Crisis Marketing – How To Develop a Strategy During Disaster

Crisis Marketing – it’s a difficult time to be doing business but the shoe nevertheless must go on.

With so much uncertainty and misinformation amidst the outbreak, it’s imperative that your communication strategy evolves to match the current economic climate.  As part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, it is important to include a plan and detailed instructions for implementing a crisis marketing strategy for your brand or business.

During this time of COVID-19, it is particularly important to understand how your marketing needs will evolve and shift during a crisis.

How will you communicate with customers? How will you supplement regular business operations with your adjusted marketing strategy?

Let’s explore the goals of crisis marketing and how this strategy can impact and amplify your brand during a time of crisis, especially one as big as coronavirus.

Here’s what we’ll take a look at:

What is Crisis Marketing?

what is crisis marketing

Crisis marketing is the term used to encompass marketing efforts during a crisis such as COVID-19.

A common misconception is that crisis marketing is solely focused on marketing that directly responds to a crisis or societal situation. In reality, crisis marketing encompasses all marketing that occurs during a crisis whether they are directly related to the crisis at hand or simply occurring in conjunction. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of this type of all-encompassing marketing plan during a crisis.

An extended crisis situation, like COVID-19, impacts citizens and businesses globally and is not isolated to an industry, geographical region or particular type of citizen. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an extended period of months where brands must adapt their brand marketing to accommodate for these ever-changing situations. 

Crisis marketing, while it may look similar sometimes, is not “business as usual.” It is marketing in a time of crisis where extra caution and strategic thinking must be taken.

This strategic thinking is critical in helping to manage direct response crisis marketing and to tactfully and respectfully continue regular content posting when the time is right. There are a number of best practice strategies that can be employed to ensure your crisis marketing strategy is timely, sensitive to the current situation and flexible enough to adapt for new information or new crises. 

The primary goal of any crisis marketing plan is to pivot your current marketing efforts to appear adaptive to the crisis at hand.

When developing a crisis marketing there are a few critical elements to remember:

  • This is not business as usual – a crisis should be addressed directly and not be ignored. Brands who do not adjust their marketing strategy during a time of crisis often appear out of touch and insensitive
  • Consumer and social media behaviours have changed
  • Your target audience before the crisis may not be the same audience during or after the crisis
  • People are altering how and where they spend their money – it is important to consider these shifts in consumer buying power.
  • New trends and competitors will emerge – do your best to stay ahead of the curve
  • Increase your social listening – in order to appropriately address a crisis it is important to know what the situation is, how conversations are progressing online and what your competitors are saying

5 Strategies For Effective Crisis Marketing

Effective crisis marketing is based on the belief that marketing efforts should represent both business needs and a business’s larger place in our societal structure. 

By not adapting your marketing strategy for key events, like COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter protests of June 2020, your brand can appear tone-deaf, out of touch and increasingly more likely to become a target for criticism. We’ve compiled our favourite tips for effectively managing a crisis marketing strategy and how best to weather a crisis with your brand identity and reputation intact.

1. Be transparent about changes in your business delivery model
Apple's "Creativity Goes On" showcases the changes in normal life and how we can still connect. (https://twitter.com/tim_cook/status/1248724370962305024)

During the COVID-19 crisis, most businesses had to adjust their business delivery model to account for social distancing, quarantine orders and inability to host large scale events or gatherings. Some brands easily adapted to these challenges and some even thrived! However, most businesses did experience a loss of revenue and other challenges due to COVID-19.

For many businesses, their ability to adjust their business delivery model significantly improved their business survival and ability to retain customers or clients. 

Many brands integrated these changes and their ability to adapt into their own stand-alone marketing campaigns. A few examples of this successful form of crisis marketing are stay-at-home ads by McDonald’s (Your Home is Now a McDonald’s campaign), Apple (Creativity Goes On campaign) and Nike (Play for the World campaign).

2. Re-examine your current and planned marketing efforts
For Denny's, a marked shift in tone from playful (left) to somber (right) is necessary to adapt to the current climate. (https://www.facebook.com/DennysCanada/

In order to remain sensitive to the current situation, it is important to adjust your planned marketing campaigns so as not to appear insensitive. To do this, review all scheduled social media content, ad buys in traditional or digital media, and any other marketing efforts. We recommend reviewing these campaigns weekly, if not daily, to ensure they stand the test of time and continue to remain sensitive and relevant.

There is a common misconception that during a crisis all “business as usual” marketing efforts should be rescheduled or cancelled entirely. While this may be true in some cases, in other cases this is simply not possible. 

COVID-19 is an excellent example. 

While many brands and businesses cancelled regular marketing efforts during the beginnings of COVID, at some point regular marketing campaigns must continue. Especially during the phased re-opening of business and services across the world.

3. Increase communications with customers and/or clients
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has announced that June 19th will be a company holiday to support the Black Lives Matter movement. (https://twitter.com/jack/status/1270448639622524928)

During a time of crisis communications, it is important to recommit your business to your clients or customers. This is necessary to help manage your reputation online and remain accountable and transparent to your stakeholders. This is particularly true during a time of negative reputational risk. For example, your brand is pivoting to crisis marketing after a senior leader or CEO makes a racist remark.

Increasing communications with customers and clients can be an important two-way dialogue during a time of crisis. Conversations with customers or clients can help to inform a change in your business model, redesign a marketing strategy or find new ways to reach new potential business leads. 

During a crisis situation, this customer-brand conversation can dramatically help to reinforce brand legitimacy and credibility.

4. Provide value to your customers or clients
crisis marketing value
Some financial institutions, such as RBC, have launched relief programs to provide financial assistance to their clients. (http://www.rbc.com/covid19/)

During a time of crisis, especially a global crisis such as COVID-19, it is important to reinforce your value to your customers and clients. While customers and clients may not have the buying power to purchase your products or services, it is important to show your brand value and reinforce that you value their business. 

This can be done through special promos or discount codes, special features on social media such as Lives with prominent celebrities or brand advocates. No matter how you show your value, it is important to remain timely, vocal and in the range of focus of your past and potential customers and clients.

5. Use your platform for good
Game studio Ubisoft has donated $100,000 to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter and encourages others to do the same. (https://twitter.com/Ubisoft/status/1267785187880062976)

If your brand is in the position to do so, crisis marketing can have a significant positive impact on a brand or business’s reputation for being members of the community or supporting others. 

This might be an excellent time to implement a new charity initiative, community-based fundraising or new inclusion or social responsibilities policies. By responding to a crisis in a positive and community-based manner, brands can significantly increase their social responsibility profile and “do-good” status.

These types of initiatives can be scalable based on cost and scope. Social listening is an important element of these types of projects – we encourage brands to do significant research prior to committing to a philanthropic project or fundraising effort.

Writing Corporate Social Responsibility showcases more than just self-regulation, it’s an avenue for positive change and increased brand recognition. Learn more in  Corporate Social Responsibility – Why CSR Benefits You”

Key Takeaways For Crisis Marketing

It is important to remember that despite our best efforts, there is no fool-proof guidebook on how to develop and effectively pivot to a crisis marketing strategy. 

Crisis marketing is often successful when communicators, digital marketers and brands use best practices to develop a crisis marketing strategy that is appropriate for the situation and their business needs. 

It is important to remain flexible and sensitive to the crisis at hand and to place reputational risk above business goals for the time being. It is important to thoughtfully reflect on your brand’s marketing strategy and how those efforts will be perceived by your customers, clients and the general public.

Thea Christie

Written By Thea Christie

Thea is the Content Marketing Lead at Advesa and possesses a strange love of grammar, syntax and punctuation. In the past, she’s worked as a content specialist for publications in the startup, SME and tech space. When she’s not storytelling, she’s busy being a travel junkie. @theachristie