06 Jun Communicating in a Crisis – Key Takeaways

This past Tuesday, Thoughtlight CEO, Christina Inge, had the opportunity to moderate a virtual panel of marketing thought leaders, an event called Communicating in a Crisis. Hosted by Impact Hub Boston, Communicating in a Crisis provided valuable insight to attending professionals  on how to market effectively in the time of Black Lives Matter and COVID-19.

The panel consisted of LaCrystal Robinson, B2B marketer with Boston SaaS company LogMeIn, Bob Cargill, President of the American Marketing Association Boston chapter, and Katie Martell, author and Executive Producer of the book and documentary Pandermonium.

What are some examples of how brands are communicating in the right way?

Cargill responded immediately with the Courage is Beautiful ad by Dove – “Instead of outright selling, they’re reacting quickly, showing support, showing support. I think Dove has done an awesome job, putting a pause on advertising as usual.”

Robinson and Martell concurred.

Martell added, “Crisis Communication 101 is to be honest in the current situation. They’re being honest about what’s happening right now.”

Is there anything brands should not be saying or doing during this time of crisis?

Robinson chimed in, “What brands get wrong is they don’t know their audience, and are just following a trend. [Companies need to] make sure what [they] say is aligned is aligned with [their] mission statement.”

Martell shared, “I agree everyone felt silence pushed a lot of brands to make some kind of statement. When you’re making that promise [in support of Black Lives Matter], you have to back it up with meaningful action. This can be dangerous for your brand to be called out, when you’re clearly being opportunistic.”

“It’s a defining moment in social media. We need to do our homework. If you put something else out there, and a lot of brands have been just out there on the bandwagon, you really have to live it. Starbucks initially said to their employees no [wearing] Black Lives Matter t-shirts, but they then rolled that back,” said Cargill.

How can a small business or solopreneur market themselves in this time without appearing inappropriate?

“It’s never inappropriate to market yourself. Follow the golden rules of marketing, i.e. are you addressing a problem? It’s solving a problem, period. [Of course] I think problems change. The [current] state of buyers is stressed-out, anxious, completely unemployed. The question then is how do we market to buyers with a new set of problems?” explained Martell.

Robinson continued, “We’re experiencing a new normal. You can still brand yourself, market yourself. This quarantine has been a time for creatives, for small businesses to really shine.  Yes, we’re being charged a little more to think outside the box, but there is still a business need.”

How can brands be more inclusive of diverse voices?

“It takes owning a sense of accountability. An example is Rent the Runway. The CEO posted something about how the fashion industry has co-opted the styles and ideas of the black community and not ensuring they were compensated [or credited] for them. She’s taking a stand with a 15% pledge alongside retailers to commit to buying 15% of their materials from black businesses,” Martell emphasized.

Cargill encapsulated the message: “The marketers have to be willing to speak up. The agents, the creative people, not just say this, but do this.”

It takes hard work for marketers to do the right thing and confront systemic racism in their organizational structures. Communicating in a time of crisis means being accountable to a brand’s target audience, and walking the walk versus talking the talk. Marketers should know very well the potential backlash a brand can receive from the misplaced alignment of messaging and action.

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