Growth Insights for CEOs

Shameless Promotion or Sensitive Marketing? It’s a Fine Line.

Posted by The Chief Outsider



My International Business ClassMaking the right marketing decisions in a disaster situation.

This week, teaching my Business class at Rutgers was tough. Students had been without power or internet access for a week, mass transit was a mess and some students had waited in line more than four hours to buy gas. At the same time, none of us had suffered any real loss of property or injuries like others that we knew or had heard about.

Marketing Now? 

So was it the time to talk about what smart companies could do in a disaster situation to increase their brand loyalty, presence and eventually, their revenue?  

Opinions were decidedly mixed.  One student said, 

“How can we even think about marketing when we are in the midst of a disaster like this?” 

 While another had an opposite reaction, 

“How can a company take advantage of this? How much more they charge for food, gas, a night in a hotel since demand has gone way up?  What would people be willing to pay?

It was a very lively debate.  

Should You Prepare a Marketing Plan?

In his blog post yesterday, Marshall talked about business preparation for disaster. CEOs and their staff also need to think about smart marketing opportunities. But making marketing decisions in disasters is tricky.  If you look too self-serving, they can backfire. If you go overboard, there can be a revenue disaster.  

Everyone is Watching 

One website is even publishing a corporate aid tracker sharing what companies are doing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. So you know people are watching what companies are doing to help. They are usually watching big companies. Most of our clients cannot afford hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What Should a Mid-size Company Do? Or Not Do?

  • First, not everything can be planned for. There will be contingencies that happen that we don’t expect. But working through various scenarios and deciding what could be done is very effective.
  • You do not know how you can effectively help or what your “opportunities” will be in advance. So, everyone in your firm needs to keep their eyes and ears open for the possibilities.
  • When something happens, you need to jump on it. We are in real time now. And the company that takes advantage of the possibilities early usually is the one that reaps the rewards.

Some Specific Examples

A company in NYC that still had power immediately reached out to its network on twitter and Linked-in and offered its office facilities on an as-needed basis. Many companies permitted people to come in and re-charge their devices. A website has sprung up since then offering these places.

Ride sharing: NYC was and still is a commuters’ nightmare. A couple of companies have offered to help commuters by providing rides.  

Some professional service companies, especially law firms, have offered discounts or even free services.

A business acquaintance of mine provided hot food to those in town who had no power. A food delivery service immediately offered free delivery from local restaurants. A jewelry store in a small New York town did the same.   

Local gyms offered free work-outs and hot showers. 

Whether they take advantage of these or not, people remember companies that offered. 

My Business is Different 

You might be sitting there, thinking, “But my firm can’t provide this.  We aren’t in that type of business." It might be that donating money is your best option. If so, be strategic. A contribution to the Red Cross may not be as beneficial as a contribution to a local effort organized by one of your clients or someone in your target markets. You are still helping people, but also building your reputation.

So far, we have talked about things you might want to do. Here, I won’t include specific links but there are plenty of good examples on the web of what not to do.

  • Use this as an opportunity to trash your competition.
  • Use any humor or cynicism
  • Exaggerate or play on peoples’ fears
  • Make an offer that is really not something extra or different for the disaster sufferers
  • Self-promote

The purpose for thinking about marketing in a disaster situation is not to look for a quick profit or an immediate reward. It is to differentiate yourself, to show your character and the character of your company. To pay-it-forward. To help without any thought of return.

 Please share some examples of companies that have shown they care during difficult times. 

Topics: Consumer Insights, Corporate Social Responsibility