By: Robin Gruen; Andy Azinger

COVID-19 shuttered businesses. But it’s time to stop saying we’ll get back to business when things return to normal, particularly for marketing your brand. Robin Gruen, Vice President-Creative Strategy and Business Development, helps you elevate you approach in the “new normal.”

Duration: 15:15



Robin Gruen: The new normal is changing. It’s evolving every single day. Right? So, it keeps us on our toes from a marketing standpoint, but it also just gives us opportunity to try new things—test and learn.

Andy: That’s Robin Gruen, Vice President of Creative Strategy and Business Development with The Lowe Group. She’s here with ideas for marketing in the “new” normal. I’m Andy Azinger. This is the lowdown podcast.

[Musical interlude]

Andy: Hello, Robin. How are you?

Robin: I’m good. How are you?

Andy: Well I’m doing about as good as I can be in this new normal we’re in. And that’s the point of this whole conversation.

Robin: Absolutely. And do we need to redefine what normal even means? I mean, will there ever be a time when things go back to normal? That was that was the impetus for my thinking about what that means professionally, and how, in a marketing sense, we can help clients with that.

Andy: Well, as you led off, this is a really a great time for companies to test and learn. Try something new. Right? And that means a company needs to embrace change.

Robin: That’s right. I mean, I think right now we have a really beautiful moment to capture that spirit: rhe spirit of just human connection and humanizing stories and humanizing brands. I think we’re in this really, I’m saying beautiful, but it’s a bizarre time. Everybody, I believe, is seeking the same thing which is a connection. To what they know to be real or true or authentic, right? And so, it’s a great time, from a marketing standpoint, to embrace that and really try to connect with humans on a personal level.

Andy: Can you characterize what a company is doing to embrace change and, and how they’re doing it well in this environment, and then maybe turn that around and characterize kind of how a company might be falling short.

Robin: I think the companies that are doing it well right now are able to authentically weave into the fabric of what’s happening. So not from like a high level CEO, I sit in a glass house and look down on the little people, but the people who are taking advice probably from other people in their teams, more junior members, they’re doing an amazing job of listening to employees, listening to employees who have felt slighted who are feeling scared. If we talk about Black Lives Matter, if we talk about what’s happening with the virus, there’s all sorts of true human emotion right now that are happening, right? People literally are feeling masked and unmasked all the time. They’re feeling vulnerable and scared. Also, like their voice is finally being heard, but they’re not being seen. You know, it’s very challenging time. So I think the companies that are doing it right are really listening. They’re doing a lot of the marketing tips that I talked about: humanizing, connecting, tweaking, they’re doing those things, actually, internally, to then externally succeed. And I think the companies that we’re seeing maybe fall behind are the ones who are kind of closing their eyes and closing their ears to the people who matter most, which are the people who work with and for them, from clients to their own employees.

Andy: Well, and it must be courageous for leadership to approach the new normal in this way; you called it, “in the spirit of human connection.”

Robin: Absolutely. I remember at the beginning of the virus – it was probably a month or so in -there was this amazing letter that was shared from, I guess the president of Airbnb when he had to lay off a ton of people. And the way that he did it with such humility, kindness, even what he was able to give to his employees as they had to depart was pretty miraculous. And although so many people lost their jobs, it was his way to connect to them as humans. That is why people were talking about after. It actually ended up being a marketing move that was successful that he never intended, because it wasn’t meant to be a PR story. But let me tell you some people are more likely now to book with Airbnb, because they saw that man be real and raw and sad, but also honest, I mean, the honesty factor is lacking so much right now that we take it and we run with it and we feel it. So I don’t know if that entirely answers the question, but I think it hits on something that we’re all feeling right now, which is, I only want to engage with, I only want to buy from, I only want to consume those that I feel connected too and those that I feel are doing good.

Andy: All right. Well, let’s get to those tips of yours for marketing in the new normal. But first, a brief recap in a moment to let that sink in. We’re not sure when or if we get back to normal. So instead of standing still and waiting, embrace change and embrace it with that spirit of human connection. Sound about right? Perfect. We’ll be right back.

[Musical Interlude]

Andy: Robin you’re coming at marketing with a new set of rules? Yes, three tips. The first is keep communicating.

Robin: Keep talking, keep listening. Gosh, we have so many methods now for communicating. I remember when we just would talk on the phone, email, obviously texting. Then you go into all the social channels. Everybody FaceTimes everybody, and you get on zooms or on teams.  This isn’t based on a research poll, but this is me as a human as a marketer, that I feel we are hungrier than ever for human connection.

Andy: And second, you suggest we rethink our methods, is that kind of the test and learn we talked about earlier?

Robin: That’s right. Maybe you were a brand that did a lot of events. Events are a big business, right? And we’re seeing that, unfortunately, it’s one of the businesses hurt the most is the hospitality industry. So we have to rethink the way that we go about our business. Are we doing much more virtual stuff, look to your audience and ask them what they’re desiring? Are they wanting, you know, weekly in person, on-screen meetings? When we think about email or bringing in very big-time speakers at conferences, for example, that has changed too. Right? I would argue that a lot of the people who would come in person and and speak and talk…well, part of the reason those fees were so high was the exclusivity element, of course, but it was also that they were meeting and greeting and chit chatting and shaking hands and signing things. Well, guess what? That’s not happening anytime soon. So if there’s opportunities to do that more, virtually, I’d argue that some of those speakers would really be engaged and entertained to do that. There’s opportunity that we should embrace in our methods and our ways of doing work.

Andy: And last, you talked about humanizing messaging. And you gave us a great example of that earlier with the Airbnb. But as we go through your tips, you also weighted them heavier towards this particular one humanizing messaging, why?

Robin Gruen: So this is something that actually I’ve been talking about and really passionate about for almost my entire career, you know, almost 20 years, but really for the past 10. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with a large amount of CPG brands, grocers, shelter, business, education, healthcare. I’ve worked across every traditional I would say advertising and marketing vertical. And what I see time and time again, is that the marketing messages that ring the truest are the ones that feel the most human. As consumers let’s, you know, switch hats for a minute and think about ourselves as just everyday people consuming. The options are endless right now. And they have been for quite some time. And so how do you stand out? How do you connect differently, and when we look at the different audiences we’re trying to reach? All of those audiences consume a little bit differently to and connect to brands differently and so when I say humanize your story, it’s often showed the people who are either your consumers or the people who work with you and work for you. Show us what those real humans behind what we’re consuming or doing or reacting to look like, speak like

Andy: Okay. Well, Robin, you break humanizing the messaging down into three parts. And the first is communication is alive and well.

Robin: There’s so many ways to communicate, right? So to just say, I’m going to just do some, let’s talk about it from an advertising standpoint for a second. I’m just gonna do out of home. That’s the only advertising message I want to do. I don’t need to do broadcast. I don’t need to do print. I don’t need to do digital. I’m just going to do out of home. You’re missing your mark because communication is alive and well. People are consuming more media, more news than ever before. If you just again, you take off your marketing hat, and you put on your human hat, we have a lot of time on our hands to be scrolling through the feeds to be toying between Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Roku, I mean,  the options are endless, right? And so communication is alive and well, meaning people are hungry for communication.

Andy: And second, the second tip is online has more engagement and opportunity. What do you mean by that?

Robin: I meant it mostly from the standpoint that if you were relying on a lot of in person meetings, in person events, in person conferences, again, going back to kind of the second rule that you’ve missed opportunity, because online is an awesome place to engage. Sometimes I find myself going through a rabbit hole of direct messaging with somebody for like a solid hour and a half and then we finally get on the phone. But again, it’s all this back and forth. You think about obviously the opportunity with podcasting, with you know, and I just think there’s so much more online capability and engagement than ever before. And it’s only going to continue because we don’t have the in person.

Andy: And third and last, and I love this by the way humans win the day.

Robin: So, again, I mean, you can tell just by talking to me and listening to me, and, you know, reading me, I mean, I’m very much about the power of human connection. And so, I believe that as a brand, we have an opportunity to be human first.  Make your messaging be about the people because it’s connecting to me, Robin, as a human consumer. If brands and clients can think about that with their marketing message, it’s so much more powerful. Bring it back to the human who you’re honestly trying to win. Right. That’s it. At the end of the day, it’s about, you know, conversion. It’s about getting people to want to work with you, buy from you, try your product or your service, you need to win the human or you’re not going to win the day.

Andy: So, Robin as we put a wrapper on this program, I’d want to hear your thoughts on how this approach fits into financial services. It seems like you know, not only is this a good opportunity for a financial services brand to learn how to effectively present themselves, but also to help the clients that they serve, to help be a little bit more relatable to their clients in order to help them meet their financial needs.

Robin: One hundred percent. Of course, finance, Right? Not only my money, but who I can trust to help me advise me on where my money goes? What am I doing about retirement? We can’t really exist without understanding and knowing about this. So, I think it’s especially a place to be human because in general finances, it’s pretty stiff. It’s pretty serious, right? But guess what? There’re ways to talk about it. There’re ways to communicate, there’re strategic things you can do to make money. So much more comfortable, so much more understood, and so much more human.

Andy: Robin, this has been such fantastic information. And I just let our listeners know that this episode number 103, is part of a larger commitment to sharing the thoughts and ideas from the low group. And if you like what you heard, partner with us, right, Robin?

Robin: That’s exactly right. We’d love to help you tell your story in a powerful way.

Andy: And of course, you can keep up on the load down with the podcast and the blog at That’s Until next time, Robin, thank you so much.

Robin: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Andy: I’m Andy Azinger. Take care.