Week 4 of lockdown… Are we into our new normal now?
Well, it certainly feels slightly less crazy. We’re hearing people talk about the shift from shock to resignation, from overwhelm to a new rhythm.
But we’re also hearing a great deal of angst and uncertainty still on one key question: is it ok or is it unkind to keep selling while the world is in crisis?
Just look around online, and you’ll see there’s no particular consensus on this. There is a strong sense of “absolutely, step up and do it” in some quarters. And there is an equally strong sense of “don’t be icky, now is not the time”.
Our view? There’s a better question
You want our view on those two polar positions?
It’s a bit of both, but it’s also neither. “To sell or not to sell?” isn’t really the right question. The key question is “how do I communicate my offer?”
Of course business should continue, as much as possible. The people you serve need you. The economy needs you. And you need to be as ready for recovery as you possibly can be – whenever that comes.
After all, if your business grinds to a halt, you can’t serve anyone.
But you are absolutely right to consider the impact you have when you are selling.
Why the question is so important right now
Get it wrong, and your reputation is damaged. (Get it really wrong, and the damage to your brand may even be irreversible. We’ve all seen it happen to some companies already).
But the marketers being vilified are the ones who sound crass and cynical. They’re the ones who are evidently hoping to make a quick buck, and make little effort to hide that fact. They have no apparent recognition that lives are turned upside down in the most tragic ways.
Some people see opportunity in global disruption, but fail to see the emotion in personal loss.
There is good news
The good news is – get it right, and your reputation is enhanced. (Get it really right, and your brand as a leader is elevated.)
You customers probably need you now more than ever.
- People need leadership in a crisis; can you give them that?
- People have more time on their hands; can you help them use it for good?
- People crave some sense of normality – can you help them, specifically, with a sense of purpose or a sense of progress?
So the real question may not be “is it ok to sell?” or even “when can I sell?”. The question that matters most to you is “how do I sell?”
CASE STUDY FROM THE CURRENT CRISIS
To explore the theory first-hand, consider this sponsored post that showed up on my Facebook feed the other day. It included statements such as:
“Did you know that the Coronavirus will BANKRUPT more people than it will kill?
This danger is far greater than the health risks the media feed you with.
If the virus does directly affect your life, it is most likely to be through stopping you going to work / forcing your employer to make you redundant / even bankrupting your business.
This is why you need to attend [webinar event name].
This event will show you how to leverage this global pandemic, turn it on its back, and even teach you how to make money from it!
There is no better time than NOW to leverage COVID-19.”
Now, I’m not often moved to comment on other people’s ads. But I did with this one (and I got myself blocked for my trouble, but I’m really okay with that). I said, in response:
“The danger of bankruptcy might be ‘far greater’ than the risk of dying if you mean that purely as a statistical point. But to say something like that, when more and more people are losing their loved ones every day, is incredibly cynical and ill-judged…. By all means, use your expertise to help other people and do your bit to keep business moving along, but I urge you to use some crisis communication principles to avoid coming across as quite heartless.”
As a teach-in, let me highlight exactly what broke the crisis communication rules for me.
- There is no recognition or acknowledgement of people’s emotions and losses. It goes straight for the financial and intellectual jugular.
- It is probably quite right on statistical probabilities – but makes no account for the fact that every single one of us almost certainly will know someone who is bereaved in this crisis.
- Its language is harsh.
- It plays on people’s fears. It uses really emotive words like bankrupt, kill, danger.
- It says that the media is ‘feeding us’ with health risks, which insinuates that those risks are not real – and playing down the risk could be dangerous.
- It makes no allowance for the interventions different governments are making to prevent those redundancies and bankruptcies, and instead takes people to their worst-case fears.
- Then it switches, with ferocious speed, from highlighting fears to rallying solutions. And what aggressive solutions they are – leverage, make money from a global pandemic, flip a killer virus on its back.
- Finally, it creates urgency on top of the anxiety, telling us there is no better time than now to leverage this global crisis.
What did others have to say?
I checked the comments on this advert. In absolute fairness, I will say that plenty of them were from people equally keen on what the advert called “money hacking”. So there’s no denying its success with its own like-minded tribe, I suppose.
But I can’t get past one simple question, and it’s this: how would I feel if my content attracted comments like these:
“This is a completely ignorant and irresponsible piece of marketing.”
“I think I would rather be bankrupt than dead.”
“Wow. Maybe mention this to families who have lost people horrifically; see if they share your view.”
“It’s disgraceful to be preying on people’s insecurities and creating FOMO, even if the event is full of information.”
“You try to discredit what you see as the media’s panic-mongering about our health risks, and yet your advert is the epitome of fear-mongering.”
Responding to negative comments
The other nugget of learning provided in this advert is around how you respond to negative criticism like this. One commenter went so far as to suggest that whoever had written this marketing content should be sacked. The business owner’s response was to double-down and defend her position, saying: “The message is strong and we want that.”
Technically, that’s a fair point. Technically. But emotionally? How does that feel to you?
Genuine question. Do we need to take emotion into account when we are selling? Is it not enough to be technically or factually correct?
That’s a subjective thing – but for us – yes! It really matters. Now, more than ever, we need to ask ourselves why we want to be, and who we want to attract into our communities. And the answers to those questions will shape and underpin the language we use, the messages we share.
HOW DO YOU SELL WITH SENSITIVITY?
To help you take a more sensitive (and successful) approach to selling, we’ve shared our guiding principles that will help to steer your content into well-pitched territory. To get your hands on our guiding principles, click the blog link below.
SUGGESTED READING: 3 ways to sell with sensitivity
In the meantime, please tell us what you think of all this – comment below, or on the Facebook post. And please share this (and the Facebook page) with anyone you know will find this useful.
We are here to serve, this content is all free, and we want to help as many people as we can.
Until next time, stay safe and well.
Lucy & Emma x
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