Over the past days I have been observing a rising number of conversations amongst small businesses whether or not it is ok to continue to do marketing and sell services and products in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are those who consider promotional activities (morally) inappropriate at the moment, while others wonder why they shouldn’t carry on as usual.
To be upfront: Things are nuanced, I don’t have all the answers, but I have some thoughts and approaches that I am going to share to help inform your own thinking.
How to respond in a crisis?
The first thing is how we respond to a crisis like this. If we have a following and see yourself as a leader, we should address what is happening and at least take note of it. If we don’t, people might think that we either don’t care, that we are not taking a stand, or that we are afraid to take a stand because it might offend people in our community. From the point of view of communication in the online world, basically what happened is this:
- Immediate response and acknowledging something is going on.
- Whishy-washy or generic response.
- Nor reaction at all, not mentioning it, even after a few days.
- Not stopping or adjusting ad campaigns and automations.
- Immediate arguments that this is further proof of conspiracy theories (I won’t go into that in detail).
Business is more political than it used to be
Personally, I was astonished that some people in my network who I value as well as some well-known authorities (who are considered to be leaders or hight impact coaches) didn’t say a single word about what is happening. As if it was non-existent, continuing their usual style of communication and marketing. This non-reaction opened a window to a lot of speculative (mis)interpretation.
Obviously, many leaders did not react to the crisis because they were worried about what to say or because they might say something wrong, which would result in people not following them anymore. This is not a good example of community leadership. If we lose followers because we speak out, it tends to mean that they were not our people. It is as simple as that. Instead, we could gain followers who share our values by speaking out on what is happening in the world. What is missing here is not partisanship. It is about acknowledging that the world is in crisis and almost everyone is at least emotionally affected. People feel all the feels.
As entrepreneurs, especially in the coaching and self-development industry, we can’t ignore this state because that comes across as ignorant, careless, or worse, as silent consent with the aggression. This could be the reason why some people feel offended by marketing activities right now. When we have a community and take on leadership with our business, our followers expect us to take a stand.
Those who responded wishy-washy to the invasion of the Ukraine usually pointed out that there have already been so many conflicts over the years and that they hope we will have peace one day. Or they gave the advice to look for peace within themselves. While I can fully understand the desire for a peaceful world, in a situation where we are in a shocking situation right now, it is a statement without saying anything. It is a kind of pseudo-esoteric advice without being clear and in the hope that it will sell better with their type of audience.
Another communication mistake was committed by those who did not pay attention to their automated advertising campaigns and automated messages. I was amazed at their inability to stop and adjust their campaigns even after days. It was the same when Covid hit two years ago, so unfortunately no learnings here. It appeared inconvenient, offended people who started questioning the integrity of the leader or the organisation. Such situations can quickly turn into an image disaster for any company.
Many reacted immediately to the situation by taking a stand and expressing their sympathy, as well as providing resources with various ways to support and donate to the people in Ukraine.
How can we deal with it?
There is no blueprint that will work for every business.
It is not at all a matter of either carrying on as usual or stopping carrying on as usual. By all means, we shall continue and build our businesses. We all need to pay our bills, support our customers and contribute to change. We all want to be able to spend and invest money to keep the economy going. We don’t want to run into a recession. Also keep in mind that in the past there has always been some form of crisis in this world while we were running our businesses.
If the people who care about the state of the world stop making money, who will donate money or take in refugees or have enough resources to contribute for the better?
How we market and sell matters
Basically, it is about the tone of your messaging during a crisis. It also depends on your business and the type of marketing you normally do. If your marketing and messaging are ethical, respectful and honest, then by all means, keep doing your wonderful work.
Now may be a time to rethink some of your business activities, depending on the nature of your business, your content and your plans. There are no general rules here, just some ideas to think about.
- Adjust your messages and your offers. Things that used to be relevant may not make sense now, while new needs may arise. This is also an opportunity. Offer additional sessions or services to support your community.
- Consider your ad-campaigns and stop automation and adapt it.
- Don’t be fishing for compliments and take advantage of the situation. If you have the capacities to help Ukrainian people by donating or supporting in one way or the other – great. Show your solidarity and back it up with action Then communicate it so people understand. But don’t make it about you. Do it because it’s the right thing to do not so people applaud.
- If you are about to launch a service or product pause it or if suitable integrate the current situation into your communication. And by that I don’t mean taking advantage of it. Postponing a launch can make sense as your audience might not be particularly receptive to your offer right now.
- Focus on other aspects of your business if your original plan does not work out right now.
- Stick to your values. How do you live these principles in your business and in your life? If you stay true to these values, you will hardly be able to go wrong with your marketing.
Read the room
What do your clients and audience members expect from you?
- They may be worried about the future, so the thought of spending money on things that are not a priority may make them uncomfortable.
- They might think it’s inappropriate to spend money on things that are fun, so they don’t appreciate fun-oriented marketing.
- Or they may need a break from the constant bad news, a safe space to share their feelings, or professional and emotional support. Also some extra coaching on how to navigate this situation business-wise may be needed.
- And last but not least, ask you clients what they need.
I am outlining these examples to encourage you to meet people where they are at. Just don’t ignore or judge where they are. Just respect them. Don’t make them feel that you are superior to them because you have better answers or approaches. Again, meet them where they are and guide them if you can. People are different. Some are more resilient, others need time to emotionally adjust to the current state of the world.
And finally, remain flexible and adapt your plans where necessary. Be mindful of the situation. No one knows what may happen in the coming days, weeks or months.
I’d love to hear and learn your thoughts on this. Please share any additional ideas and thoughts, especially if they they differ to mine or if you have different viewpoints.