Creating a Crisis Management Marketing Campaign


Published: August 31, 2020 Author: Jason Holicky - Hometown Design Studio Inc.
Creating a Crisis Management Marketing Campaign

Many businesses were caught by surprise when the pandemic started making its way through the United States earlier this year. As shutdown orders were issued, schools closed, and office staff sent to work from home, business owners were scrambling to notify customers and figure out how to make ends meet. For many of us, this was not only a difficult time, but also a wakeup call as we thought about the variety of crises and emergencies that could arise in the future. From local weather events to national emergencies, it’s time to have crisis management steps in place so we’re ready; use this framework to build your communication plan.

Step 1: Rally the Team

When communicating with customers, social media audiences, and other important stakeholders during a crisis, consistency in your messaging will be essential. For that reason, it is critical to establish who will be responsible for activating your crisis management steps and communicating with managers and supervisors internally. Before an effective marketing campaign can be deployed, addressing your teams and explaining your crisis management steps will be necessary so your efforts can be coordinated and cohesive.

Step 2: Evaluate the Context

One of the key features of a successful marketing campaign is authentically meeting your audiences in the moments they are in. That means understanding the context of their lives as they engage with your messaging, and emergencies will necessarily change the context of nearly everyone’s daily activities. Before creating messages and considering distribution, take some time to redefine your audiences and their needs so you can be sure you’re hitting the right notes.

During the current crisis, there was some harsh criticism over advertisers who appeared to take advantage of the pandemic to gain attention or peddle unfounded solutions. There were also a few who seemed to try and squeeze in some acknowledgment of the situation that didn’t feel like it was a true fit. For example, some advertisers of cleaning products were criticized for their cheery announcements about the effectiveness of their disinfectants while people were nervous about the virus and finding empty shelves at the grocery store.

While evaluating a new situation, consider hitting pause on all advertising, social media posts, emails, and other automated communications to avoid any situations that may be awkward or damaging to your brand. Instead, shift to communicating in the moment, especially while a crisis is unfolding. Norwegian Cruise Lines missed this critical step, and a commercial for a vacation package aired on CNN during a break from coverage about people trapped on a cruise ship due to Covid-19. Yikes.

Step 3: Create Your Business Strategy

Once the team is on board and you know the nature of the emergency you are facing, the next crisis management step is to create your business strategy. What changes to your business model will be necessary? Will you have to reduce some services or move to a different service line? Will your store be forced to close or reduce business hours? Do you know when you can expect to return to normal operations? Will some of your employees have to work from home or reduce contact with the public? How will your customer interactions be different, and what should guests expect from their experience?

When determining your business plan, be sure to include people from all levels in your organization. That way, you can be sure you’ve addressed all areas of your operations and considered several different ideas presented by your team.

Step 4: Communication

It may seem like you’re spending a great deal of time working on plans and strategies and that an urgent message to your customers and audiences is necessary. The truth is that all of us are likely to be in crisis mode and the people you’re trying to communicate with are working hard to ensure their families and homes are safe and secure. Many of us will turn to social media to check for news headlines and to check in with friends and family; very few of us will notice if our favorite brands skip a couple days of posts.

Once you’ve established what your new business model will look like, be sure to check all these communication boxes:

  • Website. Make sure your home page acknowledges the current crisis so visitors are reassured that the information they are reading is current and relevant to the situation. Make sure that all changes to hours, procedures, and operations are reflected throughout the site.

  • Email. Any customers waiting for product or service fulfillment should be first on your list for any updates regarding delays, cancellations, and refunds whenever necessary. Then, a general email should be sent to your subscribers communicating all changes.

  • The Web. Update the details on your Google My Business, Yelp, and other business profiles where you are listed to reflect new hours, products, and procedure changes.

  • Social Media. All the same details should be distributed via your social media channels and consider pinning those posts to the top of your feeds if the channel allows. That way, your audiences can quickly get that information and refer back to it whenever necessary.

  • On Location. If you have a physical location, post your new hours and any special information clearly on the main entrance. During the Covid-19 crisis, this information included whether local health departments were requiring masks or whether there were limits to the number of customers who could be inside at one time, or whether the storefront was closed or only operating via curbside delivery.

Step 5: The Return to Normal

Reassuring your customers and audiences will be vital as you move forward during a crisis or in the aftermath of an emergency. It’s critical to be upfront and honest regarding any delays or cancellations as most people will be understanding of the situation—provided you are staying in touch. This reassurance also includes keeping people updated as you return to normal or a “new normal” of operations that may include permanent changes.

Looking to the Future

As you create crisis management steps for marketing during an emergency, remember the critical points: determine who will be responsible for activating the plan, halt any automated messaging to avoid damaging your brand, develop a detailed business plan, then communicate that plan effectively to your teams, customers, audiences, and other important stakeholders.

Lastly, remember that building lasting relationships and emotional connections with your customers is critical for your organization’s long-term success. When you create a communication plan around authentic concern and genuine gratitude for those supporting your company during a crisis, you’ll secure a place in your customers’ hearts as one of the good places that made their lives a little better during the next emergency.

About the Author

Creative Director Jason co-founded Hometown Design Studio of New Lenox, IL in 2013. He spends his days guiding and consulting industrial clients and small businesses owners on their marketing strategy and projects. Jason enables everyone to be successful and grow their business by sharing his knowledge and experience.
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