The end of the world as we know it
Back at the beginning of 2021, in the midst of COVID-19, a piece of graffiti-inspired an article - it read: Merry Crisis & Happy New Fear! At the end of 2023, that phrase has been coming to mind in recent times - this year we ramp up for Merry Crises and a Happy New Fear 2024.
Merry Crises and a Happy New Fear 2024.
This is not a political or economic article, the focus is on how to operate and market over what looks like it may be a difficult period. In case you live in a vacuum, here are just some of the global threats we are experiencing at the end of 2023:
Russia continues to forcibly occupy Ukraine
This has led to inflation driven by increasing energy costs
Supply Chain issues dating from COVID-19 continue to affect inflation and economies worldwide
The horrific terrorist attack on October 7th has not only led to war in Israel, not only divided Western countries’ populations with rises in hate and racism. There is also a clear global division with Russia, Iran, and North Korea on one side, and, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and some European countries on the other.
There is a conspiracy theory that said that COVID-19 was the first step and that critical wars were the second step, toward an orchestrated overhaul in global governance by a select group of all-powerful families. Even if it is true, or even if it is not, what does it mean to the common folk and businesses? Absolutely nothing! All we need to do is react to changes, or even better predict, plan, and execute before changes happen.
It is hard not to be affected by the news we are all seeing. With it comes an overwhelming urge to show support. See the way companies change their logos on LinkedIn during Gay Pride or to the Ukrainian flag at the start of the invasion by Russia. Whereas your intention may be well founded, understand that many people are naturally cynical and suspicious by nature.
Take the recent criticism of the English FA for not lighting up the arch in the colors of Israel post the terror attack having already set precedence with lighting up the arch in Ukrainian colors and rainbow colors during the World Cup in Qatar.
Another example is BBC News, heavily criticized for refusing to name Hamas as a terror organization and forbidding staff to join pro-Israel marches that have permitted others to march in pro-Palestianian protests.
And, let’s not forget the big Marketing story of 2023 - Bud Light.
So, how does a company navigate potentially controversial or stormy political waters? There are two approaches:
The company takes a stance publically
The company does not take a stance, but individuals of the company or the CEO does
The easier approach to handle is the second one, but it should be clear that the message is personal, in their language and phrasing, and genuine. The minefield is having individuals speak out on different sides of a conflict. This is partially mitigated where the issue is “close to home” (e.g. you would not expect to see Israeli companies have individual people pro-Hamas).
Where the company feels the issue is potentially divisive and has a strong view, this should be communicated quickly and clearly with guidelines. We remember the red faces at Starbucks when their employees posted support messages for Hamas before the company could denounce the violent terrorist attacks.
For the first approach, if the issue is not close to the company values, with strong company policy, and a visible track record and internal policies - don’t touch it! For example, if the company shows LGBTQ support, make sure that this is also part of an equality hiring and promotion value with a strong company policy against discrimination by employees.
Don’t Sell a Crisis!
There is nothing more cringe-worthy than campaigns like: “Especially during these difficult times, we care, so there is X% discount on Y!”
Leveraging a crisis to improve sales is transparent to everyone. Even if you did not mean it to look that way, many will view it that way. There should be no commercial terms connected with any show of support.
Advertising Altruism is Gaudy
You would not help someone close to you with the expectation of a medal or recognition. A company should be the same. It is tasteless to advertise your charity work, recognition should not be the motivator to help, but it may come organically.
The Crisis SWOT
When there are extraordinary times, the first action a company and Marketers should take is to re-evaluate the given Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). The key to not only survival but even growth in the most challenging times is adaptability. This is a 2-step process.
First, when looking at strengths and weaknesses, the priority may be affected. A lesser strength may come more to the fore. The second step is mitigating short-term threats while looking at short-term opportunities to explore.
Once you have this, it is about application. Look at the customer profiles. Some may be new, some may change, and each group needs a plan of action on how they can be reached and what message they need. The key is quick decision-making and execution - agility is time-sensitive
The key is quick decision-making and execution - agility is time-sensitive
We are all in the people’s business
This is a mantra I tell everybody. In challenging times you need to keep your network and clients closer than ever. This means more frequency on personal contacts, and not only commercial, but more personal.
Don’t fear the future
No matter what happens in 2024 - I wish you a healthy, safe, and prosperous year! Don’t fear the future - embrace the challenges ahead!