Posted on April 30th, 2020
Each Friday a group of our AIMCLEARians sit down to host a discussion about what’s on our minds, what we are hearing in the industry, and more. In this Friday Fireside Chat join Vice President of PR Strategy Joe Thornton and Creative Director Erik Stafford discuss PR, paid and organic social messaging strategies for these critical times of the global pandemic. They’ll showcase some brands that connecting with their audiences like pros. Plus, review messaging that missed the mark. Let’s dive in.
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Erik Stafford For the first of our Fireside Chats, Joe and I wanted to talk a bit about messaging strategy during critical times. I think these certainly qualify as critical times. It’s very evident to see that businesses are hurting. People are scared. How do you market during this time, even if you have the best of intentions, without just striking the exact wrong chord and really offending people? It’s not easy right now. I thought that, Joe, you would be a perfect partner to join me on this topic. Do you want to just share with people a bit about what you do and what your experiences are as it relates to PR and messaging?
Joe Thornton Yeah, I’ve been in various aspects of PR, crisis communications, and corporate communications for the past 20 plus years. Prior to that, I worked in a TV newsroom in Duluth, Minnesota, where AIMCLEAR is headquartered. Both being on the reporter side of it, but also on the PR side of it, you get a sense of the challenges that organizations, even individuals, have in how to communicate, when to communicate, and what to say during times of crisis. Now, a lot of times that’s reactionary crisis to something that has happened to the brand. Then you get these moments in time, this is longer than a moment, obviously, but it’s a moment in time where the world is different. It’s September 11th, it’s the financial crisis in the mid 2000s, it’s what we’re going through right now where the usual rules of how you engage, how you present the messages you share change dramatically, and you’re working in really uncharted territory because each situation is different. We’re having a lot of conversations with brands right now, the clients that we represent, on “what should you be saying? How should you be positioning this? Is this too much of an attempt at humor? Is this tone deaf to the situation people are facing?” Because there’s still a need for brands to connect with their audiences. Arguably, even more so now, even though we’re not seeing really rapid buying patterns, shopping patterns and transactional patterns, all of that is going much more on the dormant side. There’s still a critical need to be communicating but doing so in the right tone and with the right type of messaging that reflects the times and is helpful.
Erik Yeah, that’s the key, right? Because stuff that worked two weeks ago or a month ago, it may just not work at all now. We’ve got some examples of that that we’ll be sharing during the live chat today. We just wanted to chat a bit about some of the things that we’re seeing with our own business at AIMCLEAR and also with our clients. Share some of the advice that we’re giving to our friends, family and people that we love, local businesses that we love that are now suddenly struggling with this new paradigm. Like Joe had said, this is a historical moment in time and there’s a lot of uncertainty around it. We don’t know how long it will last. We don’t know how much back “normal” things will get or how long that will take. So, there’s just a lot of fear and uncertainty that people have. I think speaking sort of from an overview standpoint about AIMCLEAR in our business and our clients, a lot of our clients are looking at pulling back from lead acquisition initiatives because it’s harder to sell and budgets are slimmer in a lot of instances and moving more towards brand initiatives like “How do we really keep or grow our market share?” “How do we really communicate with our customers or our members and show them that we’re in this with them? We’re in this together.” And, is one type of messaging better than the other? Can you do both? And then, joking. Joe and I have chatted a lot about messaging we’ve seen where it’s like, “is it too soon? Can you even joke about this?” Yet all of us are looking at memes all day long about Coronavirus.
Joe It’s not even always about joking about the current situation. Humor in general has to be tendered very carefully and delicately. I think we’re also seeing the fact that you have a knee-jerk reaction and an understandable one where conversions aren’t happening. So, you scale back on spend or you cut spend entirely. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s actually a time when it’s critical to be in front of the audiences. Maybe it is on a scaled back amount, maybe it’s on a different strategy. But what is the ultimate goal right now? It might not be to get the actual conversion, but it might be “let’s engage with them.” They know we’re here. They know we’re viable. They start to build up their own sense of when this is done. What do I want to do? And there’s opportunity now for more of that kind of brand building and staying connected with the audiences and the customers you’re trying to reach. It’s easy to understand the notion, the knee jerk notion of, “Well, you know what? Nothing’s happening right now, so let’s just stop spending.”
Erik Yeah. We’ve seen some big brands over the last couple of weeks launch some initiatives that are much longer-term plays in terms of the ROI that they may generate from those initiatives. It’s very interesting to me the dynamic between those initiatives, sort of the “We’re in this together. We’re a community, we’re here for you. We want to help you” and sell because at the end of the day, businesses still need short term ROI to pay their employees and keep the lights on. I think to me, the first thing I always think of when I look at messaging during times like this is the tone and how do you reframe the tone? I’ve heard a lot of people say over the past couple of weeks, “the world will never be the same.” And you know, that may be true, but you can also say, “the world will never be the same.” Â That could be a very exciting and wonderful thing as well. Right?
Joe Exactly. I’m actually looking at a couple of comments coming in and jumping back to actually some a little bit on the humor side.
Artagene Skipper is saying a great point here: “If you never laugh or smile, when do you know when it’s time to cry?”
Keith Erickson is offering up that “Jokes are fine as long as you don’t inflict the painful emotional reaction. It’s about understanding the viewer’s point of view.” And I think that gets to the core of a lot of what we want to talk about in the actual messaging. How do you do this? Because understanding the drivers, the motivators for the audience, and what and where they are right now. Their state of mind is really interesting.
I have a client who works in SaaS-based software system and a few weeks ago they hosted a webinar. The idea was actually to just get the community together. The thought was “maybe it’s a chance just to commiserate a little bit and be together while people were confused.” I would say five minutes into it, the questions started coming in very specific: “How should we be reacting to changes in search patterns on Google?” It’s like people want to move forward. They want to figure out how to run their business. They want to understand how to connect with viewers, understand their point of view, as Keith points out, understanding their point of view, and create the experience, the connection that still meets their immediate needs right now.
Joe So maybe we should talk a little bit, Eric, about some of those things, about the actual messaging. What are the hits? What are the misses? Where are brands doing well and where are they maybe not?
Erik It might seem super basic and super intuitive, like “duh, of course you would do this.” But whenever we want to put out messaging as a company or we have clients that we’re working on messaging for, there’s always a goal. There’s always something that we want to say or get done. Some initiative that we want to push, or at least there should be. I have clients that will say, “These are our KPIs. These are our goals. This is what we want to achieve with this piece of messaging.” But I think equally important or maybe even more important is “What are the audience’s goals? What are the audiences feeling in a very real way? What is going to ease those pains or calm those fears or address those concerns? That’s where value meets offer and that’s where exchanges happen. That’s where your need meets want and meets offer. We’re always sort of thinking, “All right. So we get it that you want to sell X, Y, Z” or “We get it, a lot of businesses that we know here are looking at taking their business online and doing curbside carry-out or trying to stream yoga classes or fitness classes online.” Great, so what is your goal here? Their goal may be “We want to buy actual food, pay our actual rent, and survive through this.” OK, cool. What is your audience’s goal? That really is where you can start to address the concerns that your audience has or the desires that they have in a way that makes a lot of sense to them rather than just looking at your initiative or your goal. So that would probably be my first recommendation is to really think hard about, What does your audience want? What do they need? What are they struggling with? What is their emotional trigger or driver right now? How do we address that? Once you figure that out, then you can get granular with the messaging to make sure that you’re not saying anything that might be accidentally offensive right now.
Joe We’ve got a couple of clients that we’ve worked with who are in the travel industry in northern Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is God’s country. It is untouched wilderness. The outfitters up there, the lodges, their customers are like family to them. They also have a very short window of when they get to do business.
Seagull Outfitters is one we’ve had a longtime relationship with, we created a campaign for them that tapped into the notion that right now people are not booking, they’re not planning because they don’t know what to expect. We just did a really simple messaging for them with some beautiful imagery of the area. It talked about “Keep dreaming, the lakes and woods of the Boundary Waters is waiting for you. And we’re ready here when you are.” There was more to it. Actually, the length of the post for a paid Facebook post was quite long. It performed extremely well for them. You got a ton of engagement on a paid post, a ton of really great comments. The number of comments that came through was just astounding. It’s a beautiful business that loves their customers. They needed an opportunity to still be able to engage with them and have messaging that helped kind of share a little bit of a dream.
People do want to dream about what they want to do when this is all over. This is about serene wilderness, getting away. It’s kind of like social distancing that the reason people leave the city is to go up to the Boundary Waters and get away from it all. Now it’s like the dream is to get out there and just let this out. Get away from all of this stress, strain and uncertainty. Even though we don’t know when that date will be.
We did a similar campaign with another Boundary Waters outfitter, which is Gunflint Lodge. Somewhat similar messaging and tone, but it was letting people know that “your getaway will happen” and similar types of messaging about being here when you’re ready. Both performed really well. The messaging was right on. The visuals gave people a reason to kind of remember why they love it, why they want to go there, why they want to be there. And then maybe it’s a pause in the stress of the day, even, just to see that familiar sight of the gorgeous lakes up there, the gorgeous wilderness, and kind of go, “Yeah, we will get back to normal.” And it was beautiful how the messaging, the imagery, everything worked well to create the right kind of emotional trigger, to spur people to act. They got great traffic, they got great inbound phone calls, they get great interaction with their audiences. And I think for the people receiving the message on that, it was a moment of sort of happiness and serene at a time where we need happiness.
Erik It brings you back to the memories you have at those places. I’d be curious to see what Dan Morrison, Susan Wenograd and Marty Weintraub have to say about this next week. They’re going to be digging into specifically how to address this sort of stuff in paid search and social. But I could imagine a world in which community-focused messaging like that, like, “Hey, we’re family, we’re here, we miss you, we love you. We can’t wait to see you again. We don’t know when that’s going to be, but we’re here.” I think, for example, videos like that can then be retargeted to video views, which are often quite affordable, to an offer where you can say, “Look, because of current events, we’re struggling a bit. We could use some help. We’d love to offer you a great discount to book your next trip.” You can sort of retarget to an offer so you can switch from a community-focused message to a message that still sticks with the community aspect, but also says, “Hey, we’re in this together, would you like to help us out?” We’ve seen a lot of messaging like that with some of our local restaurants, where we say, “Absolutely we can help you out. We’ll buy a hundred dollars worth the wine. We’ll come there and have you throw it in the back of the car for us, because we love you, and we can’t wait to get back to normal with you.”
Joe Marty’s actually weighing in here with a comment that he kind of sums it up nicely: “Audiences want that realism, hope, professionalism, the connection.” All those things that many brands really do enjoy. There’s one that you and I talked about earlier. I wish we could share the video. It’s a television ad from Hy-Vee grocery chain. They have a number of stores right here in the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota. They put up a commercial and in the first three seconds I was reacting kind of negatively to it. They had a kitschy theme. It was that 80s tune by Bonnie Tyler “Holding out for a Hero.” It’s really upbeat. It’s really up-tempo, and it’s really fast. It’s that song from my youth, which is kind of a long time ago. About three or four seconds into it, as they mixed in the visuals, it was your frontline people. It was your E.R. staff. There was the nurse. It was the doctor. It was the orderly. It was the police officer, firefighter. It was the guy restocking lettuce on the shelves. It was the back to our first responder, back to someone stocking the meat shelves. And, even though the song was really overly kitschy from an old 80s tune from Footloose, the message was really powerful. They threaded a beautiful needle of that whole notion of community appreciation, not just for the people out on the frontline as we think of them as your first responders. But the pride they showed in their employees was extremely powerful. You could see that to the brand, it mattered to them how their employees are perceived in this space. I thought of it as a really well-done spot.
Now, about two days later, I saw a competing grocery chain use David Bowie’s “We Could Be Heroes” it also worked really well. But it sort of was like, “OK, that someone did it first and someone did it second. I don’t know who gets the win on the great thinking on that message,” but it was powerful and it was optimistic. There was a seriousness to it. They blended a lot of the emotional triggers all in one 30 second ad. It was really well done. I’m not a big fan of TV ads.
Erik That’s awesome. I think when it comes to talking about tone and not being perceived as capitalistic or tone deaf or over opportunistic, I think that really comes down to an understanding of what people’s core emotional triggers are so that you can identify them and play to them but not prey on them. I think that really is the big difference on a granular messaging level.
An old friend, Mike Morgan, who’s a very, very good copywriter, a direct response copywriter, actually doing a lot of work with Agora these days. He shared these with me years ago. Back to what we were saying earlier, we know what our agenda is with our messaging. We know that we want to get people to pay for our streamed yoga class or come by and do curbside pickup or buy from our brand. But what is the audiences’ agenda? What are they feeling right now emotionally?
And so the seven emotional sales triggers that Mike shared with me years ago; I always look at these when I write messaging. The first one is to make or save money. This is an inherent sort of feeling or need that people in a lot of different audiences feel really, really strongly. Being safe and secure is the second one. Be comfortable. Look better. Live forever. Entire industries are built on this emotional trigger of looking better. The entire diet and exercise industry is built on looking better and living forever, right? Be accepted. Then finally, the seventh: save time and work less.
When I think about that list and think about what the majority of different people in the world right now might be feeling, I would guess it’s a combination of make and save money. There’s a lot of people that are really struggling financially right now in light of all of this. Being safe and secure would be a second big one that I think a lot of people are feeling because there’s just so much uncertainty out there. Then be accepted, right? Everyone is isolated right now and some people are isolated alone. Some people are isolated with their family and still feel very alone. So I think I think overall, if we were to speak generally, you know, look at your offer. Look at what it is that you do or what you have that you can trade. As value for money. Look at how it addresses some of those triggers, right? How does it help people save or make money? How does it help them feel safer or securer or, you know, and you might combine “look better” and “live forever” into, you know, “get healthier, feel healthier, stay healthy during all of this while you’re while your gym is closed and while you can’t really go to the park,” right? Then finally be accepted.
Erik I think what you had mentioned, Joe, the example of Seagull canoe outfitters, it’s a family, right? Like it’s being accepted into this group of people. You miss them. You miss them because you can’t go right now.
Joe Marty has shared the links to the posts that I was talking about, both Seagull Canoe Outfitters’ post and the Gunflint Lodge’s post in the comment thread. I encourage people to take a look at those, because it really was something that I think overall both us and the clients were really proud of. That it’s it’s it’s really good, solid messaging that connects at an emotional level. There was an element of hope. There’s an element of camaraderie in that we’re in this together. There is also a seriousness, a level of seriousness about the nature of it. On that note, there were a couple of things that we’ve spotted, Eric, and I think you’ve got an example on your computer you might be able to share: pitfalls that people need to be aware of. It’s not just in what you’re creating now, but it’s what you created back two or three months ago. Right. You want to call up the newspaper one?
Erik Yeah. I’m actually sharing.
Joe Oh you’ve got the Seagull one right there. Yeah. That’s one of them right there. That that didn’t look, if you are someone who goes to the boundary waters on a regular basis and you see that canoe with the lake map wrapped in plastic, so if it falls out of the canoe, you still have your map to get back. The beautiful paddle -Â that harkens someone’s heart right there. The people who go there, that is heaven on earth right there, looking at that bow of that canoe. The messaging in there was just very welcoming. We’re looking forward to seeing people there, what their planned start date is. They talk about that being May 9th. But then that may not happen.
Erik “We’re gonna be flexible along with the rest of you.”
Joe They get a great, great response both by phone as you see the phone numbers in there, the email address. The other one was the one from Gunflint. I don’t know if you have that one up in front of you.
Erik I don’t I don’t have it in front of me but I can probably figure out a way to move it-
Joe Two beautiful Adirondack chairs looking out at Gunflint Lake.
Erik So good.
Joe Empty chairs, because right now the chairs are empty and a similar tone of messaging. It’s something I was actually out of all the things, you’re right, is the course of someone who creates messaging. That’s been core to what I’ve done for the last couple of decades. There are times you feel a lot of really kind of even a little more pride in something that you wrote. It might be short. The ones that we worked on collaboratively, it wasn’t just me creating these. It felt really good because the reaction we saw from the people who received the message was beautiful. It showed people the deep connection between the business and its people.
Erik Yeah, a question of, you know, can commerce in community work together in your messaging during this time? Well, this is a perfect example of that, right? Because they’re saying right out of the gate, you know, “we’re gonna be here for you when you’re ready. Without question, you are most important to us.” Then further down the post, it says, you know, “give us a call.”Â I think this worked so, so well.
Joe Not a heavy sell like, “buy now,” “sign up now,” or “register now.” That kind of immediacy sale thing can be very off-putting, because right now there’s not a lot of things unless you work in protective equipment or something very specific that people are in a need based reaction right now. But every product still has its place, right? That place and time for the purchase might be pushed out. It solves a problem. It meets a need like you’ve been discussing those triggers. It’s critical to think that through. It’s also important. Something we were talking about, Eric, before we went live here, was the fact that right now people’s emotions are also very raw and very frayed. You’ll get negative feedback on some messaging and you have to kind of weigh that out. I saw one just the other day. There was a very negative response to that wasn’t something that we had done or for any of our clients. But it was a company that deals in data. They used a chart that was animated and going up. Two people out of several, reacted in like, “how dare you use animated charts right now?” They were very, I’m not minimizing their emotional reaction to it, but in looking at it critically, the messaging, what they were trying to get across, all of it was actually fine. But because people are reacting to things on just a visceral level right now. It’s, you have to weigh that out. Sometimes the feedback you get might be more of an outlier type of feedback that this messaging we shouldn’t use this imagery, we shouldn’t use it. You have to still step back and look critically at the totality of “what is your message? What is the image or what are the images? What was the driver behind potentially the negative reaction that came across?” Because it’s offset by other positive reactions. You have to make some critical decisions on that to be able to make the decision on should you adjust mid-course? Should you change it? Should you stay with what you have? It’s easy, it’s easy on the marketers side to go like, “oh, my God. People are reacting negatively to that.” We’re never going to have a universal, “wow, that was great.” Right now, you’re never going to have it. Especially now, even less so.
Erik Well, we talked about this in some of our, you know, Facebook posts this week. Right? Like, everyone is very sensitive. Generally, you know, what I’ve found in my life is when people are easily triggered, not to minimize what they’re feeling, but when people are easily triggered, they’re afraid or they’re angry. It’s one of the two and often both. Right? When you look at the way people feel these days about politics or gun ownership or sexual preference or the #metoo movement or whatever it is, there’s lots of topics like this that people have extraordinarily strong opinions about. I think I think the current pandemic is no different. There are people out there that are, you know, not to not to belittle how they feel, but they are convinced that there is a larger conspiracy at play here or that Bill Gates or the Chinese government or whatever is somehow involved or responsible for this. Again, not to belittle, those feelings that those people have very strong real feelings, you know, in alignment with that. Then there are people who are looking at the, you know, those people and saying, “just stay in your house, dude.” They have very strong feelings about that. Right? Whenever people are in that spot where they’re angry and afraid, you have to be ultra careful with your messaging, you know? Like having good intentions and being a good person or a good business is just not enough. It’s not enough. Right. And, you know, my daughter is a perfect example of that. When when the #metoo movement exploded into the public space and everyone was talking about it, I kind of figured, “I don’t really have to worry about this. I’ve been loyal and faithful. I’d been married 21 years. I’m a good guy. You know, I would never. This is not me that they’re talking about.” My daughter was like, “I know it’s not you, but it doesn’t matter.” Yeah, it doesn’t matter, right?
Joe Now you bring that back to the interactions with brands, though, right now and the visceral reactions that people are having.
Joe It’s really important, again, to take into account the totality of the interaction, but also keep in mind: if someone is reacting to something that you have out as a brand, as any positioning, messaging, imagery, you might be the eighth thing in a row that was just really bad in their day or they were trying to cancel a subscription or they were trying to return a product or they were trying to order a product and it can’t get in till April 24th now because of delays in shipping. People are reacting that way as well. You might be number eight in a long line of big frustrations. The thing that set them off really may or may not be the messaging that you had. Again, it’s always so critical to step back. Then there are the egregious ones, though, where it’s just you can just tell where some brand is completely tone deaf to the situation or-.
Erik Should we pull out some of some of the examples that you have been sort of discussing over coffee over the last couple of weeks?
Joe Yeah, I think the one about the one of our local newspapers and I give them the benefit of the doubt on this. I’m going to guess this one in particular had been put into something like CoSchedule 2 months ago as part of an editorial calendar. Do you have it up so we can share it?
Erik I think I do. Give me a sec. Let me make sure.
Erik Let us know where you’ve joined us from and please say hello. Let us know if you have any questions. Hey, Michelle. Appreciate you joining us. I see Marty and Lea Scudamore joining us as well. Good to see you guys. Joe, I think that we can both agree that we have absolutely the best coworkers in the world.
Joe Yeah. We’re very fortunate to work at a place where everyone has their backs and help each other through. We’re doing these bi-weekly all team huddles where it’s a Zoom meeting. It’s a chance just to get together, see each other, just see each other’s faces, and have that connection that everyone craves so much. So if you’re not able to get that one image up, Eric, I can describe it. It was a paid Facebook ad that was direct evergreen content on the news site. The story was something like “20 of our favorite restaurants that are now extinct. But we really miss them.” Now, it was old restaurants from the twin cities. The article two months ago would have been just great and it would have been interesting, like, “oh, yeah, that old restaurant – loved it. That was awesome.”
Erik You know, there was a place in Minneapolis when I visited my brother up there years ago called either haute plate or haute dish, H-A-U-T-E. Yeah. It was an amazing meal that we had at that restaurant. And unfortunately, that was not the first thing I thought of when I saw this. The first thing I thought when I saw this was, “oh, man, these guys are gonna get flamed.”
Joe Yeah. It’s one of these things. Again, I put money on it that this was in a system auto populating and it was calendared out 2 to 3 -sponsored- months ago. Yeah, like, Marty’s saying, Marty’s telling us they’re still running the ads. So maybe they – they didn’t see Marty’s tweet when we brought this one up publicly. But you look at this messaging and it’s like this, that if this was done just now, talk about tone deaf when we have beloved restaurants that are clinging for dear life right now. When this article was about, “wow, boy, I remember that restaurant from my childhood.” Yeah. “Boy, we used to get a great steak there for, you know, $2 or something.” You know, as we’d say in Minnesota. Yeah, it’s you look at this and then one next to it too Eric. I think this is the one you found. It’s, you know, “hello, paradise.” Now, this is different from what we talked about about Seagull Outfitters and Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters. This just looks like the world is normal right now.
Erik Yeah, like, like nothing’s wrong, right? Come and visit. Come take a – come take a cruise. ComeÂ take a pandemic cruise or vacation. Right? Again, I mean, this is why it’s so important to backtrack and audit your systems. Right? As marketers, we love automation. We love the thought that we can create auto responders and have messages queued up to go out automatically. We love scheduling campaigns and promotions in advance. But when things like COVID19 happen, you really have to go back and audit your systems to make sure that you’re not saying something that, you know, six weeks ago might have been incredibly effective, but now? It’s just going to piss people off.
Joe Yeah. You have to also step back and look at you look at the stuff that’s in in queue that is going to auto populate. But it’s important to always just step back and just have ask a colleague, ask, ask your resident PR guy. I’m getting asked a lot right now: “hey, can you take a look at this?” “What do you think about this messaging?” I’m seeing some really great stuff that comes comes to us. That’s either things that our team has done or clients have done. Some of it is like, wow, that is awesome. That is that is spot on. There’s other ones, you do have to intervene and say that the tone of that and some of that is just your visuals, it’s the large crowd. It’s those simple things right now where people notice if the if the ad has people all bunched together. I crave the day we can all be bunched together again in a photo. I was watching a YouTube video of a U2 concert last night at Slane Castle, where it’s a hundred thousand people all mashed together on this amazing lawn. You kind of think, “will we ever get there again?” But right now, if you were using that from that type of imagery, from a marketing standpoint, that initial the initial thought is “they’re too close together.” Now, your message gets lost in there and it’s just critical to have have someone else in the organization, ask your PR person, ask a you know, a non-biased third party, not on the account. “Hey, take a look at this. How do you react to it?” Use your family as a focus group. Yeah. Ask. Ask someone who’s not close to the situation. Close to the account. To be able to say, you know, “how would you react to this?” Family is oftentimes a really good barometer. Through my through my entire career, my wife, we should should have been billing her time, but I’d use her as a one person focus group in many cases to say, “how would you react to this?” You get that. That’s one simple way to get a good gauge really quickly on that. So, John from Gunflint talking about the shore lunch with fresh caught walleye up at Gunflint. Oh, that sounds delicious.
Erik I’m going to turn myself back into a Midwesterner for a minute and tell you, “John, say hello to your folks for me.” Let’s go over a couple other examples that I came across over the last couple of weeks. This one from Nike: “If you’ve ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now’s your chance.” I think this is really smart messaging. It plays Nike’s brand. Then, uh,Â years ago, I had signed up for Kabbage to do some research for a client. I got this message. Unfortunately, I missed the first message. What they had done to sort of anger their audience. But I’m guessing they did something that was careless or thoughtless or perceived that way. And, you know, I’d be curious for your thoughts on this, Joe. But I’ve often found that when you do something that you didn’t intend, it often is best to just own it and apologize. So, you know, “I recognize that you and many others are understandably angry.” Oh, they made credit lines unavailable. Right. “We failed to communicate our decision to you in advance. For that, we’re deeply sorry. You deserve to know why we’re making our decisions. You deserve better.” So this is from the CEO and he just owned what they perceived to be a mistake or certainly what they understood by monitoring their channels, pissed people off.
Joe We are seeing that, you are seeing people get angry at brands for their messaging, for their positioning, for a service that’s not working 100 percent right now. When it is the fault of the business, it is amazing the power of an actual – this is crisis communications 101. You know, own it and apologize and explain it. You have an incredible, incredible capability to forgive. I’ve seen it play out time and time again. People sense the “PR apology.” I say that as a PR person. The old “We’re sorry.”
Erik It doesn’t ring true.
Joe “Sorry, that this may have offended you.” It’s like, wow, you just blamed the recipient for being offended at the dumb thing you did. Right. That’s what I teach my teenage sons what is a real apology versus what is a PR apology. Human beings, you know, can smell out the PR apology really quickly. If it needs to be apologized for, apologize and explain it. Something like that can be done very well. You kind of have to be ready for a little more of that right now. Again, because everyone will make missteps. Everyone will have something that with all the best intentions in the world and all the best vetting of messaging. Something still can get through where it really goes the wrong way. “Wow, I’m sorry. That was wrong.” Can be really powerful. People are forgiving of that right now. People are. It’s a weird state of mind everyone’s in right now. Hair triggers. But also, you walk around the neighborhoods. In my neighborhoods, little kids are out doing beautiful sidewalk chalk, telling people to be kind to themselves, be kind to each other. You know, “you are important” and you kind of walk by going like, “wow, those little kids are brilliant.”
Erik Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be drawing on your sidewalks all weekend?
Joe Well, I don’t – you don’t want to see my stick figures that I draw.
Erik So, guys, if you joined us late. Sorry to interrupt you, Joe. I just want to let people know that this is the first in several fireside Friday chats that AIMCLEAR will be hosting. We have a bunch of topics. We’re going to be covering one of them every Friday. If you did join us late, thank you for joining. We appreciate you taking the time. Our goal here today is to talk about messaging strategy during critical times. That’s what we’ve been doing.
Erik We have about 15 minutes left. If you have any questions, please share them in the chat. We will do our best to get to them. In the meantime, what I’d like to do, Joe, as we as we move towards wrapping this up, if you’re cool with it, I’d like to sort of give people frameworks for how they can create effective messaging right now for people, you know, business owners, brands, small businesses who are either changing up their message in light of what’s happening or in light of the fact that they’ve had to change their offers or looking to put out very, you know, aware and sensitive messaging right now. So we talked about some tips starting with don’t just, you know think about your agenda. Think about your audience’s emotions right now and think about how you can, you know, play to those without preying on those is really, really important. Any other tips that you would share, Joe, along those lines of how to really look at what you were doing before and what you need to be doing now and how to translate that into effective messaging?
Joe Well, it’s you know, some of it does get back to what we talked about earlier with the, you know, the immediacy of the sale and pushing the sale too hard right now and and understanding, looking at the buying cycles and knowing that buying cycles aren’t going to stop. But they’re longer. You may be more into a nurturing message for a little while here, whether you’re the canoe outfitter up in the boundary waters area or if you’re if you’re a restaurant. There’s also the challenges that some businesses, I think are going to find, where are the customers going to come back like they like they were before? I’m seeing so many people. I’m sporting my own home haircut that my wife did and it was OK. I probably still will go back to the actual barber once we’re –
Erik Joe, we’re here for you when you’re ready.
Joe I was – we were ready, Eric, to go full blown Eric Stafford, if things get bad. We have the clippers set and I was going to test out the look.
Joe But you have to be thinking about that and you’re seeing interesting shifts in the ways that some businesses are actually delivering what they do right now to whether it’s restaurants moving more to take out, its yoga studios offering online courses. I’ve seen some amazing things in the music industry where – talk about an industry hard hit. Performance has stopped. Paid performances were hard enough to come by two months ago, but they are gone, right? Every club, everything. They don’t have anywhere to play. I’m seeing really great musicians putting up lessons, online lessons where you can where and we’ve taken advantage of some of them with one with one of my sons who’s very musically inclined. That’s a different way to do business and do that now. Keith has an interesting thing here: “seen a lot of businesses asking for support during this crisis. Would it be a better idea for businesses to address how they can help their customers instead of how their customers can help them?” That’s an interesting one.
There’s that almost gets to kind of a loyalty thing I’m seeing right in my neighborhood. There’s a little one-location, family owned restaurant. The community is like so behind this particular restaurant. They want to make sure she survives. That Angelina’s restaurant will be there when this is all done. There’s a fierce loyalty that they have. I think to answer Keith’s question: to me, it’s like you have to kind of gauge where you are on that spectrum. Your audiences may be open to help you out during this. But people are using this term very antiseptically, people are selfish and rightfully so. They’re looking for what they need right now and how to get through. So deep, high loyalty type of business, you might be able to do a little bit of like asking for support, but that’s people on the receiving end are also, in many cases looking for support.
Erik Yeah. What’s in it for me, right? Yeah. Well, I mean. Keith, I tell you what, I think that you’re the answer to your question is a big fat yes. I think that you I think that, you know, you can definitely say to your customers, “hey, you know, we really could use your help,” but you really should be thinking about ways that you can help them no matter what that looks like. That sort of has always been one of AIMCLEAR‘s philosophies, right. The more you give, the more you get back. And, you know, not to sort of toot our own horn, but, we’ve always found that companies that are doing things like U-Haul is doing, offering college students the ability to store their stuff, it’s brilliant. It’s free for several months because they’ve been thrown out of their dorm. Companies like Allstate are offering 10 or 15 percent discounts on their rates because there’s less people driving and there’s less accidents. That is showing your customers that you understand, that you understand their pain and that you really, truly feel like you’re in it together. It’s a lot easier to get a yes when you ask for a favor if you’ve already done someone a favor.
Erik Right. Yeah. We send our clients chocolates and we do it because we love them. We also do it because we want them to know that it’s more to us than just an invoice and some creatives that we’re doing for them or whatever that may be. I think anything, Keith, you can do. Jennifer has a great comment here, she says “That’s why it’s important to keep yourself and your company engaged with your customers, whether you’re shut down or not.” Right. I mean, there’s a real opportunity here to position yourself as a leader in your space. And I think when you do that and when you show up in ways that entertain and amuse and delight and make your audience feel nostalgic and let them feel that love and that relationship and that inclusion, it’s gonna be much easier for them to support you.
Joe There’s also and this goes back to Keith’s question, but one of our colleagues has weighed in here, too, about this whole notion of asking for their support or how can we help address their needs. There’s a great point here from one of our colleagues about, if Target were to say “we really need your help to get through this thing.” Now, these stores are providing a lifeline for us. They’re providing the things we need and the essentials. We do have a dependency on them. It would be kind of a knee-jerk reaction to go like “yeah you you’ve got a lot of resources and you’re gonna be just fine in this.” But it is the mom and pop shops, it’s the places that are struggling to either get back in business at some point or they’re allowed to stay in business right now. But getting people in the door is very difficult in those neighborhoods where everyone’s life is local. Right. The closer you are to someone’s home, the closer you are to someone’s heart, the closer you are to someone’s life. You’re gonna mean much more to them. Target customers are loyal to Target. Amazon customers are loyal to Amazon, but it’s kind of out convenience and everything we get from them, we’re not going to want to bail them out. There they’re also big corporations.
Erik So, you know, brand loyalty, also, a lot of that stems from comfortability and familiarity. Right? So we always get gas at 7-Eleven because generally I understand where everything in the 7-Eleven is and I can walk through one and get the stuff that I need. I know the way it’s laid out and I’m familiar with the signage. It’s not that I’m necessarily brand loyal to them. I’m not championing 7-Eleven, but that’s where we get our gas because it’s comfortable and it’s familiar. In times like these, if your comfortability and familiarity is because you know where everything in Target is and you like the Red Bull’s eyes, you’re not going into a target right now. So where do you find that connection? Right. I think the final thought that I would share here, Joe, before we wrap this up and then I’d like to ask you for a final thought. The final thought that I would like to share here is that as with all marketing it’s much easier if you actually believe it, feel it, and mean it.
Erik You know, Michelle Robbins, one of our great colleagues. She listened to a podcast and heard some messaging about how this brand, they’ve set up on their site a resource just for people to get connected with medical info that they need. Right. This is just genuinely, truly helpful. And so I guess the final thought I would share with everyone is, you know, if you feel it and you mean it and your customers are actually important to you, that will ring true. And if you’re trying to make it up right now because you need to fake it in order to survive. You know, as my son would say, “your audiences are going to smell it out like a fart in a car.” They will know that it’s B.S. Right? If you’re genuinely a good person and you mean it, you will find ways to communicate through this and gather your communities and your audiences around you. Just make sure and do a pass through your automated systems and make sure and do a second or third careful pass through all your messaging before you send it out, because people are afraid and people are angry.
Joe Yeah. For my last item here, then I guess I would say it’s so much of it does come down to there is a common sense element to this. We want to make the sale. Right. We as marketers, we want to make the conversion and you want to make the sale. You want to get the products moving. Right now is a different time. Think through how you would react to something. Think through how you’re seeing it. I’ve received some some LinkedIn solicitations recently where you just you just shake your head and you say, “really, you honestly approached me with ‘do you want your business to go through the roof in one month?'” Really? Most businesses right now are saying, “I want to hang on for dear life for a month.” Yeah.
Erik And, you know, are you dying for whatever? Right. Like, are you dying to get it? Whatever it’s like.
Joe Yeah, it’s like that. Just an ounce of common sense goes a long way in in protecting your brand, building those connections. To your point earlier, if you don’t have that build up of goodwill with your audiences to weather this storm, you make it through the storm. Start thinking about that because there’s another storm. There will be another thing, hopefully not of this magnitude, but we’ve been through them. You’re not quite as the same number of years as I am, but you’re close. We’ve been through September 11th. You’ve been through the ’08 crash. We’ve been through-
Erik Spanish Flu.
Joe Yeah. Different cycles where life is disrupted dramatically. Think through how you would react receiving your own message. A lot of times that alone will stop you. If you’re not able to do that, do ask a friend. Ask the colleague and be very, very open to being critical of your own work and your messaging and work it again and then work it again and just be very, very pragmatic and very human about it. Allow yourself to make some mistakes. Allow others to make some mistakes. The whole notion of be kind to each other right now is important and then extend a little bit of grace here and there. But we also, as marketers do need to hold our industry feet to the fire and say, “wow, you put up that ad to say, what extinct restaurants do you miss?” We do need as an industry, hold each other a bit accountable.
Erik Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Joe, thank you so much for doing this.
Joe It’s been fun. I enjoyed it.
Erik Yeah, it’s been a great time. Thank you so much for joining us. Again, we’re gonna be doing this every Friday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Join us next Friday, we’re gonna be talking about paid search and social during critical times. I tell you what, AIMCLEAR coworkers Dan Morrison and Susan Wenograd are geniuses when it comes to this stuff. You all get to know our visionary leader, Marty Weintraub, and he’s going to be on that chat as well. So between the three of them, if you have any questions about how to get your message in front of the right people, how to get the numbers that you need to get out of those ads. That’s gonna be a call that you’re going to want to be on. In the meantime, you can reach out to us and say hello. Let us know your feedback on the show. If you have any questions or any comments, please share them. Thanks again. Have a great weekend. Be kind to everyone. Be kind to yourselves. We love you.
Joe Be well and be healthy. Take care, man.
Erik All right. Thanks, everyone.