Mindful Marketing Mid-Crisis

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, a question for many in the PR and marketing community that remains top of mind: How can we stay active in front of audiences while practically everything non-COVID takes a back seat? How do we talk about our business with such tact, and with the glaring reality that lives are being lost, without coming off as detached, insensitive or self-serving? One thing we do know is that we can’t carry on “business as usual.” After observing companies who are still actively marketing, and marketing well, we found they had many high-level tactics in common that you can also use to help pivot your 2020 strategy.

  • Echoing state or federal government approved messaging as a PSA disseminator for audiences. Not only does this create some continuity, but it’s a safe and sensible way to kick off your strategy in addressing the pandemic.
  • Over-communicating. The C-Suite should be especially vocal internally about steps they’re taking to protect employees while pursuing business continuity; and externally, about any realigning of operations to contribute to COVID efforts.
  • Donating time, resources and if possible, money, toward the most impacted group in your communities, advocacy or customer base.
  • Evaluating imagery and adjusting visuals. Be it temporarily modifying logos or adding a COVID-19 banner to social media accounts, this shows solidarity and creates a cause for pause. And to convey social distancing, avoid displaying images with crowds or people touching, and reframe copy that implies close interaction.
  • Keeping a neutral tone. Aim to be positive, personable and human, without coming off phony or trying to capitalize on the crisis – i.e. alarmist, self-serving or boastful language.

Below, we highlight some organizations that have stepped up for humanity through socially responsible communications and marketing strategies that we can all learn from.

Our client, Magna International, the diversified auto supplier, joined the ranks of automotive manufacturers looking to lend a hand in the battle against the novel coronavirus by manufacturing masks, designing ventilators, as well as tapping their consumer division for an existing device called the Puro, which has effectively used ozone gas to kill bacteria. Now they’re testing to see if it could kill viruses on surfaces to alleviate the shortages of PPE. You can read more about it on Autoblog and The Drive. (Photo from Magna International’s LinkedIn)

From a design approach, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Audi temporarily redesigned logos, conveying the importance of staying six feet apart; and from a product perspective, Ford and GM proactively resuscitated shuttered plants to answer the call as the arsenal of health. (Screenshot from Audi’s COVID Statement)

In apparel, Carhartt, the longtime Detroit-basedworkwear brand, shifted U.S. production to produce 50,000 gowns and 2.5 million masks to support the COVID effort. Similarly, Bauer, a hockey equipment maker, pivoted production from helmets and skates to high-grade medical face shields for our frontline heroes. (Photo from Carhartt’s Instagram)

On a national scale, Nike nailed it on the advertising front with a moving campaign,“Play Inside, Play for the World,”encouraging people to practice social distancing while staying physically active as part of the brand’s commitment to donate more than $15 million to COVID response efforts. And, to our point about communicating your COVID efforts in a targeted and neutral way, the shoe brand has done so by listing the five ways “Nike is helping athletes play inside.” (Photo from Nike’s Instagram)                    

In the beauty industry, Dove – adding to its successful repertoire of socially minded marketing – has launched the “Courage is Beautiful” campaign, showing the unedited, mask-marked faces of healthcare workers, as well as a COVID-conscious new logo emphasizing to “take care and be safe,” at home. (Photo from Dove website)

Speaking of healthcare workers, we’re seeing more companies offering products or services to our unsung heroes at no cost.  

  • Headspace is helping on the mental health front, offering them free meditation libraries.
  • Sweetgreen launched Impact Outpost – a program to deliver free food to hospital and medical personnel.
  • Starbucks is giving a free tall hot or iced coffee to healthcare workers, police officers, firefighters, EMS professionals and other hospital medical staff. They’ve also been constantly updating their Starbucks Stories site with recent and relevant COVID information in the communities they serve. (Photo from Starbucks’ Twitter)
  • Uber – along with its advertising campaign urging consumers to not use its services—is offering free meals and discounted rides to and from facilities for over 25,000 health workers in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland.

In high fashion, Christian Siriano was one of the first fashion designers to begin making masks to help the dire shortage of medical equipment situation in New York. “If we need masks my team can make them! I have sewers and pattern makers ready to help working from home, we just need all the information on how to help,” Siriano wrote on Instagram. (Photo from Christian Siriano’s Twitter)

What about the emptied shelves of essentials, like hand sanitizer? Demand continues to outpace supply, especially as Purell focuses its supply to hospitals. Luckily, alcohol isn’t just for drinking, and distillers have been using their own processing equipment to address the problem. Michigan’s own Valentine Distilling and Griffin Claw Brewing Co. are making denatured alcohol, a byproduct of the brewing process, to manufacture hand sanitizer products. (Photo from Griffin Claw’s Instagram)

Another sad, yet problematic reality when crisis hits, is the emergence of misinformation and a spike in fraudulent activity. This is why tech giants Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube launched a joint policy to fight coronavirus-related fraud and misinformation. (Photo from Google’s Twitter)

In education, as children, parents and teachers navigate the challenges of remote learning, tech companies and internet providers have come to the rescue. Logitech has launched a program for K-12 teachers to receive free webcams and headsets as they transition to virtual teaching. Audible is offering hundreds of free titles for children and students. And Comcast has boosted speeds on its basic packages and offering free internet to low-income customers. (Photo from Audible website)

One more crisis the world is facing as a result of the pandemic are issues around food, including a broken food supply chain and hunger among vulnerable populations. The restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit, farmers don’t have sources to sell their yields and more low-income households are struggling to put food on the table – but a few organizations have stepped in to help mitigate the issue: The Aging and Adult Services Agency and the Food Bank Council of Michigan are running a “virtual food bank” to provide food boxes to senior citizens – and a $28 donation pays for an entire box of food. Kraft Heinz is donating $4.7 million in products, which will be provided to Feeding America member food banks. Globally, the company has committed to $12 million in donations. (Photo from Food Bank Council’s donation site)

Rally for Restaurants, a grassroots movement to support restaurants through Covid-19, has made it easier than ever to buy gift cards to restaurants and encourage others to do the same. (Photo from Rally for Restaurants’ website)

We can’t even begin to scratch the surface in covering all of the organizations that have gone above and beyond to do their part in helping humanity, especially as there is no one-size-fits-all solution on how to get through this unprecedented time. To all the others across industries doing their best to take care of their company and their communities through this crisis – we see you, thank you, and keep it up.

Ava Frakes is a senior account executive in Stratacomm’s Detroit office.

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