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How One Corporation Is Leading The Pack with their “Purposeful Pivot” to a Virtual Event Series

By Andrew Peters

Over the past 11 weeks (my how time flies when you’re sheltered in place) our team has audited A LOT of virtual events.

We’ve done this on behalf of our clients, our work, and to generally understand and memorialize how the events and experiences industry pivoted at an unprecedented moment in global history.

Living smack dab in the middle of the experience economy, our constant question has been “but what happens when there’s no experience allowed?” Certainly some of the early pivots were clunky (and applaudable) as companies had a week or two to move from entirely physical to entirely digital. But the question of moving from physical to digital is a procedural one and should raise a deeper question for the companies leading our western economy.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (which is not a place I’d like to work), the Gross Domestic Product of the “Experience Economy”  that’s attributable to arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodations, and food services was nearly $1.6 trillion last year. Most of the large corporations we serve spend tens to hundreds of millions of dollars on physical experiences, and in a moment the COVID19 crisis put the physical experience economy in a major time out. And like all of us, these companies have struggled to articulate a plan and produce virtual experiences that feel valuable in this highly uncertain time. But there have been some exceptions over the past few months.

At times the obvious truths are the easiest to overlook.

And connecting your response as a corporation to your core purpose as a business seems so obvious it’s almost silly. But that truth has certainly been a common thread of the companies that have stood out in this moment, as their leadership has delivered messaging and materials in line with the core purpose of their brand. Call it a “purposeful pivot,” as having a strong brand purpose allows leaders to make quick, decisive calls in moments that are highly uncertain. These “purposeful pivots” also allow corporations to deliver something that’s meaningful (even if it’s not in person) and bring a bit more good into this world. 

Salesforce’s stated mission is “to empower companies to connect with their customers in a whole new way.” But we all know actions speak louder than words, which is why the Salesforce “Leading Through Change” series has been such a powerful, purposeful pivot, with its virtual content reflecting Salesforce’s core purpose as deeply as any we have experienced.

Take two examples of recent “Leading Through Change” webcasts the company has done.

The Leading Through Change series was publicly announced April 7th, mere days after many of us were still wrapping our heads around what shelter-in-place actually meant for our lives. While the first episode in the series was great (it featured Soledad O’Brien), the second episode was nearly inescapable it was so good.

How a Coffee Shop Continues Serving Customers from Home

Salesforce ft. Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop

“Leading Through Change: How a Coffee Shop Continues Serving Customers from Home”

The episode centered on a real life coffee shop called Bitty & Beau’s, and the realities facing their business as they were staring down the barrel of the shelter-in-place orders issued across the country at that moment. Founded by owner Amy Wright and her husband Ben, the shop is run by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in honor of the couple’s two children – Bitty and Beau – who have Down Syndrome. You can check out more of their story here, but needless to say Amy and her husband Ben are compelling small business owners to talk to, navigating the twin dilemmas of closing their 5 physical locations and trying to help over 80

developmentally or intellectually disabled employees understand why the jobs they love and cherish are suddenly not available. The care by which Bill, the Salesforce host, navigated this conversation, and the clear relationship they already had (Salesforce had previously supported Bitty & Beau’s through various SaaS products in their portfolio) was beautifully authentic and believable. But one standout moment (and the one deeply connected to Salesforce’s core purpose) was when the host asked Ben which Salesforce product had been most helpful. Ben sheepishly replied “I have no idea what the name of the product is…” but then went on to deliver a powerful endorsement of exactly how the product has fundamentally changed the way they communicate with their customers in near real time as they pivoted from a brick and mortar retailer to an exclusively e-commerce site in a matter of days. I believed his endorsement, because he’s living it, and it actually made me want to know about the product because it framed its application in a real story I believed. Please watch the entire episode, as it is chock full of insight on this moment we’re all living in, and how to navigate it well as a small business owner. 

A Discussion on COVID-19 and Race in America

Salesforce ft. Ebony Beckwith, Van Jones, Dr. Camara Jones, and Ellen McGirt.

A Discussion on COVID-19 and Race in America.”

The other episode that blew my mind was, hosted by Salesforce Chief Philanthropy Officer Ebony Beckwith, brought together the CEO of REFORM Alliance and CNN Contributor Van Jones, Family Physician, and Epidemiologist Dr. Camara Jones, and Senior Editor at Fortune Ellen McGirt. This powerhouse group engaged in a raw, honest 45-minute conversation tackling head-on the ways COVID19 has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities, both from an infection rate and economic standpoint. They tackle hard questions without easy answers and wrestle through the role and responsibility of the Corporation in the midst of communities of color. It calls out the racism revealed explicitly in this COVID19 pandemic, and how those of us who do not share that cultural experience live a dual reality every day, divorced from the experience of tens of millions of our fellow Americans who may live mere minutes from us, providing viewers an important mirror to both recognize a system of inequality that has benefited one side of the sign.

In fact, the episode begins with a definition of racism that’s as pointed and memorable as any I’ve ever seen (Racism: “A system of structuring opportunity and of assigning value based on the social interpretation of one’s looks that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources”). The conversation goes on to explore the reality that through COVID19 “sick people,” the coronavirus outbreak has revealed the “sick systems” that have led to the widespread outbreaks in communities of color. Some of those sick systems may even include Salesforce enabled platforms and apps, yet the conversation isn’t avoided. Again, the mission of “empowering companies to connect with customers in new ways” is fulfilled at a deep level, facilitating a conversation I have yet to hear another corporation speak about so honestly.

The 6th stage of grief has been called “Finding Meaning,” and while the step follows “Acceptance,” it is not guaranteed that all people will experience it.

We as a world have experienced a collective grief far larger than any we’ve ever faced, and while most corporate leaders we’ve spoken with have accepted there is no “back to normal” for the companies they lead, very few have so beautifully found the meaning Salesforce has in their virtual content and messaging. With leadership so sorely lacking across so many of our institutions today, it’s been refreshing to encounter a company so clearly living out its brand purpose every day. Please consider watching all the episodes in the Salesforce “Leading Through Change” series, but consider starting with the Bitty and Beau’s and Race in America episodes.

They are truly exceptional examples of why a “purposeful pivot” to a virtual platform doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of the content or experience your brand is putting into the world. 

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