Marketers are responsible for connecting brands with customers and strengthening the tie between the two. On good days, we act as matchmakers, aiming to create a spark that hopefully leads to dollars spent. On not-so-good days, we serve as peacemakers and cleanup crew. During my time at Uber, the company was definitely not the poster child for corporate behavior. There were a number of situations where the Marketing team had to repair and reclaim the company’s brand integrity after questionable actions by other departments or individuals.
But there are times where Marketing is the one that severely messes up. How many times have we seen a company get ripped to shreds for an inappropriate social media post or email? A brand is an intangible, yet it’s still highly affected by real humans. Occasionally those people fail to understand customers or is just, quite simply, naive of what’s happening in the world.
The aftermath of George Floyd’s inhumane murder by the hands of inexcusable police brutality has resulted in extreme tension across the nation. Layer on the bleak reminder that the world is still facing the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy is depression level severity, and we’re definitely experiencing “challenging and unprecedented times” (an exhausted term that has been so overused the last few months). People are stressed, distraught, and scared. Their priorities have also changed. Marketers have to respect the sensitivity of the times or else steer their companies towards being tone-def.
It’s a very thin line to break, so many companies play it safe. Every brand sent the same coronavirus email template out in March. With the uprising against racism and police brutality now dominating the conversation, brands are quick to express their support of the movement. I personally question what portion of these companies genuinely aim to take action, while the rest are just doing it to save face.
So how should Marketers proceed in a time of crisis? In my opinion, if your company isn’t making things better for customers or society, there’s no need to say anything at all. It’s probably not to. But if your company has impactful intentions, here are some do’s and don’ts,
Do: Understand how your brand fits in the bigger picture
Understand what purpose your company serves during this climate. Revisit your value proposition and evaluate if it’s fitting. If not, determine if there are ways to tweak your positioning to better serve people. Great companies are self-aware of their value to world. Nike has positioned itself as an aspirational brand for sport, but it can iterate that same emotion to stand up against racism.
Don’t: Expect your previous marketing strategies and playbooks will continue to work
Remember that adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well your marketing approach most likely isn’t representative of the the times. Fundamentally, your marketing strategy should be communicating how your product/ service is solving your target customers’ needs. So if their needs have changed, you should adapt your messaging and channel mix.
Do: Understand what your customers are going through
The key to great marketing is being in-tune with your customers, knowing them as well as your best friend. When your BFF is going through hard times, you listen and reciprocate sympathy and insight. Take time to listen to what people are saying. What is important to them? Positivity is huge because we’re all seeking any form of hope. Ben & Jerry’s went above and beyond the typical sympathy messaging and emphatically called for the teardown of racism.
Don’t: Assume things about your customers
The worst thing any company can do is be arrogant and condescending. Consumers are well informed and have platforms to amplify their message. When a company makes moves expecting customers to follow, it’ll end up on a lonely path by itself. Invest in research, focus groups, surveys because you’ll collect data points to go off of.
Do: Communicate with sympathy
Connect your brand to what’s most important to your customers, but don’t be aggressive. As mentioned, there are probably greater priorities that your customers are concerned with. Give them space and respect their time. Keep your messaging clear and concise. Sometimes the most impactful communication is minimal.
Don’t: Be tone-deaf with your messaging
When you do connect with your consumers, they don’t want to be sold anything. You’ll just come off as being disrespectful, exploiting the sensitive grim times to make money. This is when companies get chastised. Review your messaging and content with several different parties to gauge if they’re appropriate. Once it’s out in the wild, there’s no turning back. The NFL has done little to support past protest of police brutality by Colin Kaepernick and other players, yet issued a condolence Tweet that many chastised.
Save the bullshit
— Kenny Stills (@KSTiLLS) May 30, 2020
At the end of the day, showing solidarity during time of crisis can position your brand as being on the right side of good. However, consumers can spot the authentic from fabricated. They also expect companies to do much more than just post that they’re with Black Lives Matter. What are brands doing to influence real change? Highlighting petition and donations is a decent step, but many entities are pushing the same causes. In a time where everyone feels pressured to publicize their actions through social media, it’s sometimes best to just act because you want to do it.
There are so many ways to support and contribute to the cause to rid the systematic racism found in the legal system in addition to uplift our society above racism. Here’s a comprehensive #BlackLivesMatter list of how you can get involved.