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By: Paul Sears
Long-distance backpacking is a major passion of mine. When I first learned the Pacific Crest Trail ran near my home in Los Angeles, I dove in. I read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” and George Spearing’s “Dances with Marmots.” I found countless thru-hiking blogs and YouTube videos. After gearing up and getting some practice, I hit the trail for my first seven-day solo.
I’ve been hooked ever since.
Long-distance hiking naturally leads to inspiration. It’s a unique physical and mental challenge. Confidence grows from being totally comfortable alone in the wilderness. And it yields so many metaphors for life: self-sufficiency, dedication and commitment, a sense of adventure that doesn’t look back.
My most recent trek was 60-ish miles on the PCT in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. Putting one foot in front of the other for four days granted plenty of time for reflection, and it led me to the idea that thru-hiking is a lot like the “now normal” of COVID-19. Here’s why:
Being Thirsty Comes with the Territory
A lot of thru-hikers aren’t in the business of carrying water – it’s one of the heaviest items in the pack. Many prefer to get hydrated at the stream and carry very little in the pack. But it’s risky in late August, when many streams are bone-dry. Being OK with running out of water on the trail takes a little getting used to... I’ll admit there was a lot of lip-licking in one 7-mile dry stretch.
Likewise, businesses today can’t count on typical conditions, whether that’s supply chain, ability to open or consumers’ desire to buy. Businesses need to get hydrated at the stream: shore up financials, get lean and efficient, and sow the seeds for future growth. Achieving a successful pivot is a bit like finding a waterfall after miles of hot, dry trail. Stop a moment, take off the pack, drink up and fill that metaphorical “camel’s hump” on your back – then get to work on the next innovation.
Lighten Your Load
Today’s businesses must be agile, quick and light. Like a hiker choosing what goes into their pack, businesses must intentionally reduce drag. We must find faster ways to ideate concepts and quickly bring forward testable iterations – in product and service, in communications, and in business and operational models. Just like a thru-hiker leaving creature comforts at home, it’s key to be judicious about what we carry into a situation, so we can be more flexible in how we respond.
Ever rolled an ankle on the trail? Walked for miles on sharp-edged talus rocks? Faced 4,000 feet of climbing in a 20-mile day? Pressing on despite impediments is what thru-hiking is all about. Getting up that 1,000-foot pass in 85-degree heat is undeniably hard. But the vista at the top (and the downhill that follows) is undeniably rewarding. It propels the hiker forward.
2020 has felt like that 20-mile day – revenues are down, margins are scarce, and consumer expectations and behavior change daily. But making a successful pivot can feel a lot like the top of the pass. Take a moment to celebrate – reward yourself and your team. Reflect on the effort it took, then use it as a springboard for renewed motivation. The trail brings endless challenges as hikers traverse the ups and downs.
And Just Keep On Walking
One of the most powerful moments in long-distance hiking is the reckoning at the point of no return. Being alone 30 miles from the car is a one-of-a-kind feeling – intimidating, yet liberating. Everything hurts, the sun sets and you’re still 4 miles from camp. But like Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
The same is true for businesses – we just keep on keeping on. Pace yourself – do what you realistically can, even if it takes a little longer. Get comfortable with uncomfortable and do whatever it takes. Hiking in the dark to get to camp is a lot like pulling an all-nighter to develop a new product concept. Pushing through blisters is a lot like relentlessly pounding the pavement to win new clients.
The only way out of 2020 is through 2020. We all have to just keep on hiking.
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Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing. With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.