Marketing Lessons

Marketing Lessons Learned in a Time of Crisis

When Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas, the images coming out of the devastating flooding were heartbreaking to see. So many people were driven from their homes, their jobs, and their lives by historic amounts of rain that seemed at times like it might never stop.

It’s a sad reality that major events like this happen often — hurricanes, earthquakes, violence, terrorism, etc. — and we as marketers can be so involved in our day-to-day operations that we lose sight of the fact that each email we send (even if it’s sent as part of a larger automated program) lands in the inbox of a real person who could be impacted by whatever’s going on in the world. And, even if they’re not directly impacted, it’s not hard to spot when a brand isn’t showing empathy for the people who are hurting, and that can turn anybody off.

So, as email marketers, it’s important that we’re aware of the world around us. If there’s a major news event going on, that can sometimes be an opportunity for our brands to connect with our customers. But just as often, it can be a time to make significant adjustments to campaigns that may already be planned and scheduled, or to delay a campaign altogether.

A well-known brand recently learned that when they sent out a “Floating World” email to subscribers just as Harvey was bearing down on Texas, and people were being flooded out of their homes. You don’t have to be purposefully offensive to be pegged as insensitive on social media. How can we all avoid that fate? Here are some tips:

Tone Matters

Always remember that, in times like these, people are hurting. Some have lost loved ones or may still be searching. In most cases, we can probably get away with sending whatever we were already going to send, keeping it completely unrelated to whatever disaster is unfolding.

But if you’re a nonprofit that wants to solicit donations around the event, or a business that wants to offer advice or well wishes, be sure you strike a thoughtful, measured, and empathetic tone in your language and images.

This is even true if, like in the earlier example, you have no intention of addressing the event. If you’re sending out emails while lives still hang in the balance, nerves are raw, and everyone’s eyes are glued on the disaster that’s unfolding. In all likelihood, that marketing team wasn’t even considering Harvey when they put together their campaign. But they still ultimately erred by not considering the content in the context of current events, and brought undesired attention on themselves.

Don’t Try to Sell

This applies mostly if you’re making any attempt to reference the events in your email campaign — Now is not the time to push your product. Unless you’re a charity involved in helping victims, any email you would send referencing the event should serve merely as a touchpoint to say that your thoughts are with those effected, and you wish everyone well.

It’s not time to think about the sales funnel or the ROI of this particular campaign. Depending upon your business’s location and customer base — perhaps if you’re located in Houston or the surrounding area — it might be appropriate to send such an email. If you’re trying to help and can crowdsource your email list for donations that could make an even bigger impact, that might be a good time to leverage that list for good.

But a hurricane is not the time for a “You’ll be blown away by our deals!” email campaign to reach customers’ inboxes. In fact, if you have subscribers in the affected area, consider suppressing them from any non-essential marketing emails. When you do send, play it straight and compassionate, and you’ll be glad you did.

Run it by Several People

While this is good advice for any time, it can’t be stressed enough when the stakes for our brands are the highest. We want to be sure to allow some extra eyes to look at a campaign before we hit Send in these situations, because there may be something in the content that didn’t strike the content writer as problematic, but somebody else will catch it.

We might even reach out to someone outside the marketing department, where they won’t be as close to the campaign as we are, after staring at it for the past few weeks, tweaking it to get it perfect. We can tell them to think about it in context of the disaster, and let us know if there’s anything that might be seen as insensitive.

It may seem like overkill, but taking those few extra minutes to have someone review our work before we hit Send could prevent us all from going viral for all the wrong reasons later.

Jeff Haws

With 20 years of experience in journalism and writing, Jeff brings an expertise in producing impactful content, audience identification, and how to write in a way people will want to read. He’s focused on helping businesses better understand who it is they’re talking to, and how to help them reach those people via the power of words.