In the early stages of any crisis, it can be difficult to know what action you should take. But in the face of a human tragedy on the scale of the the Russian invasion of Ukraine, you may be tempted to act now, think later. Alternatively, you may wonder what marketing could, or should be doing at such a time, especially if your market or your industry are not immediately impacted by the crisis.
Talk to your team
Your team will have been reading the news and watching alerts on social media. Communicating that you are aware and are paying attention is important. A humanitarian crisis of this magnitude may feel far outside your control as a marketer, but remember that you are a business leader. You need to think about your people, your customers, your suppliers and all that are touched by your brand.
Collaborate with your peers
As a business leader, collaboration with your fellow leaders is also of paramount importance. This crisis presents numerous potential ramifications, including the welfare of your workforce, potential cyber security risks and disruption to key business activities. In the early stages of a crisis, marketing can be seen as secondary to other functions in managing and mitigating enterprise risks. As the most senior leader accountable for your brand and the de facto voice of the customer in the enterprise, it’s important that you ensure you have a seat at the decision-making table.
Take 5 essential steps
While this is different from the early stages of COVID-19 back in 2020, we can learn a lot from the COVID playbook. Start with five essential steps:
Step 1: build scenario plans
Scenario planning is an essential, if underused tool in marketing. Strategies always require the consideration of hypothetical future business scenarios. At a time of significant upheaval, the future business scenarios you imagined when you built your marketing strategy are likely to have changed considerably. So, it’s time to start afresh.
Pull your leadership team and stakeholders together to identify, prioritize and map scenarios. Think about the potential implications for your customers, your team and your suppliers. Use your scenario plans to both raise awareness among your team and stakeholders, and to prepare for a range of potential futures. Doing so enables you to create strategic options that address a range of possible outcomes.
Step 2: be prepared to flex your strategy
Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it must be alive the the mix of factors that touch the enterprise, even if those factors feel distanced from your direct markets or your customers (or your customers’ customers).
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis. It also will have an economic and cultural impact. If your enterprise does business in the region, you’ll already be rethinking your plans. Even if you’re well outside the region, you need to prepare to flex your strategy based on the evolving macro environmental situation. Consider how you can build adaptability and flexibility into your strategy, so it’s ready to flex based on a volatile and evolving situation.
If you’re working with agency or vendor partners (e.g. creative teams, software vendors, etc.) in regions impacted by economic sanctions, be sure to review terms of engagement with your legal partners. Think about the implications of how these changes in your resource mix impact your ability to deliver against the plan.
Step 3: talk to your media agency
Where your brand appears, and in what context is important. This is a lesson learned by Applebee’s and CNN recently. What may appear innocuous under normal circumstances can become deeply offensive in times of crisis, and brand safety considerations need to be looked at again.
Talk with your media planning team or agency, considering any potential scenarios where your brand’s content or creative could be placed near content that is jarring. Remember that content may be king, but context is everything.
Note that this doesn’t just apply to high profile ad campaigns. Consider the business-as-usual activity as well, such as the keywords and ad copy that you’re running for your search activity. Think also of automated social media posts, or email campaigns and programs that may have been long-planned. Remember that offense is in the eye of the beholder. Ensure that you and your team take an objective view of campaigns and materials.
Talk to a Gartner expert for further guidance on managing your media plans during a crisis.
Step 4: work with your comms team
Your communications team likely already has a playbook for managing crisis communications. This should include tools and techniques that enable you to monitor the crisis, and plan, execute and manage integrated communications.
Marketing and communications should be in lockstep when it comes to message management. This enables you to deliver timely and relevant messages to your customers, audiences and stakeholders. It also adds a further layer of brand safety protection in a time of volatility.
Step 5: prepare for downstream budget implications
The financial implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will take time to be fully understood. But a conflict between the World’s 11th largest economy and one of its biggest commodity producers will not be contained within Eastern Europe. A challenging inflationary environment may further escalate input costs, impacting enterprise finances and throttling an already-strained supply chain. The potential downstream consequences could involve a squeeze on marketing budgets (or at least continued dulling effect, elongating the budgetary restrictions imposed by COVID).
Prepare now, by prioritizing marketing’s programs and investments. At the very least, this will sense-check that your commitments still add-up, given the changing environment. But proactive prioritization will also ensure that you’re ready to identify the costs you can afford to cut, and those you can’t afford to lose, should budget challenges emerge.
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