Loving thy neighborhood businesses: A lesson in crisis communications

photo credit: @fuckjerry  shirt design: @emgphotodesign

Hi friends. I hope everyone is doing well and finding ways to keep your minds healthy, in addition to your families. I am finding so much hope and joy in the good deeds of my neighbors and trying to not let bad behavior get to me. But it’s hard when I get emails in my inbox like the one from a hotel in Myrtle Beach advertising their EASTER GETAWAY DEALS!! As if any of us can plan three weeks ahead let alone tomorrow.

Or the sales alert I got from a local clothing store telling me NOW IS THE TIME TO STOCK UP ON SPRING FASHIONS! Uhm, really? It’s kind of like my daughter's remark about getting dressed for virtual school: "What exactly is the point when my friends can’t see me?"

My disgust is that much worse when I get shallow communications from a national brand that should really know better.

As if the biggest thing on our minds right now
is what to wear in a quarantine?

My gut response has been to want to fire off nasty emails to these businesses and brand-shame them for being so insensitive and tone deaf. But the world doesn’t need more negativity right now. And I realize small businesses are scared. They need our sales and support to keep the lights on, and not everyone has the cash flow to close their doors and weather this. Nor do the mom and pop shops have an entire crisis communications team at their disposal like the big brands do, advising them on the right moves to make.

Our local retailers have never been through an experience of this magnitude, none of us have, so I feel compelled to extend not just compassion but also marketing advice from my experience developing brand and content strategy for companies big and small.

Think about the range of emotions your customers may be going through. Don’t overlook that and act like business as usual. Now is not the time for Sell Sell Sell. How can you help make your customers lives better? What expertise do you have or what services can you provide that you can offer for the greater good? Got a joke to share or want to distract us? You can if you use the right tone and don't ignore the pandemic in the room.

For every travel company, car dealership and clothing store so blatantly getting it wrong with their pandemic promotions, there are so many more who are getting it right. Stop & Shop sent this email announcing new hours they will be open only for seniors to get their groceries.

As someone with parents in their 80's, one who is immunocompromised, that email made me cry with appreciation and vow to be a customer for life. Stop & Shop could have just sent a mailer advertising their sale on "Stock-up Soups," but at a minimum it would have less impact, or it could spur people to never shop there again.

My gym, the Max Challenge, pivoted to move their workout classes online, with the aim of helping their members destress and keep their routines. Local restaurant The Burger Shop is offering free kids lunches during the school week from now until school reopens! A business that provides Soccer Specific Training is streaming free, live practice sessions to keep our little athetes occupied and in shape. River Road Books shifted to delivery and curbside pickup to give their community a welcome escape in the form of reading and games.

There may be financial gains that come from efforts like I've listed, but this is largely because these are business moves that aren't motivated by sales. They are motivated by taking care of customers. And that's what this is all about. Taking care of each other during this difficult time. Not taking advantage.

For businesses that aren't sure what to say or do in these stressful, unprecedented days, Forbes published a spot on-article about crisis communications. And online resource Really Good Emails sent out a really good email with examples from marketers who are doing a great job with their emergency efforts.

If you are a local business or small brand that still needs guidance on how to talk to your customers right now, please reach out to me. I'd be happy to chat and give you ideas or strategize with you, completely gratis. Free. As in, no fee. It's one way I can make things a little better. It's not much, but all our efforts add up.

Like so many wise public figures and brands have recently said, we're all in this together. Local and global neighbors getting each other through. Let's let our actions match our intentions. Do that, and you'll win fans for life.

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