Ethical Marketing at a Time of Crisis

By Cariona Neary

What is marketing’s purpose during this coronavirus? A temptation for some marketers could be to continue to promote their business with the usual marketing activities. We know what this feels like as consumers, when we watch something we’ve recorded a few short weeks ago, the ads seem so out of touch, so clumsy. Our hearts and minds are in a very different place now.

What are we feeling, is there a name for it? Maybe if we can name it we can start to manage it and this will help us in all our personal and business relationships. According to David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on emotional intelligence, the emotional discomfort many of us are experiencing is grief (Harvard Business Review, March 2020). If we’re feeling it, so are our families, our colleagues, our customers and our suppliers. So what is our role as marketers in this emotional whirlwind?

Understanding the shape of the grief curve can help provide “some scaffolding to this unknown world” Kessler suggests. The stages of the grief curve move from denial “this virus won’t affect us”; anger “you’re forcing me to stay at home!”. Then there’s bargaining, “so if we isolate for two weeks we’ll be able to get back to normal”, through stages of sadness and eventually we get to acceptance. You may recognise your own journey through the grief curve in these stages. Acceptance is where growth lies, “I can keep a safe distance and learn to stay in touch with my customers and colleagues virtually”.

Here are three tips to help you recalibrate your marketing during this time of change.

  • Empathy and compassion are critical
Feed the Heroes – an inspiring campaign

Many organisations have moved to a situation where they are giving some support to their communities, their customers and colleagues. Take the ‘Feed the Heroes’ movement, where closed restaurants are working busily to provide food for the hospital staff in their community. We are also able to access a whole range of experiences that normally were hidden behind paywalls. For example, the Harvard Business Review is offering all its coronavirus coverage for free. So consider what positive role your organisation can play in this time of crisis. People will remember brands that act ethically, particularly if done generously and authentically.

  • Reach out to colleagues, customers, suppliers and your wider community

One aspect of the grief curve is that in the early stages people become frozen. They are not able to think creatively and thinking into the future simply leads to anticipatory grief, in the unknowable future we feel anxious and pessimistic. Staying in touch with everyone that’s important to us in our business lives matters more than ever. Look for short term wins or milestones that people can aim for. You will notice that government bodies have become adept at this during the crisis, asking us to stay home for ‘the next 10 days or fortnight’. We all guess that we’ll be asked to stay put for much longer but the short-term objective works well with our state of mind. Remember to stay in contact with suppliers and laid off staff as well. Help everyone to see around the next corner rather than seeking to look too far into the future

  • Brand Purpose and Meaning

Kessler has added a final stage to the grief curve after we’ve reached ‘Acceptance’ we then look for ‘Meaning’. This may be a good time to consider a bigger purpose for your business than simply ‘selling stuff’. Consumers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, seek brands that are socially responsible. And just to assuage the concerns of your ‘inner accountant’, a 2015 Nielsen study found that 66 per cent of consumers were prepared to pay more for products from socially responsible companies.

We have right now the gift of time. You can use this time to rethink your marketing strategy and come out of this a stronger and more purposeful organisation.