BusinessThoughtful marketing is crucial during catastrophic events
Smoke haze – thoughtful marketing in a crisis

Thoughtful marketing is crucial during catastrophic events

As marketers, we work on campaigns months in advance and implement in the blink of an eye. We’re fast-paced, hungry for results, and constantly strategising the next big thing. Our superpower is the ability to think in the future and execute in the present.

But in times of crisis, we need to slow down, be aware of our audiences, and think through marketing activity more carefully than usual—else our superpower becomes our downfall.

On Tuesday, thousands of Australians living in New South Wales and Queensland were facing catastrophic bushfire conditions that have taken lives, destroyed homes, wiped out 970,000 hectares of natural environment and left communities far and wide completely devastated.

That same day, marketers around the country were rolling out Click Frenzy campaigns with email broadcasts, social media posts, SMS and advertising campaigns, carefully planned and scheduled in advance. All rolled out without consideration of what their recipient audiences were experiencing. Some of them even featured flame emojis—which seemed a little insensitive.

In times of crisis, we need to slow down, be aware of our audiences, and think through marketing activity more carefully than usual.

What do we mean by “thoughtful marketing”?

We live in a time of constant communication. Relentless adherence to content marketing schedules seems essential in order to maintain constant commercial growth.

As compassionate humans, carrying on as normal can feel strange. But as marketers we know that in order to keep business balance sheets economically sound we must continue commercial activities against the backdrop of trauma and tragedy.

However, allowing campaign communications to be published during a time where serious news is unfolding can appear disrespectful or insensitive.

Founder of Lovely People Studio Mish Vizesi received an unsolicited SMS promoting a large national retailer’s sale event on Tuesday. She said it is “incredibly insensitive on a day when people were actually losing [their] homes, and the white goods in [them]… but hey don’t worry everyone, we got a sale on!”

To recap, thoughtful marketing is customer-centric, not driven by data or numbers. It’s important to remember that your customers are people with their own needs, wants, and desires – not just a means to an end. By understanding this and approaching each customer as an individual, you will be able to create a more personal connection that will be more likely to result in a sale.

Marketing during a crisis: tips for brands

Here are our tips for brands to communicate during times of tragedy:

Communicate with compassion

Brands must communicate compassion carefully as it can easily be seen as newsjacking catastrophe to bolster revenue or “purpose-washing” by way of hashtag activism. Failure to act with awareness and empathy can be incredibly damaging.

Instagram influencer Sarah Stevenson (Sarah’s Day) received a torrent of criticism after pledging to donate $1 from from every product from her La’Bang Body skincare collaboration. Following the announcement, her fans turned against her calling it a “cop out” and a “cheap trick to boost profits”.

Partnerships consultant Kate Dezarnauld said “Tragedy as a trojan horse for sales is truly awful”.

Think about how your brand can help

Brands must communicate compassion carefully as it can easily be seen as newsjacking catastrophe to bolster revenue or “purpose-washing” by way of hashtag activism. Failure to act with awareness and empathy can be incredibly damaging.

But some consumers said they appreciate brands that are giving back and would rather purchase from companies that are making a positive contribution.

Michelle Pearson Neale said “I’m currently working out my Christmas purchases. I’d be more inclined to purchase from a business that made a small donation to the fire fighters”.

Hit pause on scheduled activity

Today’s high tech marketing environment allows us to communicate and interact en masse, and automate and pre-schedule at the click of a button. Marketing technology empowers us to accomplish so much yet it can also disconnect and desensitize us in a way that can evaporate empathy in our communications.

It’s crucial that marketers consider the context in which communications are received and craft strategies that are sensitive to those impacted by traumatic events.

Press pause on pre-scheduled activity, and take a moment to remove the flame emojis, and add a little empathy instead.

An edited version of this article appeared in Mumbrella on 20 November, 2019.

Written by

Erin Morris is the founder and director at Young Folks. Packing more than 10 years marketing experience, Erin has worked with start-ups, corporates and everything in between. She loves listening to audiobooks whilst running, oat milk flat whites, and scouring Marketplace for secondhand furniture finds.

Our Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula studios are open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. If you’re a brand in the business of doing good, we’d love to hear from you.

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