What would you do if there were no power or Internet to communicate with your customers? This is a question I had plenty of time to mull over on my recent trip to Puerto Rico, where I was invited to give a workshop on how to communicate effectively after a storm. It was a humbling experience. Many resorts were damaged and still boarded up.
The hotel where I was staying was packed with FEMA workers. I spoke to one holdover from the first hurricane. He described how the hotel staff had resorted to old school communications, using the PA system and slipping letters under their guests' doors to provide updates on the storm damage, the level of urgency, and what safety measures to take. (This brought home the importance of having an escalation process for a business in case of emergency, whether it's a hurricane, fire, tornado, or possible shooter).
Yet despite the power outages, water shortages, and overwhelming destruction, business must go on. It was eye opening to be among communicators forced to apply techniques that were used before the rise of the Internet.
Digital media has spoiled us with its ease, convenience, and deceptively low cost. (A failed digital campaign will cost you on the back end what it saved you up front). Even if you're not in post-disaster mode, getting back to the basics might be something to consider as a complement to your digital initiatives.
With all the digital marketing spends, are you considering timing and relevancy for your ads? Is digital the best medium for what you're trying to achieve? If not, you may want to rethink your buying strategy.
When Maria flooded the island, pools of stagnant water created vast new breeding grounds for mosquitos. Wouldn't you know it; one of the first billboards to go up post-hurricane were for mosquito repellant. The timing, and the medium, could not have been better.
Even if the power grid had been working, banner ads for repellant would be less effective. A billboard gets people's attention as they drive by. If it's buggy out and they're feeling itchy, they can pull over and buy some bug spray at the first opportunity.
Word of Mouth Marketing
Word of mouth marketing is grounded in the principle of reciprocity - the idea that people generally aim to return favors. It's thanks to satisfied customers that companies are able to garner all those glowing endorsements they put on their websites' Testimonials page.
It will take years to rebuild Puerto Rico, an undeniable opportunity for the construction trade. A local roofer who attended my session needed a way to convince people he could do a better job than his competitors.
The advice I gave him was to use his cell to tape recommendations from satisfied customers. The quotes could be played live, while selling a prospect one on one. Eventually, he could use these testimonials in a brochure.
When customers praise your work or your product, ask them whether you can quote them in your marketing materials - right after you say thank you. Don't wait until you redo your website and their gratitude is no longer fresh.
Your popup ad no longer pops. Consumers have learned to ignore online advertising. Going old school with a glitzy direct mail package, mailing an invitation to a sale of special event, mailing out coupons, gift cards, or reminders - all these tactics provide prospects with a tactile, hands on opportunity to engage with your company.
Studies have shown consumers find printed materials easier to read and recall than online content. While it may seem costly, direct mail may now be such a novelty that it works.
While traditional media still has its place, your first go-to in a crisis situation is PR. A PR professional will help you find the right tone, timing, and level of urgency for your communication. He or she can also identify potential risks or opportunities. This is especially true if you are dealing with a crisis or scandal within your company.
After a natural disaster like Maria, PR is your best first step.
Show that your company empathizes with people. Demonstrate solidarity. That bug spray company, for example, could have set up spray stations around the island, or even given out free product. If your company demonstrates good corporate citizenship after a tragedy, you will earn your customers' loyalty and respect.