Tread carefully: Seven marketing missteps to avoid in a year of crisis

Playbook Creative director Danielle Keightley

Playbook Creative director Danielle Keightley. Source: supplied.

For many business owners, this has been the most challenging year they’ve ever faced. 

In a time when livelihoods are threatened, values are questioned and emotions are heightened, it’s easy to say the wrong thing. Some businesses have been finding themselves at odds with their customers despite the best intentions. 

While it can feel insensitive trying to sell anything during a crisis, bills still need to be paid. So how do you market your business without seeming tone deaf or self-serving? 

Here’s a look at the marketing missteps that have been tripping up businesses this year and what you can do to avoid them. 

1. Ignoring the issue

Ploughing ahead like nothing has changed is a quick way to stir negative sentiment. Especially when your audience may have extra time on their hands and only Twitter to keep them company. 

When faced with a crisis, people will remember the businesses who showed candor and compassion. If a situation affects your audience, it needs to be acknowledged in some way. Whether you make a single timely statement or adapt your broader marketing strategy depends on the complexity of the issue and the outcome you’re trying to achieve. 

2. Reacting before reviewing 

A recent PR Crisis Preparedness Survey revealed respondents were most concerned about reacting fast enough to a crisis. 

While speed is important, shooting from the hip doesn’t always hit the right target. In a developing situation, marketing messages can be off the pace within a few hours. A crisis communication plan will help you assess the impact of an event and address it effectively. 

If your audience is calling for a response but you don’t yet have an answer, tell them so. It’s better to give an interim update than rush the review process. 

3. Focusing exclusively on the issue

Any marketing messages that address a crisis need to add value, not noise. News fatigue can switch your audience off when it’s more important than ever that they stay tuned in. 

When a crisis is all-consuming, it can be difficult to look beyond the latest headlines. But you can’t forget what your business is here to do (and you don’t want your customers to either). 

4. Not reading the room

What might have been a lighthearted joke or fine turn of phrase before the crisis may now appear in poor taste. But how can you know what will hit and what will miss? 

Surveying audience sentiment via social listening allows you to monitor conversations surrounding your business and the current crisis. Once you can say with confidence that you understand your audience’s needs, priorities, questions and concerns, you’ll know which messages will best resonate. 

Reviewing planned content through this lens will help you identify whether it needs to be revised or postponed until a more suitable time. 

5. Overcomplicating the message

The midst of a crisis is certainly not the time for corporate jargon or long winded storytelling (is it ever?). Your audience may already be feeling unsure or overwhelmed, and muddled messaging can leave them with more questions than answers. 

People will seek out your business if you communicate in a simple, helpful and timely way. 

6. Making it about you

There’s nothing wrong with letting your audience know how you can help them during a crisis. But people don’t take kindly to businesses seemingly hijacking a situation for their own benefit. 

Cohn & Wolfe identified that brands need to be reliable, respectful and real for consumers to perceive them as authentic in their actions. A sobering statistic from Stackla reveals that 92% of marketers believe most or all of the content they create resonates as authentic, however 51% of consumers say they feel less than half of brands achieve this. 

The strategy you employ can be the difference between burning bridges and building them. A people-first approach will leave no room for confusion about your intent. 

7. Missing opportunities 

While your first response to a crisis will naturally be reactive, every next step can be proactive. 

Once you’ve established a plan for how you’ll address the immediate concerns, it’s time to look at the problem from a fresh perspective. Is there an opportunity to connect with your audience in a different way, or attract and engage a new audience? 

This reframing will help set the tone for your marketing strategy beyond the crisis.

NOW READ: “Be sensitive, not silent”: How to tailor your brand’s marketing in a time of crisis

NOW READ: “Go beyond the generic”: In a competitive digital world, personalisation is everything

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