Global or national situations can be difficult to navigate online as marketers for risk of being called “tone deaf” or “out of touch”. Sometimes, companies can refrain from touching on the subject in order not to offend people. But taking the right actions and finding the right message can be challenging, especially in a fast-changing situation. All companies should operate with integrity and trust even as they come under pressure from a swiftly evolving situation. Those with a product or service well-suited for difficult times must read lightly in order to prevent your cherished customers from thinking you are exploiting tragedy.

In times like these, marketers shouldn’t wait for problems to develop or the market to point in a clear direction before making plans and taking action. Instead, follow a four-step action plan to define scenarios, monitor customers and plan for marketing changes.

Engage in scenario planning

The best way to be prepared is to practice. Marketers must not rely simply on the high-level corporate scenarios, however, but must go further for their department and brand. For each type of ‘disaster situation’ that is identified in a contingency plan, marketers must drill down to identify the specific challenges that customers, the brand and the marketing organization could experience. Once they have been called out, identifying the correct actions to take is the next most logical step. For example, a relevant scenario that could be impactful to many businesses includes ad purchases during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or an industry trade-show. In this situation, a worst-case scenario for an event is one in which it is canceled. From there, understanding the pain points for all parties involved, having some language and copy that is approved and prepared ready to go, and having alternative solutions or offerings is the remedial action.

Listen for changes in customer sentiment and behavior

Long before COVID-19 emerged as we know it, consumer trust in both government and large brands had eroded. People now align more closely with family, friends and local businesses because they are familiar and relatable. The current crisis seems poised to amplify the distrust customers have of brands. Brands can push against that wave by rising to the occasion to reestablish trust through making efforts to make consumers’ lives easier.

Balance your response. Marketers must support customers and protect customer relationships while staying honest about what the firm can and cannot deliver at this time. Be careful about taking actions that provide short-term stability (or gain) for the firm at the expense of customer trust.

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