By Anne Holland, with help from Paul Nastu and 13 Experts
1. Brief Intro 2. Q&As for Marketers 3. Practical Advice on Branding, PR, Media Buying & Copywriting During Wartime From 13 Experts
-> 1. Brief Intro
I remember the exact moment Desert Storm launched a decade ago.
Back then I was the US direct marketing manager for Jane's Publishing, the world's most famous defense-related publishing company. Saddam Hussein was one of our readers, as were the military leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany, etc.
That night I was working late. The post office was raising bulk mail rates, so I had to re-forecast the marketing and sales budget.
No one else was in the office. Our reporters were all down at the Pentagon or elsewhere in the field. Other staff were home for the night.
I had a rock station on. Suddenly the music was interrupted by a news bulletin. "There appear to be missiles over Baghdad. We do not know if this is a rumor or true."
At that exact same moment every phone in the empty offices around me had started ringing. The world's press were calling Jane's for a comment.
I turned off my spreadsheet, and sat there alone in the dark wondering what would happen next.
On the marketing side, we had an immediate sales slump because our regular buyers were too distracted and/or involved in events to order from us. We focused on secondary markets (such as the press) who might be more likely to buy (and boy did they). We took advantage of PR opportunities to comment on events and build our brand.
Last but not least, I kept on target for my scheduled marketing campaigns even though we knew in advance that responses would not be up to par. (See why below.)
On the personal side, I prayed the everyone involved, military and civilians, get through the situation as quickly and safely as possible. Do we not all hope for that?
-> 2. Q&As for Marketers in Wartime
Here are my answers to the most asked questions that Sherpa readers have been emailing in over the past several weeks, as everyone prepped for what became the inevitable.
Q: Should I stop acquisition marketing?
A: Almost certainly not. You may want to yank pop-ups on other sites (which can appear to be too blaringly commercial in times of national emergency), and pull back on any email blasts scheduled for today through Sunday.
However, marketers during Desert Storm and after September 11th discovered that if they seriously delayed or cut acquisition campaigns, it could result in slower sales for months and months afterwards.
It comes down to the math behind lifetime value. A customer you do not acquire today, will not be around to purchase tomorrow. You need to keep filling the new customer (or sales lead) pipeline.
During war and times of crisis, customers may cost more to acquire because your marketing message is competing for attention. That does not mean you should stop investing in customer acquisition though.
In fact, a new customer who seeks you out during times like this may be *much* more valuable to you than an average customer. Despite all the distractions, they said 'Yes' to you. Value them highly.
Q: What is the safest marketing investment in times of national crisis?
A: Search marketing is my number one recommendation, because your message is not competing with news of the day, nor is it likely to be interpreted as inappropriately commercial.
You will only reach consumers who are proactively looking for products and services like yours anyway.
Do not spend silly money. Paying extra to be the #1 top result is often not worth the investment. Generally you can be #3 and get a better ROI. Also, do everything in your power to track the conversion of your search-generated clicks.
Your second-best investment is in tweaking your landing pages for current campaigns. If you are not already tracking how visitors react to your landing pages, make getting metrics software a priority over spending another cent in outbound marketing.
Then start tweaking your landing page (and your home page) to get the most bang from the traffic you are already receiving. Biggest items to test tweaking: Headlines, number of navigation links, placement and appearance of links, anything that gathers an email address with permission, and size of graphics.
Last but not least, consider testing radio and email newsletter ads - especially for media delivered during the workday. People at work are probably more likely to have radios on during the day for a while. Radio is a highly cost-effective medium for driving real-world and online traffic. (More info about that in future Sherpa reports.)
Email newsletters will also continue to be winners in terms of CPM and attention from recipients. When the world goes crazy, consumers and businesspeople turn to a trusted sources for information. Newsletters, like radio, have the timely advantage as well. You can change creative cheaply and quickly.
Q: How long does it take online sales to return to normal?
A: Depending on actual news events of course, online sales lulls may be shorter than you think. It is a matter of weeks, not months.
According to comScore figures released six weeks after Sept 11th, - "Essential" products, such as apparel, health and beauty sales rebounded to normal sales levels in less than a month.
- "Non-essentials" such as books took about a month and a half.
- Travel rebounded to just 11% off normal sales within a month (but then dipped again after the Anthrax scare to 17% off).
Q: How should I change my creative and messaging during times of crisis?
A: Unfortunately, unless you make a living selling American flags, now is not the time for your marketing message to become overtly patriotic or nationalistic.
Feelings both in the US and abroad are very mixed about this war. If your creative expresses a strong opinion, you run the risk of offending current or future customers. In fact, some global consumers are openly planning to not buy from companies that have a strong American brand (which seems a bit unfair but there you have it) http://adbusters.org/campaigns/boycott_america/
The other mistake to avoid is getting louder and more salesy as a way to break through the clutter and catch distracted consumers' attention. Overt commercialism can be just as offensive as heavy handed patriotism.
Try revisiting your copy and creative with a calm, centered tone. State facts, consumer-centric benefits, test longer copy, give more information. Allow your product to sell itself rather than too openly boasting about it.
Now is a time to eliminate bragging in favor of quiet confidence, and to stress education over hot sales. Get rid of exclamation points.
Q: Should I change my email newsletter to reflect the war?
A: Before you write a special issue or introduction about the war, remember that every single other email newsletter in your target marketplace is about to do the same thing.
Your customers, prospects and readers are being inundated with messages very similar to the one you are considering writing. Consider how to make your statement unique, how to make it fit your brand, and whether you should make it at all.
You may want to keep a careful eye on timing of newsletters now too. Do not publish because it is "scheduled." Publish because it makes good sense.
For example, after this issue today, MarketingSherpa will not be publishing until Monday morning, although I had three more issues scheduled to go out this week. I suspect readers will be too distracted and busy to pay attention our regular stories.
Q: PR question: Did you answer those phones at Jane's that night when Desert Storm began?
A: Absolutely not. As crisis communications experts will tell you, when there is any chance that the press will contact your company for comments during crises, you should have a full-staff alert to batten down the hatches.
The fact is that if a reporter can not get through to an official spokesperson to get a quote their story needs, they will poke around until they get a quote from anyone they can, even if they can not name names.
Suddenly anyone who works in your company is a source. The janitor is a "source close to...." Which means a quote you did not officially sanction may get out there and mess up your brand.
If your company has anything to do with war efforts, now is the time to send out a staff alert to refer all reporter enquiries through proper channels.
-> 3. Practical Advice From 13 Experts
Sherpa's all about learning from marketers, so I have gathered some expertise from smarter brains than mine to share with you. Here are practical tips on branding, copywriting, PR and media buying during wartime:
-> a. Notes From Israel: Some Effects of Long-Term Terror
"Israel’s economy has suffered. Tourism, which once brought more than 2 million people a year to Israel, dropped below 1 million in 2002. The Jerusalem Post suffered mightily from that on the print side, because a great deal of its advertising was aimed at travelers: hotels, rental cars, restaurants, etc.
Conversely, what hurt the newspaper (initially in terms of audience) has been good for the website. The volume and intensity of news from Israel has never been higher, and the Internet has made it more accessible than ever.
What are the lessons here: Be supple, move quickly, find an angle that can benefit you even in difficult times, and be active in suggesting to advertisers what they should sell and how (after all, you know your market and audience better than they do).
Also, hang in there. We have had suicide bombings within walking distance of our offices; one of our editors was nearly blown up in the Kenya attack on an Israeli-owned hotel last year; our reporters in the field have been shot at, had stones thrown at them and had their car tires slashed (by representatives of both sides of the conflict). We've proved we can survive. So can you.
Our traffic soars during crises, because our audience cares deeply about Israel and its status. For example, in recent weeks we have been registering users to the site. Our daily average had been 1,000-1,500 (FYI, we started in mid-December with a base of 60,000 from a previous registration drive. We are now above 175,000.). In the three days after the Shuttle accident, our site registered more than 9,000 people.
Our page view traffic increased by 50% in the days following the shuttle accident.
Our click through rate on a special advertising promotion was phenomenal. It raised the site's overall click through rate from about 0.35% to 1.68% on the day it ran. What was it? A pop-under ad offering trees for sale in Israel in honor of the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.
We worked with the advertiser to craft a message that was respectful of Ramon's memory, but which would resonate with an audience looking to help. We had significant coverage of Ramon on the site, including a place for letters of condolence (we received hundreds), forums, audio, articles....
We now have more than a handful of advertisers whose pitch is for non-profits that help Israel in its time of crisis (Israeli Red Magen Adom - the local "Red Cross"), food, contributions and the like for terror victims and Israeli soldiers ("Send a Pizza to an Israeli soldier").
So my suggestions are:
- make the appropriate connection - be sensitive to the issues - explain everything fully - promote onsite/in-paper with articles, as well as ads - press releases to promote the promotion - listen to your audience's complaints/suggestions - answer all questions openly - expect that some customers/readers will take it badly, no matter what you do. There is never 100% buy-in."
Alan D. Abbey, VP Electronic Publishing, The Jerusalem Post www.jpost.com
-> b. Customer Communications During Uncertain Times
"During uncertain times, it's important to keep in touch with your customers. This is the time to let them know you are there for them, and what you are doing to help them.
Some specific suggestions include:
-- Communicate directly with your customers, especially if your business might be affected by events. Direct communications are more intimate, and can be personalized to specific customers and their needs, so they can be a great way to address issues and concerns that may not be appropriate to raise in mass advertising.
-- For your best customers, an e-mail from the company's chairman can both assure them that you remain committed to serving them, and lets them know they are important.
-- Use your website to provide detailed information to customers on what you are doing to ensure continued quality, and what services are available to help them. Also, think of ways your website can provide additional helpful information that would be relevant to your customers, and to your business.
-- Think of employees as customers, too, and don't forget to remind them of everything you are doing to help them - and of everything the company is doing for its customers.
-- Think twice about telemarketing. People might be especially concerned to keep their telephone lines free in case they need to make or receive calls. But a phone call letting people know of any special services you are making available could be appreciated.
-- Keep messages helpful, rather than promotional.
-- Use these more direct and personalized channels and messages to communicate with prospects, too. If you reinforce the benefit and service quality you offer, and deliver messages that are sensitive to people's concerns, people will appreciate it and respond."
Carl Fremont, Sr. VP and Global Media Director, Digitas www.digitas.com
-> c. B2B Marketing Advice During Wartime
"B2B marketers need to be sensitive to economic and world conditions, but they shouldn't be paralyzed by them. While unsettled times can be distracting to prospects, B2B marketers who follow the guiding principle of an on-going, consistent programmatic approach to marketing will come out ahead.
In general, it is probably wise for B2B marketers to go back to basics, to understand and target the right audience for their product, use the medium that most effectively reaches that audience, offer solid value, and provide reassurance that their company is stable and will be around for the long term. This last point is particularly important in industries undergoing upheaval, such as telecommunications.
I think this will be a time for "no frills" marketing for B2B– prospects are making decisions based on priorities and available budgets, so a marketer's challenge is to get his product or service to the top of the consideration list.
Any direct marketing offer, for example, should be loaded with high perceived value. The product or service should be positioned as having real business-critical value, or a true impact on ROI.
This is a time to make sure a prospect believes they really need your product or service to make them a hero in THEIR business."
Barry Silverstein, Chief Strategy Officer, Arnold Direct Arnold Worldwide www.arn.com
-> d. Use of Patriotism in Marketing
"It depends, to a large extent, on the particular product and tone of the advertising. Attempting the patriotic thing though, could easily come off as exploitative and tacky.
The job of advertising is to promote a product or service, not comment on current events never mind one involving war. Americans won't stop consuming because there's fighting, and advertisers shouldn't stop advertising...unless you’re promoting travel packages to the Holy Land."
John Follis, President, Follis Advertising, Inc. www.follisinc.com
-> e. Public Relations and the War
"I'm a proponent of good public relations both on and off the web, in and out of the media. This means speaking the truth about your business and leaving the business of others to themselves. This may be particularly appropriate in the case of the Iraq confrontation, it is not at all an all-out popular war.
A company or not-for-profit taking one side against the other stands the chance of alienating key publics and, just perhaps, being wrong about the issue at the same time.
Consider three examples: The U.S. company with an international customer base (can GM sell more in Germany if it's seen as pro- war?); the organization with union workers (many unions have announced anti-war stands. How would they feel about their employer?); the anti-war management of a company with a big contract to a pro-war outfit.
It could be as tempting for pro-Bush managers to command their designers to post a "rah-rah" on the company web site, just as it could be tempting for an anti-war management to do something else - perhaps editorialize against the government, Both would be emotional decisions at a time when this country needs every cool head it can muster."
William Dupuy, President, LeFile www.lefile.com
-> f. Media Buying During Times of Uncertainty
"I am not sure that the cross media research offers an answer on marketing when global politics is pre-empting our TV advertisements. What I can say is that online is often the most cost efficient element of the marketing mix. Therefore, it is a key driver of success in a properly balanced campaign.
I think what most marketers should brace themselves for is a tremendous amount of uncertainty in ratings. Executing a media plan may be very difficult as we know that big national news shifts online and offline media patterns substantially.
And, more important than the tactical question of getting the advertiser message to the consumer, marketers should be asking them a broader strategic question: What might certain events mean for my brand. Big news can make certain types of purchases seem trivial, or even inappropriate, while other brands play an important role providing a consumer with a sense of familiarity and comfort in trying times.
Marketers should be running through various scenarios of war and terrorism to ensure they have thought through any ramifications to the positioning of their brands. A misstep in brand positioning which seems insensitively out-of-touch or exploitative can be deadly for a brand.
Online is certainly the most flexible in terms of adjusting creative to make it situation appropriate. We saw that charitable advertisers such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army were able to be up online with in the day of a national crisis, where as it took a week for TV and much longer for print. This flexibility may be important for every day brands that wish to shift message on a dime to respond to broader societal events."
Rex Briggs, Principal, Marketing Evolution www.marketingevolution.com
-> g. B2B Media Buying
"B2B marketers can mitigate the risk associated with world events by diversifying. That is, utilizing a mix of marketing media rather than relying too heavily on one particular campaign or vehicle. An effective mix might consist of smaller, targeted campaigns like e-mail and direct mail combined with an ongoing series of sponsorship ads in e-mail newsletters.
That way, if the worst happens, and response falls off dramatically for a week or two (as happened in September 2001), it will only affect a portion of the overall plan."
Howard J. Sewell, President, Connect Direct Inc. www.connectthe.com
-> h. Media Buying Prep for Quick Reactions
"You need to hedge your bets. You need to be in all forms of media and not give up on postal or traditional. But you shouldn’t put all your budget into traditional media. The beauty of interactive is that you can pull or modify advertising at the blink of an eye. Interactive media is suited for unsettled times like no other.
We work with a lot of the airlines. We’ve scheduled campaigns to go out on the day of an airplane crash. We can pull them moments before mailing, hold it for two weeks, reassess creative, and then mail it out."
Michael Mayor, PostMasterDirect www.postmasterdirect.com
-> i. Brand Marketing & Patriotism
"Marketers cannot be expected to ignore factors such as patriotism, catastrophe, or even impending war. The art and power in effective marketing is to be able to respond to current events and happenings in a manner that touches the spirit of the community in a positive manner. It's not as much about using what has happened as it is intelligently responding to it with a message that is relevant and well thought-through.
For a Web site selling kitchen products to place a patriotic statement on their home page might represent a nice sentiment, but it doesn't sell more spatulas.
On the other hand, it is perfectly appropriate for a PR firm to emphasize that it has experience in crisis issues. Or it might even be OK for a car dealer to state that it is adept in working with individuals who have been laid-off. These types of ads did not appear when the economy was strong and thriving.
People look up to brands, products, and publications, and, just as with actors and musicians who take political and social stands, that responsibility can be abused.
The best course a company can take is to stay on course as much as possible. Stay committed to the principles and mission that made the company succeed in different or better times, and resist the temptation to jump on the "brandwagon," unless it really makes sense to do so."
"Terrorism, war, and recession cause almost all executives and entrepreneurs to feel scared, ungrounded, and preoccupied. It causes your prospects to cut costs and hunker down.
In these times, prospects are super sensitive to hype, evasion, and intimidation. It was always the case that what I call 'radical truth and honesty' works better than anything else, but it’s even more true in these times.
The stance and voice that wins is that of the 'objective, unbiased advisor.' If every ad, email, article, and sales interaction treats prospects as you would treat your best friend or brother, it will foster trust, decision, speed, and scope.
Of course, it has to not be a trick. It has to be real. It has to be visible immediately (in your ad’s learning-gift oriented grabbers); and be consistent throughout the selling cycle.
You have to signal results and relationships they can count on, a sanctuary in unsettled times."
Ron Richards, President, ResultsLab www.resultslab.com
-> k. Copywriting & Merchandising: Focus on Sincerity
"My thoughts are to take some of the lessons from 9/11 and to think about yourself as a customer and use your own feelings as a gut check. Be sincere in your approach. Make a determination of how to show your clear feelings on your site as well as via your email communications.
Do not overdo it and look to profit off that messaging but rather to be sincere in express your corporate pride. Know when enough is enough and move on to more of your standard messaging. Handle it with dignity would be a theme merchants should put front and center in their marketing during these troubled times."
Lauren Freedman the e-tailing group, inc. www.e-tailing.com
-> l. Communicate with Affiliates & Partners
"I suggest looking back at the 9-11 tragedy and asking yourself what you learned during that terrible time period. In my opinion, most importantly, you need to reassure your marketing partners that you are still open for business, orders are being promptly fulfilled, and that you will continue to pay all commissions in a timely fashion.
If your business has actually been harmed or uniquely impacted in some way, I encourage you to communicate your issues with marketing partners in a timely and straightforward fashion – and keep them informed of your progress.
Some of our clients were quick to promote plans to donate proceeds to various charities following 9-11. It should be pointed out however, even these altruistic gestures were seen by some partners as merely a way to capitalize on our national tragedy. I encourage you to look at your plans with a critical eye in order to minimize this perception."
Jim Gribble, Managing Director, LinkProfits www.linkprofits.com
-> m. Keep Spending on Marketing
"When the going gets tough, I have historically spent more on marketing and sales. I did it post-September 11th in the darkest and scariest economic times I can remember and it got us through that period.
What I look for in turbulent times is the very same thing I always look for: efficiency and results. The temptation is to reach for those highly flexible, short term solutions like PPC advertising which have on an off switches but then when the good times return, you’re unprepared. The winning strategy is a combination of short term revenue driving tactics and long term strategic initiatives – in turbulent times I may adjust the mix, but never the long view.
With the threat of war looming, nothing about our marketing has been changed. If or when war breaks out, the use of humor in campaigns will need to be carefully watched, as well as any themes and any connotations they may carry. The caution here is not to offend or appear insensitive to any issues that are creating fear that the audience may be experiencing.
Our marketing will not slow down, but we will be careful to look at it, and re-look at it from all angles to ensure that it doesn’t contain anything that if misinterpreted could be perceived as inflammatory. That’s common sense but in periods of uncertainty and fear, I think it’s doubly important."
The views and opinions expressed in the articles of this website are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect in any way the views of MarketingSherpa, its affiliates, or its employees.