Dead civilians. Reporters forced to issue statements on behalf of military government occupiers under threat of murder. An ousted President making a statement on live television via Facetime.
Scary, crazy times indeed.
In the world of instant updates, a constant stream of minute by minute accounts from ordinary folks on the ground report about the coup in Turkey, protests after The State murder innocent black men, the active shooter crisis in Dallas, and the terrorist attack in France.
The terror of these events has been nation-shaking. Do businesses (especially global organizations) have a moral or ethical duty to suspend traditional marketing efforts and adjust their message as the world manages through another crisis?
According to Fabienne Fredrickson (@fabienne), founder of Client Attraction, the best approach to marketing and operating a business during times of extreme crisis is to always put people first.
- Both times—first during Hurricane Sandy (one of the most severe storms to ever hit the East Coast) then again during the Newtown shootings (one of the deadliest school shootings in history), our nation experienced deep heartbreak as we watched our fellow citizens endure pain and severe loss. And both times over that short span of two months, we as a small company with clients to serve, employees to support and year-end goals to meet, were in the middle of a major business launch.
- Did we do everything right in response to the tragedies? No. But we’re learning and applying what we’ve learned to our Best Practices so that as a company we can continue to get better at what we do, continue to improve our service to our customers and clients, and to always, always put people first. (Fredrickson, 2012)
Putting people-first for businesses could seem trite and insincere if messaged in the wrong way. While companies may be honest in their approach post-crises, too-formal posts, prolonged silence, an effort to “play both sides” when one side is clearly in the wrong, or the shortsighted overuse of auto-post twitter updates are certain to come off as crass, uncaring, insincere, and insensitive. Immediately post-crises is a time when a company would do well to avoid coming off inconsiderate.
For some, a business’ only responsibility is to its shareholders, and that lies in avoiding a massive PR mishap that results in millions of dollars in corrective action. Additionally, in many countries, the country is the business. Colombian and Iraqi governments focus heavily on oil subsidiaries to sustain government programs. Hence the government is in direct line with that business. During a crisis they work to protect that business because it is the key to the stable infrastructure of that country. Unfortunately, this is where corruption also comes into play.
Top leaders of these businesses will flee the country with suitcases full of cash (this is exactly what happened in Iraq when ISIS began gaining ground), leaving the company and the country to flounder. Other larger businesses will also use these crises to profit by exploiting the people. In Iraq, when bottle water became a shortage the local companies cut production to up demand and drive the price. This caused the Iraqi government to instead rely on imported bottled water, and the local bottling companies went under as a result. The bottling company tried to profit from the crisis by exploiting the situation, hoping for a short term gain; rather than responsibly focusing on their people and the community as a whole.
Responsible Marketing in a Crisis
Using marketing to instead people in time of crisis can not only up the public image of businesses but also profitability in the long run. For example, Colombian oil companies will support the government by supplying them with the funds to not only support infrastructure, but also the military, public sectors, and even other private companies that collaborate with them. This sort of collaboration builds long lasting relationships that will far outlive the crisis.
According to Yurih Boykiv (@bojkiw) of Gravity Media, businesses have a duty to remain prepared for a crises and have a well-rounded, concrete, and culturally sensitive response ready. In his post on Inc.com, he wrote:
- Identify the conflicts. Are they internal or country-to-country? How will your business be affected if the conflicts escalate? These questions are key when deciding which countries to invest in. Foreign corporations have been eyeing the recently opened Myanmar market as a lucrative place to invest, but internal political conflicts and a lagging legal system make it risky. Understanding these types of risks can help you assess whether it’s worth gambling on a volatile economy.
Many entrepreneurs are also looking toward post-conflict African countries. Countries such as Kenya and Mozambique have credit guarantees and other incentives in place from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which makes them safer than other fragile economies. Examining existing safety measures and the likelihood of recurring conflict can help minimize your chance of losses.
2. Understand the culture. If you’re going to do business overseas, you need someone on the ground who can establish commonalities between your company and your foreign stakeholders and who understands how business is done in that culture. Particularly in fast-growing markets such as China and India, you want someone bicultural who understands how public policies could affect your business.
Your liaison can help maintain strong relationships with global partners if conflicts arise by opening a dialogue on sensitive issues. Whether the crisis affects your business directly or indirectly, you need to assure stakeholders of your good intentions, create a plan of action, and find ways to overcome political tension.
3. Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships. Before you ever break ground in another country, you should work to foster goodwill and start a dialogue with local stakeholders. Building strong relationships gives you a greater chance of succeeding financially and enacting change in poor or conflict-ridden countries. (Boykive, 2016)
Who wants to buy from a company that openly exploits its customers in their time of need? If a business wants be in it for the long run, they need public and social support from the people, in the good times and the bad. In the end, a company can expend little to no resources on simply not-sounding like a jerk immediately after a crisis. Companies can then buy themselves time to develop a reasonable long-term approach to marketing strategy (if necessary) that will allow themselves to maintain market share and maintain brand value.
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Fredrickson, Fabienne (2012, December 19). Seven Strategies for Doing Business in Times of Crisis. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/fabiennefredrickson/2012/12/19/seven-strategies-for-doing-business-in-times-of-crisis/#3b101dae7afe
Boykive, Yuriy (2016, July 19). 3 Things You Must Do When Conducting Business in Volatile Global Markets. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from: http://www.inc.com/yuriy-boykiv/3-things-you-must-do-when-conducting-business-in-volatile-global-markets.html