• December 1-2, 2020
  • Brooklyn Expo Center

Webinar Q&A: Marketing During a Pandemic

What are your thoughts on the type of tone that brands can take now during this time in their content, whether on their social channels, their email communications etc.?

Janét Aizenstros: If I were to make one recommendation and this recommendation is fine-lined;  I think over the last month every media outlet has been inundating us with COVID-19 crisis solutions--it is overwhelming and scary for some people. Particularly the ones lighting themselves on fire. No pun intended. (well maybe a little) I don't want this crisis to feel normalized but I don't want fear-mongering either. I think media brands need to get back to the fact but that isn't agenda fueled by advertisers either (too long of a conversation here) but I think brands need to continue to connect with their client in their traditional ways but creating strategic alignments with organizations that are setup for COVID so it aligns with social responsibility initiatives too. The brand can create social programs too but I think many are just attempting to stay afloat. What I see right now are too many companies are attempting to profit off of COVID in a really weird, creepy agenda-pushing kinda-way. That could just be me spending too much time in geopolitics but have been remaining silently eye-rolling as investors and multinationals setting up venture funds for COVID. I cannot begin to tell you how many proposals have come through my deal flow in my private office seeking funds for COVID inventions, hand-sanitizers, masks and etc. If this requires further conversation, I am more than happy to oblige in a phone conversation.

Gary J. Nix: The tone of your communications (at any time) needs to be both consistent to your brand's tone and appropriate to the situation. One of the things that we see happening a lot regarding tone is a lot of somber feelings and solemnity. Granted, those tones can be relatable to these uneasy times, however, if you've never come across that way people may very well question your authenticity.

Millennials have seen the Iraq war. We're currently still in a war. We also have lived through 9/11. The psychology of this generation was a fascinating topic because they've been through more crises than any other generation existing now.

JA: I would say North American millennials have had a very centralized perception of war and oppression. This doesn't extend necessarily to other countries that may have been causally involved in the Iraq War. 9/11 was definitely tragic for sure which left a universal impact.  My point is North American millennials have not experienced their collective basic needs challenged where a gross majority couldn't find food/water/shelter as a byproduct of war, depression and terror. When you look back on past pandemics, depressions and world wars everyone was unquestionably affected. I have had to listen to stories from mother being born in the Caribbean filling potato sacs with palm leaves to make pillows and mattresses being born a few months after WWI ended.  The Caribbean island she was from is remote so basic necessities were severely inaccessible at that time.  Or my ex-husband's father being a small child losing a family member in the holocaust where they had to feed a family of 11 with 3 potatoes constantly moving to ensure they were not falling prey to the Nazis. Let North American Millennials spend time in Syria, Palestine, Sudan, South & Central America in the countries where basic needs are challenged every day by genocide, political corruption and war. Reality shifts very quickly. I just want us to have a perspective that other people in REAL 3rd world countries are striving to find clean, water, seeking refuge from war or shelter. 

I have travelled to over 50 places globally and I will tell you Canadians and Americans... WE ARE BEYOND BLESSED AND SPOILED.  I think many times North Americans attempt to pigeon-hole ourselves into any experience to play the victim card which is what media has trending now and has truly normalized. Many of us cannot relate to the horrific adversities that our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents and ancestors have had to live through or what some people experience in REAL 3rd world countries daily. Truly, I don't know if we would make it with all our over-quaffed entitlement. As North Americans, we have experienced challenges but it is still very different under 1st world perception. But on point, I am sincerely compassionate to the men, women lost in the Iraq war, 911 attack and the military & health care personnel on the frontlines. I know we all probably collectively knew people impacted by Iraq and 911. I am not attempting to be uncompassionate to the families impacted but what I am saying is the statistical impact compared with current wars, depressions and pandemics in the past are not comparably. However, I am mindful not to erode the loss of any human life down to a statistic but I think what our generation misses is the enormity of WWI and WWII which killed over 20M and 75M people globally. The impact of these wars have had universally impacted nations and people not even directly involved in the WWI or WWII globally. 

The psychological impact during those wars still has lingering effects to-date. Hence, why they are taught with intention in schools for us to never forget the atrocities committed against humanity. Throughout my life, I have discovered that impression of an impact leaves and imprint. The comparison of the Iraqi War for most North Americans didn't' cause them to stop living their daily lives or shift their level of comfort.  I would say between the Iraq War and 911, 911 had more ripple effects on a global scale in my opinion than the Iraqi War on Terror. This could be that I am Canadian and it happened on U.S. soil but I will share from the perception of the Iraq War most Americans (with the exception of military families) kept living their lives normally. 911 left an imprint from that impact as everyone was astonished by the audacity of what had transpired.  I will never forget that day. I am not trying to marginalize either experience.   I will share one psychological differentiator in this generation between North American millennials and Gen Zers which is distinctive between Canadians and Americans. Americans do live under home-grown terror which is not something Canadians have experienced in the same way. Thank God.  I think psychologically it can make people who live under terror much more hypervigilant than those who are not but either dynamic allows for each to learn from one another.

I believe Gary and Mike may have differing opinions here as this question is very perception-based. Everyone will have a very different response even if we agree on some points. Each person's specific socialization causes shifts in our psychological perception and disposition. Gary's perception of being an AA living under siege in America may also shift this perception here. Also, Mike's opinion will probably differ as well since he was born in another country. And your perception will probably differ here too Carlos.  I believe all points here are valid. I will shift this into branding and consumerism in this generation needs to push more narratives that really give us a sense of developing the sustaining characteristics around empathy which are resilience, fortitude and patience without these sustaining capabilities empathy becomes hollow and just talk for the sake of fitting in with a trend.

GJN: I will say this about the psychology of the generations with significant time in adulthood i.e.: GenX, Baby Boomer, Silent Generation, what we are experiencing now is unprecedented to us all. We all have dealt with crises and are dealing with one that hopefully has us reexamining the way we live, treat each other, and how we will move society forward. It is imperative that in all communications we understand that humanity must be integrated into all we do.

In the UK, the government will demand that companies (big and small), have business continuity plans in place for all types of crises. Do you foresee the US demanding such a standard? Do you feel that is necessary?

JA: This is what I eluded to yesterday regarding regulation. I am currently working with the department of commerce in the US and the ministries here in Canada to advocate for policies around corporate governance as it pertains to risk & financial contingency. This should be mandatory within any size corporation. Here is one of the problems particularly with larger corporations.  Some medium to large-sized corporations don't want money laying around in their accounts, what they will do is move the money into the liquidity markets to garner a rate of return on their monies but use credit for all operational, payroll and other expenses. This is highly problematic. Like I said yesterday credit is for leverage, not sustainability. These companies are solely running on credit. What do you think has happened now in these markets now not open? When the market crashes they scramble to find ways to remedy solutions by turning to the government but once the bailout happens everything goes back to business as usual with major companies continuing to line their pockets while the rest of the country is taxed in other ways to reclaim the overinflated economy during a recession. There are some remedies that can aid as solutions dealing with a companies liquidity but I am not a financial or investment advisor any longer so you would have to discuss that with your advisor.

Watch this video just released by Edelmann featuring Moody's Chief Economist.

GJN: I don't know if the U.S. will adopt such a standard, but from a purely business standpoint, it's just smart. Things are going to break--this is an inevitability. Thus, if you have a plan for such times, you will be are likely able to recover much quicker than if you don't have one. A general plan is easier to put together than many think, as it's hard to plan for something you've never experienced. With that being said, a strong level of preparation will do wonders.

What 3 things - specifically can a brand or biz do right now to PIVOT?

JA: Start looking at your services in a different way as it relates to the market. Brands and businesses need to reassess services/products they already have and look for ways to make them better or if you have the manpower and capital reinvent the old or create something new.  That's the beauty of entrepreneurship! Let's get fired up people about innovation! Think about brands like Peloton. They slapped an iPad or smart-device technology onto a generic spin bike and treadmill. What they did is use aspiration marketing combined with technology. Also, how they created the cult following was in the packaging of their products from physical products to the store and the intentionality of their UX/UI design by making their subscription-only accessible through mobile, not web to ensure their subscribers were forced to use the bike and treadmill screens or their mobile application.   They used what I call the Apple/Telsa-storefront model to create experiences for their physical product by getting people to engage paying $2500 USD for bike or treadmill that you could get at Walmart for under a $1000. I'm sorry even I have drunk the Peloton Kool-Aide. Even watching the evolution of their content along their streamlined categorization makes keeps the process simple for their user. Creative innovation, ideas and technology are sustainable ways in the future. 

GJN: a) First understand whether or not you need to pivot. Reexamine what the value of your product or service and pay attention to whether or not the people need that core offering; b) Can you repurpose your core offering to help people with the things they need now? I've seen some distilleries pivot to sanitization products. Is that their core product, no, but it's something they can do to help; and c) What partnerships do you have or can you put in place to help? Any PIVOT needs to help YOUR customers in their time of need. Either you provide, build or facilitate.

Any examples of marketing mistakes that have happened in the past few weeks?

JA: They stop spending money on advertising/marketing. I think Mike would have the most to share on this. This idea of streamlining cost by cutting off your customers from their brand presence always perplexes me --- especially with brands that have consumer products. Become innovative use your human capital resources and tools to network to come up with innovative ideas on how to capture your audience. A sustainable brand learns how to withstand any obstacle. All of the major Fortune corporations have all weathered the depressions, wars that have happened in the last 50-100 years and always come out stronger and better. Such as Ford, GM, Chanel, P&G and there are so many more.  They've all navigated through storms and have found stormed. I think brands need to have contingencies so when a crisis hits they shift their spending from one area to the next but not cutting off-brand communication with their customers by stop all advertising and marketing. That is a no, no, no.

GJN: One brand who is going through it right now is the WWE. Soon after the conversation about their status as an essential business was confirmed in Florida, they went through a major wave of furloughs and layoffs. Although many businesses have had to find ways to cut costs, most companies don't have $500 million in cash at their disposal. I cannot say that I have full knowledge of the WWE's financial ledger, however, all of the information at hand has led to a whole lot of confusion as the available facts do not seem to line up to the real life conclusion. Even if what they've done makes complete business sense, the combination of existing staff's lowered morale and the active, negative sentiment from their actual customers is resulting in a thus-far marketing troubles.  

When you say keeping consistent, and you don't want to appear as a predatory seller, what are some strong examples of connection that don't leave a bad taste in your mouth?

JA: I think it's what Mike said yesterday BE AUTHENTIC. Nothing annoys a consumer more when a brand leaves its normal narrative to start jumping on the bandwagon of a trend which makes their storyline seem completely out of place and then feels agenda-pushing instead of the brand's TRUE VOICE. I think one way in this era to stay alive is to start refining your voice just to the point you don't lose it, the same way you can add to a brand's voice without overwhelming your audience. It's a waltz that has a pace but it's finding your brand voice's taste in the race.

GJN: Honesty and authenticity go a long way. To begin, the focus should always be solely on your target. As much as we would like to sell to everybody, everybody is not going to partake of your offering. Secondly, if you are selling a product or service, people realize that fact. Companies have more issues with their business when they act like they're not trying to sell their product or service. Being predatory often includes being dishonest, manipulative, or disingenuous. The amount of information accessible nowadays helps people decide if your actions are too varied from what you claim you are doing as a brand. When you remain consistent, the most likely way you will appear to be predatory will be if you are consistently predatory. Continue to serve your customers and provide the value for which they are searching. That is a strong foundation on which to run your business.