Lockdown lovehandles? Curb your heuristic impulses and guard your reputation

Lockdown lovehandles? Curb your heuristic impulses and guard your reputation

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

We all have conscious and unconscious opinions that influence our decisions, but it’s the emotional, unconscious opinions that people are more likely to follow. Why? Because we’re human, we like shortcuts and sometimes we don’t want to think too much about something. If ‘Simon’ says it’s great, then it must be great and that’s good enough for me too. We have busy lives, even in lockdown, and sometimes we want to save ourselves the time and hassle of fretting over every decision.

Here’s an example: I decided I wanted to embark on a healthy eating and fitness mission, but being in tech PR & comms, and wanting to enhance my baking skills in lockdown, I also dreamt of buying a Wi-Fi-enabled, app-controlled breadmaker. My friend Simon said his breadmaker was brilliant. So, I didn’t do any research and bought the same one. But, after baking bread daily for 2 months, I have gained a lot of extra pounds and, whilst fun, it has achieved the opposite of my intention. I can’t blame Simon, or the breadmaker, but the decision was hasty and impact weighty.

This shortcut thinking is called heuristic thinking. It’s a way for our brains to save a bit of energy and to work more efficiently. Often, we’ll make a quick, irrational or impulsive decision, that won’t be completely reckless, but sometimes we won’t be aware we’re even doing it. And it happens a lot, every day. Why do we reach for the same brand in the supermarket? Why did we all panic about loo roll a few weeks ago? Intelligent, sensible people became obsessed with a quest to buy loo roll, and yet, the nation survived.

In my lockdown cocoon (and bread heaven), I’ve missed shooting the breeze with my friends and colleagues. Zoom works just fine, but there’s always some element of formality to it and the conversation isn’t as free flowing. I’ve missed sharing problems and giving and receiving those tidbits of information that will help shape my own opinions and perhaps help me make some good decisions throughout the day. That said, I haven’t totally ignored all third-party opinions. I’ve read a lot of content online, attended many webinars and researched many topics via Google. But I do miss the face-to-face exchanges with people, bringing outside thinking into my opinions.

Given the ‘follow factor’ of the unconscious opinion, it’s made me realise that what other people say about you, your product/service or your business is the most powerful trigger. That instant ‘warm recall’ of a product/service or a company that puts a smile on someone’s face, and creates loyal, returning or new customers is surely the holy grail of reputation.

But how do people form their opinions in the first place? They may be based on what others say, or their previous thinking and behaviour patterns, or maybe they have an experience which forms it.

Guessing what sort of reputation you, your product/service or business might have based on a few recent interactions is very dangerous. No data means no depth. And this is where heuristic thinking is positively lethal. You really need to know the truth and not follow your rule of thumb hunch. You need to proactively ask and engage with all your stakeholders. A sample size of 35 per category is a good start because of the Central Limit Theorem. However, asking more people is always more accurate and recommended.

Start with your employees first because they are the window to your company’s soul, and if the team isn’t feeling it, then the customers certainly won’t. Use every opportunity you can to gain employee feedback – whether it’s a team-wide survey after a product launch, a monthly all-hands meeting or an impromptu Q&A session with the senior leadership team. Opening up the floor and encouraging your employees to ask questions will help make informed decisions, and avoid employee backlash later on, when it might be too late.

What your workforce really thinks of how they were treated in lockdown will be known relatively soon. When business picks up, will they vote with their feet and leave? What will your Glassdoor reviews be like this time next year, when you’ll be hiring again? I know plenty of people who have said that they’ll be moving on just as soon as the job market opens up. The true colours of leadership teams were shown recently, and, for some, it wasn’t admirable at all. So, how did your leadership team cope with COVID-19? Are they admired or derided?

Next on the list is your customers. Throughout the pandemic you might have been offering reduced services, how did your customers react? Were they satisfied with the customer service and given clear instructions on what to do in their particular situation? Looking into what’s being said about your brand on social media is one of the easiest and quickest ways to gain customer insights, whilst small focus group can go even deeper. At this time, your customers will expect you to have all the answers, even if you don’t know them yourself, but it’s how you’ve reacted and responded to your customers that will be key to how you’ll be viewed in the post-pandemic world. So, did you delight or dismay your customers?

How businesses have responded to this recent crisis will be remembered for a very long time. And, of course, depending on the outcome of the above will depend on how your prospects see you. How will your business emerge?

Will you pull through with a great reputation? Will you have the reputation you deserve? Will it be a reputation to help you rebuild or grow your business? If not, maybe you need to work out where your reputation gap is between what you say you do, and what people experience.

There are no shortcuts to true excellence and success. It is earned. It needs to be worked on every day. Reshaping a reputation without real insight and data could waste much effort, money and time. It would not be a shortcut but a potentially long road to a wilderness, even if the intention is good.

So, about that bread machine… it’s been a blast, but it’s relegated from the worktop to the back of the kitchen cupboard for now. Simon and I have now signed up to a new healthy eating meal plan, involving no bread, and the extra weight is disappearing very slowly. Bake in haste, repent at leisure.

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