Marketing Effectively in a Crisis

Connecting communities and people together is more important now than ever.

We’ve all lost our “third place” – that place that isn’t either work or home. Hell, most of us have lost our “second place” in layoffs or office closures – and if this is you, you need to read last week’s post on surviving working from home.

For many of us, there’s only ONE place now – home – and unless we do the work to establish new routines for ourselves, cabin fever will rapidly ensue.

People, doing their personal best to keep their own lives together in this situation, look to leaders and for examples of surviving and thriving… and that can be you.

Unsurprisingly, many owners are struggling with this crisis. Curiously, a good bit of the struggle is self-inflicted. I’m hearing 3 things on a near-infinite loop from friends and clients:

  • I don’t know how to market well right now.
  • I don’t know if I SHOULD market right now.
  • I have so many things I can focus on, I’m not sure which ones I should focus on.

Here’s what to do about all three:

First: Understand the Difference Between Utility and Value

There’s a HUGE difference between the utility of a product or service and the value of that product or service.

Utility: the tangible thing you get from a product or services. Accountants do your taxes. Doing TaeKwonDo improves your cardiovascular health and flexibility. Legos allow you to model something.

Value: the “big picture” holistic view of what benefits you receive from a product or service. Accountants know things about how taxes work so you can save money, time, and stress over how you spend every dollar. TaeKwonDo helps you learn self-defense, concentration, confidence, and is more fun than lifting weights and running – you gain access to a community, a mentor, and friends. Legos allow you to take things from your imagination and manifest them into the physical world one brick at a time.

Mull that over for a minute in connection to the idea that most of us have lost our second and third places. In that situation, wouldn’t you be more likely to seek out the comfort of things that bring structure, purpose, and escape to your day?

So, what, you want your customers to sit idle and eat junk food? Or mope around in their back yards twiddling their thumbs? Or Netflix and Chilling to death?

Stop that. Your customers fucking NEED you to lead. Your business has value beyond your utility and the faster you recognize that, the sooner you can get back to serving your customers and getting back to business.

This is not to say that you should be ramping up every service offering you have and throwing yourself full-on into your business while neglecting your own mental health, family, or community.

Instead, focus on something you do that can bring people together around something, give people purpose or a purposeful escape, or add value to their lives in new and unexpected ways.

Doing business with honest intent in a crisis doesn’t mean that you’re trading on fear. Provide free resources where you can and show clear boundaries for things that aren’t free. It’s generally understood that everybody’s gotta eat – but in showcasing your free stuff alongside your not-so-free stuff, you can still be valuable and show up for those who aren’t able to pay for anything beyond the basics right now.

Second: Understand Community and Connectedness is Rooted in Identity and Agency

Heady word alert! What do I mean by “Agency”?

Agency means equipping people with the ability to make their own choices. Agency, in the context of a community and connectedness, also means giving folks the ability to be useful, resourceful, and connected through purposeful choices.

Before the crisis, folks had favorite coffee shops, blogs, podcasts, authors, businesses to frequent, restaurants to visit, etc. We felt good about our choices because they felt purposeful and meaningful. Our choices, where we shopped, who we read, what we supported, became part of our identity.

Now that we can’t physically be in those spaces, our agency in interacting with those places changes, and so will our personal identities.

You have the ability to enable purposeful engagement with your business to offer your true value – leverage identity and agency to provide purpose against uncertainty. Prioritize agency and identity over distraction (not to say that whatever campaigns you implement right now can’t be fun!)

Third: Understand the Pernicious Effects of Content Buffets

A recent post from a mental health expert pegged our ennui and restlessness as latent grief over the near-total upheaval of our daily lives.

This latent grief is further complicated by our tendency to quickly fill in gaps where we’ve got interruptions in an attempt to resume normalcy.

Being on Zoom call after Zoom call, streaming Frozen 2 and Onward immediately from Disney+, joining Mo Willems every day to doodle, watching the Met’s operas online, attending storytimes and virtual sessions offered by your gym, and whatever else: all these things happened quickly and without much of a filter for us to pick and choose.

We’re in a ramp-up period where everybody and their mom learns Zoom and hosts a webinar about how to namaste your way to peace, prosperity, and homebrew hand sanitizer.

The buffet of content is looming large. Folks are loading up their plates. The subsequent loose-belted waddle-of-shame is going to come fast and furious because wasting time in a time of crisis is fucking abhorrent.

Consuming too much junk food (or even just way too much of the right stuff in too short a timeframe) is harmful in any context and we’re all about to learn that with the incredible array of growing options available to indulge in now.

Discerning good content from bad is going to be increasingly difficult for a while – but here’s an easy cheat sheet for you to decide which things to participate in when there’s a massive glut of content:

  • Does this content empower me to do something new, something better, or something unique?
  • Will I have enough time and bandwidth to properly incorporate this new content into my life – and more importantly, do something with what I’ve learned?
  • Does this content provide me with enough of a purposeful escape, useful skill, or connectivity to my community that I should postpone or cancel the things I could be doing otherwise?

Help your customers make better choices. Narrow your focus if you need to, but focus on things that provide agency and identity over a distraction.

Fourth: Be Intentional with How You Show Up

Like it or not, as a business owner, you’re a de facto leader. If you do the work to make yourself and your brand visible, people will look to you.

Be intentional with how you show up. If you rush through the creation of services and products right now, you’re going to look and seem harried. Emotions are catching… which means in broadcasting harried, anxious, decidedly un-calm content in whatever form, you are indicating that your audience/customers/clients should also feel harried, anxious, and decidedly un-calm.

Knock that shit off, OK?

Meditate, take vocal lessons, do some remote toastmasters work, Skype with your favorite people, whatever it takes… but calm the hell down and then figure out what you want to say with strategy and tact.

Kindness and relevant information are the order of the day – you don’t need to provide hope, inspiration, or anything else. Just kindness and relevant information. Your audience/customers/clients will do the rest on their own.

Everyone’s more attuned to danger signals in times of crisis than in times of stability, so facial expressions matter, tone of voice matters, word choice matters. When the mental health of your community is adjusted by your presence, let them know that they can depend on you to be a calm, centered resource. Lead by example.

Finally: Communicate Like a Human

Avoid buzzwords. Avoid jargon. Avoid worrying about your SEO keywords. Communicate to people as a person.

Conduct a needs assessment with your audience (if it’s relevant). Now is not the time to broadcast more nonsense into the void.

Now is the time to be purposeful, graceful, and communicative.

Now is the time to lead, provide purpose, agency, and identity.

Go forth and do business with honest intent.