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
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
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
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
Q: What is the safest marketing investment in times of national
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
-> 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
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
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
-> 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
-- 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
-- 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
Carl Fremont, Sr. VP and Global Media Director, Digitas
-> 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
-> 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.
-> 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
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
-> 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
Rex Briggs, Principal, Marketing Evolution
-> 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.
-> 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
-> 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."
Serge Timacheff, Executive Editor, Brandtree Journal
-> j. Copywriting: Focus on Truth & Honesty
"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
-> 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
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."
the e-tailing group, inc.
-> 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
-> 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
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."
Fredrick Marckini, CEO, iProspect