Purpose And Marketing In A Time Of Crisis

It’s only been two weeks since I wrote about the need to respond to COVID-19 with urgency.

In those two weeks:

  • The number of confirmed cases worldwide has quadrupled
  • The number of deaths has quintupled, and
  • The U.S. has overtaken China as the country with the most cases.

So, yeah. It’s here -- and likely to get worse before it gets better.

But there are plenty of articles about that. This article is about something else.

This article is about you, and your marketing, and what business you are actually in.

Because -- if my inbox is anything to go by -- we are not paying enough attention.

I got an email today from a furniture company (subject line “COVID-19 Update”) telling me not to worry; they’re continuing to operate normal business hours and are happy to take my call.



I got an email from an airline asking jauntily whether I’m all set for my upcoming flight -- a flight that has been canceled, and which I wouldn’t be legally allowed to take anyway because of our lockdown restrictions.

I got an update from a marketing company that, among some genuinely valuable information, included this advice: “[R]emember that keeping [your] brand at the forefront of the customers’ mind through marketing is an important capital expenditure. Invest in ways to communicate, so that when people are able to go out and spend again, they will remember you.”

Maybe. But if you’re thinking that you can keep running business as usual and that this is all just a blip and soon you’ll be back to normal, you’re likely in for a very hard time.

The businesses that succeed are the ones that combine, as Admiral Jim Stockdale said, “faith that you will prevail in the end… with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

The brutal facts of our current reality are that we are facing an extremely challenging time ahead, and a lot of businesses are not going to survive.

The brutal facts are that the disruption we’re heading into is not a blip, and we will not be back to normal soon.

The dark cloud we’re heading into is going to be where we live for a while. Before we think about what we’re going to do when we’re out the other side, we first need to figure out how we’re going to live in the cloud itself.

And the most important thing you need to survive in the dark cloud is a profound understanding of what business you’re in.

In my business, for example, we do events and training: activities that rely on physically convening people. But that’s not the purpose of the company.

The purpose of the company is to help people navigate disruption and think critically about the future.

When everything started hitting the fan, we could have thought, “Oh no! We can’t physically convene people! We don’t have a business anymore!”

But instead, we thought, “Oh no! We can’t physically convene people! Let’s think about how we’re going to help them navigate this disruption!”

Thinking about purpose is such trite, clichéd advice that it almost makes me want to vomit. But your purpose is what you hold fast to when you’re in the tornado -- and right now, we are all in the tornado.

Sell furniture? You’re in the business of making people feel good about their surroundings. Sell makeup? You’re in the business of making people feel beautiful. Sell accounting? You’re in the business of making people feel confident about their finances.

If you understand what business you’re in, you’ll understand how to use your purpose to approach your customers with empathy.

Instead of an email saying it was open for business, West Elm created free virtual backgrounds for Zoom that feature the company’s furniture.

Start with purpose and finish with empathy, and you may make it through.

Stay well, stay safe, stay separate -- and for God’s sake, wash your hands.

1 comment about "Purpose And Marketing In A Time Of Crisis".
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  1. Thomas Hagey from Now Media, March 28, 2020 at 9:53 a.m.

    Good insights,Kaila. I keep seeing people on LinkedIn, posting like it's Facebook, sounding like everything is still like it used-ta-was. Rude awakening for many. However, a bright side is that it's taken us back to creating home-cooked-meals in our own kitchens...And I hope that never changes. That in itself is FOOD for THOUGHT.

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