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Scrap the discount codes and stupid CRM headlines, now is the time for brands to show some humanity.

by Neil Follett - March 19, 2020

Look, there are much more important things than marketing strategy right now, we all know that. This crisis has tragically disrupted countries, communities and families and has already shifted the way we work, live and buy in fundamental ways. However, we are all still fundamentally connected in the way we work, live and buy. More importantly, most of us are paid, in one way or another, by companies and brands, so the ability for brands to make it through the pandemic is important.

At a time when we need to come together, show as much humanity as possible, and step away from the routines that we became so accustomed to, it is amazing to see how many brands are incapable of doing just that. Jed Schneiderman posted recently about brands that are getting it right – and getting it right these days is about doing what’s right for your communities (even when it might not feel right for the business), about proceeding with caution and care, and showing that every brand is backed by real human beings. 

The moments of brands navigating this crisis with care are notable because at this point,they feel like the exception and not the rule. For example, the amount of “set it and forget it” CRM still pouring into my email is shocking. Sure, Banana Republic is the poster child for this –no one really needs another 50% off today, or yesterday, or the day before that (because I believe I’ve had an offer a day). But there are so many more offenders. Examples abound, from the benign-but-stupid content marketing email I received this morning titled “Why Millennials and Gen Z Love Megabanks” (really, that is relevant today?), to the completely out-of-touch email sent yesterday from the surf brand Quicksilver titled –and I am not making this up – “Fun prints, fun products, fun times”!

Not all brands and businesses are going to make it through this, but my bet is that the ones that do come out the other side did so not just because they made smart fiscal decisions in a time of crisis, but also because they recognized their customers are in a time of crisis too. 

There has been a lot of criticism of certain world leaders in the press recently, and in a few of those articles there has been mention of the CDC playbook for communicating in a health crisis. Appreciating there is no precedent for this in the world, let alone the world of marketing, the folks at the CDC seem to have written a playbook that brands might want to leverage as well. Some of the greatest hits:

Be first. Brands shouldn’t wait until everyone else in their category has done the right thing. Customers will remember and appreciate the first brands that did the right thing for the community…and did it early. They won’t remember the 15th company that got in line.

Choose the right spokesperson. The guidelines recommend giving the message a “human form”, and brands should do the same. This is the time we need to hear from the President, the Brand Manager, or the Founder. Customers want to hear from humans right now, not from a content calendar.

Be consistent. Appreciating there is nothing consistent these days, brands with a core set of values will do better because this is the time to act on values. Messaging and management from a place of belief, not a place of opportunity or desperation, guides a brand in the best of times and it just may be the thing to save a brand in the worst of times.

Don’t withhold vital information. Sure, this makes more sense when you are a government agency communicating around a health crisis, so let’s turn that around and ask brands not to communicate if the information isn’t vital. Consider what your audience needs right now, not what you decided your marketing plan needed when you hit save in January. Less is more right now, and make the less more human.

At best brands should have a COVID specific plan right now, at worst it should be COVID safe.

None of this is easy right now, that is for sure, but maybe this is a good time to heed the advice that so many of us heard as kids: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

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