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Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Brand Actions Beat Words

By Kyle Rees | March 03, 2022 | 0 Comments

MarketingAdvertisingBranding and Value PropositionMarketing Strategy and InnovationMarketing, Consumer, and B2B Insights

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Transcript

Kyle Rees: Today, conflict in Eastern Europe captures the world’s attention as Russia invades Ukraine. The events of the last week have inflamed geopolitical tensions and ushered in a new humanitarian crisis on the tail of a global pandemic and amidst broad sociocultural upheaval. This event presents a new set of challenges to the marketing and business leaders that we support here at Gartner.

Between February 25th and March 1st, 2022, Gartner for marketing leaders conducted a survey of 281 consumers based in the US to assess their level of concern about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as their specific concerns and their expectations for brands in this difficult time. Here to help us learn more about what we found in this survey and what it means for marketers is VP analyst Kate Muhl.

Kate, tell us about this consumer survey. What are the top-level findings? What do our marketing clients need to know now?

Kate Muhl: I think first, the top line here is that US consumers are very concerned about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Seven out of 10 of our respondents told us that they rated their level of concern about the conflict at a four or five, where five is extremely concerned. They don’t view this as a remote or theoretical concern either. Four out of 10 consumers rate their concern for potential personal impact at a four or five as well.

Secondarily, they’re divided over what the US government should specifically do about the conflict. We’ve got roughly a third of consumers, saying the U.S. government should be involved. A third saying the US government shouldn’t be involved, and a third saying that they don’t know. But consumers are not divided on the idea that companies should get involved in some way. In fact, 8 out of 10 of our respondents could name at least one action that they want to see companies take in response to the conflict.

Kyle: So, you mentioned consumers are relatively united in wanting to see companies take action. What does that look like? What do consumers expect brands to do now?

Kate: Consumers are much more sophisticated now [in their] thinking about the way that business operations impact society. What we found is that consumers’ top priorities for actions that companies should take included…and this is in in descending order of priority, reconsidering doing business in Russia or [with] Russian companies, ensuring the safety of their employees and personnel who are in the war zone, and ensuring that anybody connected to their organization is safe. And they’re also very interested in companies taking actions to minimize disruptions caused by the conflict that could lead to shortages or price hikes for consumers.

Kyle: So, one thing that I’m not hearing you say in all of this is that consumers expect brands to say something online. Help us understand that. Do they not want brands to say anything at all? What’s going on there?

Kate: It’s interesting you picked up on that because of course, you know, all of this is happening in a specific context where there now exists a marketing playbook that was written and refined at the beginning of the pandemic. A playbook that marketers also deployed during the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020. In that sense, what consumers expect from brands is responsiveness to the cultural moment. And while that is all still true, I think we’re seeing something different from consumers with what is happening in Ukraine now.

Making statements about the war is far down the list of actions that consumers are looking for from companies. But, for those consumers who do want to see brands making statements about what’s happening there, what they’re looking for at this time is for brands to express support for Ukraine, for people in Ukraine and for peace in general. They do see a role for brands additionally to provide some guidance on how consumers themselves can help. But they’re not really interested in hearing from brands right now.

At this point, anyway, it is a story of what your organization is doing to help people who are impacted by the fighting or what you’re doing operationally to reduce the impact.

Kyle: And finally, Kate, you’ve provided a rich backdrop against which we can put this into helpful context for our clients. What posture should the marketing leaders that we work with today be prepared to take here at the beginning of March 2022?

Kate: I would describe it as a posture of readiness. Consumers are not looking for storytelling about the actions that companies are taking, but I think soon they will be. This is the time to get those storylines together. It’s also the time, particularly for CMOs, to be working across the organization to make sure that the organization is taking concrete actions in support of Ukraine and its people. Storytelling can wait, but that is something that is shifting. And if you prepare now, you’ll be ready to tell those stories [when the right time comes].

Kyle: That’s a really important message of readiness, thank you for your time today.

Kate: Thank you.

Update March 4, 2022: The transcript has been updated from the original to reflect new events, conditions or research.

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