Marketing in the Storm: How to Adjust Your Messaging During Disaster and Unrest

It’s not what’s happening to you, but how you respond. That’s true whether you are reacting personally or professionally to crisis.

And crises are abounding at this moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of more than 100,000 Americans and now our country is experiencing civil unrest the likes of which we hadn’t seen in decades. Plus, hurricane season is underway and a tropical system appears to be heading to the Gulf Coast by the end of this coming weekend. If you are in Houston, like me, or any other hurricane-prone location, you know that can easily exacerbate business disruptions and add to people’s personal distress.

So, what to do? First, do what you need to do to collect and steady yourself. For example, as I type, I moved my office to a picnic table in a local park. If you also have been in working from home mode due to the pandemic, I highly recommend such a respite, especially if you might potentially be stuck inside again with a hurricane.

Now, back to messaging in mayhem. There is no playbook: your response must be a natural extension of your existing brand.

Take a look at your LinkedIn and Instagram feeds, for examples, to see how other businesses are responding. Some are taking risks. Southern Living, the lifestyle brand that usually focuses on home décor, recipes and beauty tips, posted a Black Lives Matter image to Instagram. It was simply white block lettering on a black background. The editors’ note spoke of unity for all Southerners. And, of course, a commenter said they are cancelling their subscription to the magazine.

Similarly, Texas Parks and Wildlife posted to Facebook about Black Birders Week, stating that nature belongs to all of us. One commenter aptly noted, “cue, angry white people.” Indeed, some other commenters suggested it is “racist” to focus on a particular race, even if the post by this public agency was intending to be welcoming and inclusive.

Perhaps your visceral reaction is you don’t want to alienate customers with a Black Lives Matter banner. You know your customers better than anyone else. On the other hand, you may want to reject negative reactions as an Houston Astros player just did. In response to his anti-KKK tweet, it was suggested he stick to baseball. Alex Bregman then said he is fine with losing white supremacist fans.

What if you are not feeling compelled to say something? Silence could be construed by customers and employees as tacit, blissful ignorance of the strife.

“We cannot remain silent,” Dentons, the global law firm, stated in a LinkedIn post. Better yet, be specific in how you are contributing to problem-solving. Bloomberg Philanthropies posted to LinkedIn about working with World Central Kitchen to serve more than 1 million meals to front-line workers dealing with the pandemic. Airlines are providing hygiene kits to flyers.

If you are a small business, you can also participate in a constructive, positive discourse by calling for unity. You can also generally state that, despite these trying times, your business is remaining steadfast in providing quality service to all valued customers.

But there is a central, abiding need to be kind. Be kind and professional to your customers; they need normal business to be a respite from the concerns engulfing our society.

Finally, listen. Be willing to listen to viewpoints that may differ from yours. You may learn something valuable you can incorporate into your business activities. You may also respectfully disagree. While remaining open for business, be open to new ideas. The world is changing rapidly and you may need to adjust on the fly. Just adjust thoughtfully and sincerely. Authenticity still matters.

And, yes, #blacklivesmatter.

Katharine Fraser, Adroit Narratives