Marketing during a global crisis

There have been many moments over the last two weeks that have left us feeling helpless, confused and baffled. We’ll get to our marketing discussion in a second, but let’s first acknowledge how completely overwhelming this has been. Fear, worry, anxiety, sadness. There’s a lot to feel. For those actually living it, those from Ukraine, I am thinking and praying for you and your families – for safety, for peace, for a calm in the storm. (I’m also looking for ways to help so if you’re an entrepreneur, business owner, marketer – I’d love to talk with you. Email me any time.)

While we try to process this as humans, we’re also trying to process this as humans. Which first thing’s first – we’re still doing as humans. So if this hasn’t felt like a productive phase, if your work isn’t to the same calibre, please be kind to yourself. These aren’t normal weeks. But as we continue to process this, we’re also making marketing decisions. With the world as it is, how do we represent our brands? How do we communicate with our customers?

How do we respond as marketers when as human beings, we’re at a complete loss?

Forgetting our marketing roles for just a second, the state of the world has been completely overwhelming.

I had a full schedule of social media content ready to go last week. I had even had the support of a social media manager, the lovely Bethany of Wave Media. It was all set and ready.

And then the news broke. On the day of the invasion, I had a post scheduled about productivity. Tips on how to get the most from your day. It felt like such a joke. How could I possibly talk about productivity on a day like that? There was none to be had. With the news on and off all day, my mind, emotions and nerves were all scattered. How could I tout these ‘productivity tips’ while the world felt upside down? Furthermore, who cared about work productivity at that point?

I sure didn’t.

I quickly cancelled that post. ‘Another day’, maybe. Then things continued and I took a long, hard look at the rest of the schedule. It was good content saying valuable things, but I couldn’t post it. The definition of ‘valuable’ gets redefined in times like these. What feels important and noteworthy one day, feels superfluous and shallow the next. With all of my focus on ‘strategy’ – tips, approaches, styles – what is a marketing strategy as compared to a war strategy?

That imbalance – that dissonance – it’s there to be listened to. It makes sense that you’re feeling like this.

And yet, life continues. It feels a little more jarring, a little more surreal, but there are still deadlines, projects, KPIs, and sales targets that loom. So what do we do with the dissonance we feel? And practically, what do we do with that marketing plan?

This poem by Mari Andrew said it well:

When we think about this from a marketing perspective, I can’t help but think about this as customer (human) needs; they all just changed. Understandable, respectfully, rightfully, we don’t have the capacity to care about the same things we did two weeks ago. Not in the same way. A brand’s ‘purpose’ doesn’t mean anything when compared to the real-world purpose we see on our TV screens. ‘Purpose’, is a mother taking her kids across the border. ‘Purpose’ is an 18 year old enlisting to fight, or a 70 year old still wanting to defend their country.

They psychology student in me goes right back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The certainty of the more fundamental needs, for Ukrainians and to a certain extent, all of us, just became threatened. The ‘safety’ needs and even the ‘physiological’ needs of Ukrainians are far from being met.

As marketers, as entrepreneurs, as humans, we still have a voice. And actually, it’s quite the time to use it. While we’re not here to add to add to the noise, we can speak up with empathy and sensitivity. We talk a lot about ‘value’ as marketers (top 10 most over-used word) – which is still relevant – but it’s changed. In this case, ‘value’ means ‘safety’ – emotional and physical. It means understanding, connection, bravery and hope.

So how do we do that? While the UK government lit buildings in blue and light without actually welcoming Ukrainians over the border, there are ways to actually do this genuinely with the means we have available.

Elon Musk – Starlink
Ukraine’s Vice President, Mykhailo Fedorov’s challenged Elon Musk over Twitter. Essentially, he asked him to prioritise Ukraine over Mars. Musk, in a tactically impressive feat, connected the country to Starlink service (improving internet connections) in a matter of hours. Impressive, appreciated and frankly, proportional to his means.

Female Invest – fundraiser
It doesn’t always require that ability or budget. Female Invest, an education platform and community intent on closing the financial gender gap, used their reach to launch a fundraising campaign. As a young start-up, they’re not quite profitable themselves but still wanted to find a way to support.

What about ignoring it?
The worst thing a brand can do is be tokenistic about it. The second-worst thing a brand can do is ignore it. I get that it feels beyond your control, maybe even irrelevant to your business. But to ignore is to turn away from your customers – your community. You can’t be there when it’s good but absent when it’s bad.

While entirely not the point (but still a fact), there are long-term gains to be made in genuinely showing up in times of crisis. When you’re there consistently, showing up with empathy, action and care, you build trust. That’s a powerful thing. That goodwill, that positive feeling, – they’re the emotions that summon a positive brand association that might just play into the buying decision later on. Building the trust in these crucial times can go a really long way.

So it’s time to be ‘human’ brands. Let’s also be ‘human’ marketers, entrepreneurs, employees. Let’s remember that brands are there to serve humans – living, breathing, feeling humans. But also, brands are powered by humans. Let’s make it human-to-human.

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Hi, I'm Emily!  My entire career goal has been to build brands that I'm proud of, who have a strong story to tell and are making an impact on the world. 

Taking learnings from the big player clients like Google and TD Bank, I'm most passionate about building the brands of tomorrow, and I know what that takes for startups.  I would love to learn more about your company and discuss the possibilities! 

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