for you. If your message is muddled, your authenticity is questioned. If you don’t make the decision, precedent will be set for you.

The way forward?

Lead with empathy and understanding.

Know your values, and know how to operationalize against them for both employees and consumers. If a decision is going to offend part of the country, make sure it’s the right one, and be proactive in your messaging.

Make a list of concrete decisions you need to make and how culture impacts your business, not just every business.

Protect yourself with expertise.  Be serious, introspective, and knows about where you’re weak, and engage outside experts.  If your HR plan is more tactical, get strategic.  If your messaging is tactical, add a cultural filter.


The world talks about more work from home, smaller leases, more virtual. But that may not be the right decision. Moreover, the country itself faces a crunch in housing, jobs, resources. For those who still have a job, that job looks different. And for those who are struggling, the struggle is tighter.

The way forward?

Know the environment: the job market will be more fluid, your employee pool will be different, D&I should be front and center.  How are you operationalizing diversity recruiting in a digital world?

Know your footprint needs: with social distancing, you may still need the same space for 1/3 the people.

Know that people need people: temporary increases in productivity will go away, and isolation leads to drops in happiness. America was predicated on “social business-ing” long before “social distancing.” Buck the trend, and follow the data: people need to be together as much as health and science will permit.

Know how to make a difference: with more resources needed for fewer people, figure out where you need to lean into, and where resources can pivot, not be cut.


According to a May Rogers & Cowan PMK Study, half did “more” and “new” in COVID-19. Half did not.

• 68% cooked more…but the rest didn’t.

• 42% played more video games…but the rest didn’t.

• 55% streamed more content…but the rest didn’t.

• 49% listened to more music…but the rest didn’t.

• 55% did more social posting…but the rest didn’t.

• 56% tried DIY…but the rest didn’t.

When you market your product, when you think about your consumers’ habits, know that half your consumers had one experience, and the other half didn’t.  And those differences were also amplified by race and gender.

The way forward?

Acknowledge shared difficulties at the highest level, but avoid trying to talk about a specific COVID-19 experience.

Focus on product utility and value, not COVID-19 experiences.  Even while people must acknowledge and talk about COVID-19, they’re growing weary of brands doing so.

When being specific, isolate and gate your messages.


Divides don’t go away. They just add to the existing ones. Half of those who “did more” plan on doing more, forever. At home workouts, Ina Garten cooking dreams, backyard strawberry patches. The rest kept on with their “old” lives. More than 40% of workers were “essential” and had to go to work just like always. Others chose to live their lives outside shutdowns, even while being economically impacted.  

The way forward?

If your product appealed to one audience:

Insulate yourself from coming competition. Build loyalty based on product experience, not brand halo. Bridge to post-COVID-19 messaging to compete with the world as it is now and in the future, not “stay at home”

If your market bridges both audiences:

Focus on the product, not the divided experience. Find commonalities about what unites us. Understand the gap and be prepared to come down on one side if necessary. And make sure it’s the right side.


Studies consistently show: 1/3 of the country is ready to engage in the first week, 1/3 will do it in the first month, 1/3 want to wait until 2021. What to do?

The way forward?

Know where you fall, and where your consumers fall.

Almost everyone wants to go to a restaurant and soon. Be ready, be prepared, make decisions now.

More than half want to travel this year, while 39% want to wait until 2021.  If you’re in hospitality, find a way to appeal to those who are ready to hear your message.

More than 70% of Americans won’t attend a concert or sporting event even if allowed before 2021.  If you’re in those industries, pivot, innovate, and gird for a hard road.

Ancillary services will reflect these businesses and their rolling needs—from real estate to insurance and beyond.

Understand that communities of color are disparately impacted – so don’t rush to promote one success at the risk of being tone deaf.


We see the news about facemasks, social distancing, and safety measures, but the plain truth is not everyone sees it that way. In a May 2020 Rogers & Cowan PMK Study: Only 62% want social distancing. Just over half want facemasks. Even only 68% want staggered seating.

The way forward?

Your staff, and your consumers, are divided. When you re-open you need to accommodate those looking for visible signs of protection while watching your margins and footprint.

Know the limitations of your staff and how to accommodate—are Uber credits the mass transit pass?Are you flexible on return dates?

But understand that a choice is coming: your two customer bases and their desires will conflict. Know what side you choose, and be prepared to side with one, or lose both.  And no matter what side you choose, lead with empathy and understanding—people want to felt heard.


Recent weeks have shown that, for many Americans, safety isn’t just about whether you’ll contract a virus.  It’s about stepping out of your house. And it’s not just about people of color—consumers across the spectrum are stepping up their social activism to support movements like Black Lives Matter. 

The way forward?

Do a deep dive internally to know and own your limitations.

Don’t go it alone. The crisis in society is too complex to craft a strategy on your own.  You will probably only get one shot: use an expert.

Listen. Listen to others, even if you don’t want to.

Be empathetic. Come from a place of empathy. Lead as a human, and ask to be treated like one. If you’re a major brand, your brand is made up of humans. Focus on them.

Take ownership of past mistakes, acknowledge current bias, and develop concrete, actionable plans.

Know that this all can’t be solved overnight.

Understand that it’s ok to have corporate objectives. Businesses still operate. You just have to be aware of their impact.


We’ve all heard the jokes about writing 2020 off, and we’ve all seen the kids leaping across zoom calls. But the underlying problem is real: the strains of economic hardship, isolation, missed expectations, and parenting. And then there is the fear under it all – if not for you, for your parents or children or friends.  Well-being is important.

The way forward?

Accept that you have emotional health needs.  No, really. Too often, leaders think this doesn’t apply to them.  But the best leaders self-identify and lead by example.

Help your staff and customers self-identify.  It doesn’t matter how many ”wellness” resources you have if no one who needs them uses them, or if people think the problem don’t apply to them.

Know that many people, including communities of color, are recognizing ongoing pain, re-emphasized now.

Take clear, decisive action, and reinforce it as a matter of policy.  Make compliance imperative, not optional.


Society has always had a divide. And now there’s another one. The impact of COVID-19 is society-changing. It’s a sharp left turn into a new future, but one where all the challenges of the past are still very much in focus. 

Challenges are not insurmountable. But you have to proactively plan and be ready in real time.  You need to know your risks, and make the boldest possible moves at the right time—and with the right “heart.” These are just some of the challenges – but all of them are conquerable.  Through it all, be firm, be proactive, and acknowledge the underlying reality that…

two Americas are here to stay

… and your future depends on how you manage that. And if you manage that understanding correctly, you can bridge the divide and actually bring those sides closer together—an America we all want.  Isolation is painful, unification is good for people and for business.