It Takes Years to Build a Reputation — And Just Seconds to Destroy It. Avoid The Dangers of Insensitive Marketing in a Global Crisis. How to reframe your brand's message to stay relevant and respectful.

By Farhana Rahman

Key Takeaways

  • 1. Pause and assess the situation
  • 2. Show empathy and sensitivity
  • 3. Communications: Out with product-centric — in with value-based
  • 4. Demonstrate sincerity and authenticity
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The days leading up to the launch of a new marketing campaign tend to be particularly exciting for PR and marketing teams. It's the culmination of countless efforts, both creative and strategic. Before finalizing the date of the launch, you need to ensure that other events won't overshadow that of your own, such as major industry events, product launches of other companies in the space, and national or religious holidays.

But then there are unpleasant events that occur which, from a strictly business perspective, complicate marketing efforts in general. It's a real challenge to navigate the marketing landscape during times of national or global crises, such as natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks or school shootings. This is when standard business processes are best put on hold, to be replaced with a degree of humanity and empathy.

Navigating these waters requires a delicate balance. You might think, "Our candy subscription box service has nothing to do with a war happening in another continent," or "Our Instagram recipes are unrelated to national tragedies." However, it's crucial to step back and consider the broader context. How your brand responds (or stays silent) can speak volumes.

Here are some recommended ways to proceed with tact. Granted, it isn't one-size-fits-all, but understanding these principles can help tailor your brand's response in a way that's true to the mission, vision and values of your brand.

Related: Marketing Dos and Don'ts During a Crisis

Pause and assess the situation

As soon as you learn of the crisis, it is recommended you pause ongoing campaigns to assess the situation — even if it has nothing to do with your users, brand or industry.

I'm sure you've noticed negative comments under social media posts from brands that didn't pause campaigns. A jewelry brand might post a limited edition design, and the comment section would be flooded with comments such as, "People are homeless, children are dying, and THIS is what you post? #BoycottBigJewelryBrand." Once such comments come in, people tag their friends to join in. It's a nightmare that would only get worse if you delete them, set up banned word lists or block your trolls.

Instead, quickly go over scheduled content, advertisements, and social media posts to ensure they are appropriate in the context of the situation at hand. Bear in mind that the general public will be extremely sensitive in such times, and almost any form of marketing can easily be seen as tone-deaf and ultimately damage the reputation of your brand.

Related: 4 Hallmarks of Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Show empathy and sensitivity

Have a discussion with your team on how to adopt a tone that reflects empathy and sensitivity. This is not the time to post memes or aggressive sales pitches. See if there is any way your brand can quickly acknowledge the situation online, to demonstrate that the company cares.

This can be anything from a quick change of the company's profile pic, to a brief social media status that addresses that your thoughts are with the victims of this horrific event, and you're currently looking into ways to directly show support.

Communications: Out with product-centric — in with value-based

Be extra cautious with communications in general by reframing messaging to focus less on the product/service and more on the values of your brand as it pertains to the crisis. Talk about how your brand is all about things such as community support, resilience and compassion.

While at it, you should double down on it by offering support in the form that suits your brand best, whether that means making donations, distributing care packages or simply providing a list of resources tied to the crisis which would be helpful for your audience. Doing so would show that your company does indeed care.

Parallel to these external efforts, it's important to ensure your internal team also feels supported during the impact of the events and that the messaging that goes out won't be triggering to those who are sensitive to the situation.

Related: Why Big Businesses Must Proactively Manage Their Online Reputations

Demonstrate sincerity and authenticity

Many marketing teams are trained to keep an eye out on pop culture moments to capitalize on to promote the brand, but that rule shouldn't apply in times of crisis. If your audience perceives insincerity, there's a great chance of backlash taking place — and as the saying goes, it takes years to build a reputation, and seconds to destroy it.

Instead, be open to listening to your audience and responding to them. Responses can be done directly through replies/communications, or indirectly through temporary pivots to help ease the inconvenience they are facing.

Regardless of what you and your team choose to do, be sure to consider the long-term implications of your actions, as it would have lasting effects on brand sentiment. When executed well, your response would strengthen the brand in the long run.

Farhana Rahman

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Global B2B/B2C Content Marketing Strategist

A visionary marketing strategist with over a decade of experience in creating impactful content and driving successful marketing initiatives across diverse global markets.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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