In the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, businesses from banks to baseball teams have mobilized in support of storm victims by lending their assets to nonprofit organizations.
Those that have tried to make marketing opportunities out of tragedy have been publicly and loudly admonished (see American Apparel). Those that have quietly but solidly stood by with offers of support have fared much better.
All businesses would be well advised to use the calm after the storm to proactively plan how to communicate when future calamities occur.
Depending on your industry, scale, resources and culture, there are many ways to go. Looking at the post-Sandy environment, at least three approaches stand out:
Outstanding Customer Service: As the super storm was bearing down on my home in suburban New York, I was impressed by the anticipatory outreach being conducted online, on the airwaves and in print by insurance companies, banks and other service providers.
Citibank and JP Morgan Chase let me know via email that they would be extending credit card payment deadlines. Allstate was one of the insurance carriers disseminating instructions on how to file claims. JetBlue Airways shared that it would waive change and cancellation fees for travelers impacted by Sandy. As scary as the howling winds and threats of damage were, it was comforting to receive these messages and humanized these corporations.
Targeted Donations: As soon as the winds died down, a torrent of announcements of five-, six- and seven-figure cash and in-kind donations to the American Red Cross, food banks and other nonprofits were released by major corporations. While it would be inappropriate for these to be linked to marketing messages this is highly appropriate form of corporate philanthropy that positions big companies as good neighbors.
Offers to match or reward consumer and employee donations have the potential to create even greater feelings of community. Western Union, for example invited employees to join in donation efforts, matching their donations to the Red Cross two-for-one. Both United and American Airlines offered consumers frequent flyer points when they donated to the American Red Cross and other disaster responders. Capital One is matching up to $200,000 of cardholder contributions of cash and credit card rewards via its No Hassle Giving site. Wells Fargo is accepting consumer donations via ATM machines to the Red Cross.
Creative Brand Extensions: Particularly impressive are well thought out efforts by companies that have developed authentic ways to offer help that link back to their brand essence. Great examples include:
• Proctor & Gamble's Tide Loads of Hope rolls out mobile laundromats in times of disaster. One truck and a fleet of vans house over 32 energy-efficient washers and dryers that are capable of cleaning over 300 loads of laundry every day. Staff wash, dry and fold clothes for families free of charge.
• Another P&G brand, Duracell batteries, dispatches a Duracell Rapid Responder truck that offers free batteries and access to charging stations for mobile devices and computers.
• Home Depot has an ongoing partnership with Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization that utilizes the unique skills and experiences of military veterans to rapidly respond to disaster. In Sandy's wake, Home Depot provided Team Rubicon with an additional $50,000 worth of credit at Home Depot stores to obtain materials needed when they hit devastated communities.
You needn't be a Fortune 500 company to show you care and strengthen relationships when disaster strikes. Barteca, operator of a small group of restaurants, won my eternal gratitude when they emailed customers the day after the storm to say that all were welcome to come use their restrooms, electrical outlets and wireless internet -- no purchase necessary.
Whether you run a neighborhood bar or a multinational corporation, now would be great time to think through how your company can put its best foot forward when the Great Blizzard, Wildfire or Temblor of 2013 strikes. I sincerely hope that you won't need to implement such a plan, but I'm very sure you will.