Posted on March 1st, 2022
We’re living through radically uncertain times, more in flux than than most of the last 70+ years. COVID-19 upended daily life, affected mental health, scarred our children, disrupted economies, and still claims thousands of lives every day. On the heels of the latest COVID wave, we now see dear friends in Ukraine posting in social media as we watch coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on television news and social outlets 24/7. Suddenly, we greatly fear for the lives of countless people, as a rogue nation attacks its peaceful neighbor. It’s as if civilization time-warped backwards multiple generations and we once again find ourselves fearing the world our children will inherit.
The trappings and blessings of owning AIMCLEAR, the agency I founded 15 years ago, feel somehow hollow and self indulgent at this moment. As such, I’m encouraging our team to seek inspiration and meaning in our personal and professional lives at this time. Marketers are in the business of distributing messages — the essence of “means to an ends” when viewed in today’s global context. Yet it’s crucial to focus on the simple things we can all do to help ensure that commerce continues, businesses thrive, and goal are achieved. Despite the chasm of relative importance at this moment in history, messaging to achieve goals are key concepts made even more relevant against a backdrop of the global pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Here are some takeaways I’ve been pondering over recent days.
Each Next-Gen Communication Channel Shrinks the World, Reveals Truth & Misinformation
Much has been written about social media and its affect on pandemic and, more recently, war. Of course, marketers have worked amid the opportunities and challenges of social media marketing for years. We’ve used these every-day-people channels to help brands succeed- and ward off reputation challenges and competitive pressures.
If ever there need be proof that emergent channels can have a drastic impact on an outcome, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an extraordinary proving ground. The ability for real people, governments and interest groups with various motivations to broadcast instantly can seriously impact public perception, influence the media, and put immense pressure on governments.Â Anyone in a Ukrainian basement have used the Internet to become an influencer or on-the-spot journalist by providing a powerful message delivered with strong commitment. People worldwide are glued to reports from these brave people thrust into the critical role of cataloging and recording one of the great horrors or our time.
Think back to the late 1960s and early 70s when television coverage of the Vietnam War redefined modern day warfare and created unprecedented social movements. One has to wonder if we are watching the genesis of the first social media PR driven war. On its face, there is little Russia possesses in its vast arsenal to fully combat the scale of real people using social media to publish actual truth to westerners. While we yet not know the outcome of the Russian invasion, Vladimir Putin has already lost much of the world as a formerly little-known Ukrainian president and ordinary citizens have become global heroes seemingly overnight.
Economic Paradigms Always Change, Affecting People Everywhere
COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on numerous industries. War is already taking a tectonic toll on economies around the world. Few business stakeholders could envision such a brutal 1-2 punch. The takeaway here is obvious. Long term stability is an illusion. A virus or a tyrannical dictator can take down the global order in short order. Think about this on a much more localized scale in our industry. As marketers we know the same fragility holds true for the businesses and organizations we counsel – that hidden threats can unravel our reality in a heartbeat. Take these current times as inspiration for vigilance once the layered crises are over (and they will end). It’s crucial to not live life in negativity. Still, never, ever, take things for granted. Lead with gratitude and positivity, expect the best, and maintain a sharp eye. Your cheese is not safe, never was. And no matter what happens in isolated cases for business, when global trauma hits (9-11, wars, pandemics) we all get perspective of the transitory nature of what we do and the relative importance when world-altering incidents occur.
Great Institutions Strive to Develop Transformational Teammates
In business, we strive to empower people in a whole new development environment, becoming experts in fields we invent with intensive training and networking at their fingertips.Â We are building the next generation of professional artists, technicians, scientists, leaders, and doers.Â This human drive yielded Katalin Kariko, PhD, a senior vice president at BioNTech, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor in vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who made a breakthrough discovery modifying messenger RNA (mRNA), which laid the foundation for the COVID vaccine. The same drive opened the door for Elon Musk, love him or hate him, to challenge Russia with the possibility of providing satellite Internet to Ukrainians, should the Starlink terminals be distributed and work as hoped. Let us do the same in our business by supporting our teammates and empowering people to become all the can and have not yet imagined. Let’s change the world one teammate at a time.
Effective People Meld Wise & Emotional Minds to Form Deep Solutions
People are emotional and pragmatic all at the same time.Â We wish for things we know are not good for us – such as too much sugar, salt, and fat. We make decisions to deny ourselves, emotionally believing we don’t deserve good things when intellectually we know we’re worthy. Great marketers understand the Tao of wise and emotional minds.Â We learn to address both sides of human beings to serve them with products and services they need and also crave. When customers need something, we focus on their need. When customers emotionally crave something but don’t need it, we feed the crave. When customers both need and want, then we will have them.
Frame our perception of the masking, vaccines, lockdowns, and war similarly. Regardless of what you believe, take a look around. The communication we’re receiving either appeals to our pragmatic mind, emotions, or both.Â This holds true for the Fox News viewer in America, Russian citizen, threatened Ukrainian, or Rachel Maddow regular. Strive to be of wise mind, a healthy mix of what you feel and what you know.Â The world will be a better place.
Fake PR Works, but just for a Hot Minute
Outside of Russia, where Vladimir Putin controls the media with an iron fist, he’s losing the message war in many places – and getting crushed in the free world. From a public perception standpoint, the Russian invasion is an immediate and crushing blow to Russian credibility and its people, many of whom don’t want what’s happening. Ukraine was no threat to Russia and to suggest Ukraine has no independent history defies reality.
Much of the same context applies to what we’ve lived through over the past year since vaccines became available to combat COVID. Study after study proved that the vaccines quickly brought to market greatly reduced the likelihood of severe illness and death across age groups and other demos. Yet, politically driven PR campaigns sought to erode the credibility of the CDC and individuals. History will judge the actions of many players during the past two years, but truth clearly became a sidebar casualty as bad PR and noise rendered honest dialogue mute.
In marketing we sometimes say you can’t wrap a turd up in a bow, sell that shit, and then expect a high lifetime value for the product. Believe what you want. Fake PR in war or a pandemic can get you out of power, dead, or both. We pray for the former, but not the latter.
Doing What’s Right is More Important than Doing What’s Easy
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a former comedian who, by his trade and persona, captured the heart of the Ukrainian nation and won the presidency by a landslide.Â When offered evacuation to safety after the Russian invasion, he boldly stated that he “needs ammunition not a ride.” This writer, like millions of people worldwide, will forever be inspired by Zelenskyy’s courage. He has stood up Russia, posting defiant videos from the street, and made incredible political inroads in Europe, America, and the world. Two weeks ago, many people would likely struggle to point out Ukraine on a map – let alone tell you the name of its president. He is clearly doing the right thing by his fellow Ukrainians, even though he is taking a clearly difficult, if not deadly, path.
While the rest of us will likely never come close to the righteous example the Ukrainian president is showing the world, perhaps we all can try to honor his leadership in our own small ways. Our teammates strive to live our values, which include doing what’s right, even if it’s not easy. Perhaps those words take on even deeper meaning when we all look at our daily challenges against the backdrop of the global challenges we witness via the news, Twitter, Youtube, and other channels. For now, we pray for our fellow humans in Ukraine, the Russian people, those in surrounding nations, as well as doing what we can to serve the unwell due to the continuing (but hopefully waning) pandemic.
Let’s all take inspiration from those committed to peace, kindness, ethics, decency, and morality.Â Peace be with you.