How do you go back to selling cars, clothes and computers after the attacks on America? Just after that dark day, it was nearly impossible to think about how we'd all return to such banal pursuits. With consumers edgy, advertisers and their agencies are now struggling to create campaigns that are effective, while respecting the mood of our changed nation. It's a tall order. While advertising is crucial to keep our economy cranking along, it's vital that advertisers are not seen as crass or capitalizing on such profound emotion.
After a few weeks of absorbing nothing but gloom, I went in search of an advertising agency with some good news to share. Candace Sanborn is a partner in the full-service marketing and design firm Encompass Marketing & Design (www.encompassmarketing.com). Sanborn says her Auburn, Maine-based company has seen no reduction in marketing budgets as her clients hold firm. I asked Sanborn about how other advertisers and agencies can handle what are likely the most unique circumstances ever to face the industry:
Kimberly McCall: Businesses are facing a new marketing riddle: how to integrate the nation's mood with the need to move product. What's your advice for a business struggling to adapt their advertising, marketing and PR to this sudden new world?
Candace Sanborn: The events of September 11th have created a patriotic mood that's not been seen since WWII. This mood is combined with an air of cautiousness among people across the country, due primarily to massive layoffs and the possibility of more terrorist attacks. Despite this, I think the direction businesses take with their marketing efforts depends on the business they're in. Companies that sell business-to-business products and services should, for the most part, try to keep things business as usual. I say this because business-to-business products and services deal less with mood shifts and rely more on competitive pricing, delivery, product variety, etc.
Companies and organizations selling to consumers may benefit by integrating an altruistic approach to their marketing that reflects the need of Americans to help those who've suffered, and their desire to band together as Americans. A good example of this is (Maine auto dealership) Jolly John. They responded immediately following the terrorist attacks with a very patriotic radio ad, telling people to get out there and buy the things they were planning to buy in order to save the economy. I noted they were careful not to mention car purchase as one of the items people should buy, which served to support their message that they were not saying this to benefit themselves. Their latest radio ads get back to selling vehicles, with the twist of attractive interest rates--doing what they can to make it easier for people to buy in this difficult time--and free American flags to all buyers.
Other companies are advertising that a portion of their sales will go towards relief efforts for the families affected by the attacks. Whatever the offer, I think consumers are looking for businesses to recognize our nation is in the middle of something that's greater than any one individual or business. Businesses that can show a sincere effort to help neighbors and their community will reap the rewards of good will and increased business long-term.
McCall: Many companies are donating a portion of their profits to relief efforts or encouraging their customers to donate money or time. Will this continue to be a viable marketing tactic through the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year?
Sanborn: The length of time this altruistic mood will last depends largely on the future events surrounding our war on terrorism, how the Bush administration handles these events, and how often and in what light the media portrays them. If events continue as they have been, with the Bush administration receiving high marks and newsworthy military activities taking place, thereby putting the war at the forefront of the news on a daily basis, I think the strategy will remain viable through next year. If events turn sour, then it's hard to say how what the mood of the American people will be.
McCall: Your clients have not pulled back on their budgets. What words can you offer small business owners and marketing communications professional with the jitters considering decreases in marketing budgets?
Sanborn: I have not seen a decrease in marketing budgets, since my clients tell me their business is steady or on target. However, for those whose businesses have been affected, such as those in the hospitality industry, now is not the time to pull back. Businesses might need to get a little more creative, but pulling in the reigns and not marketing your business will only make things worse worse for you as well as for our overall economy. Brainstorm with colleagues, friends, family members and business acquaintances to come up with new products, services and ideas to market your business. Partner with companies that are complimentary to your own that perhaps you can co-promote with, thereby sharing marketing expenses as well as making both your businesses stronger.
Overall, I think consumers and business people alike want to feel that we, as a nation, are in this new realm together working together to make sure that our economy continues to thrive, our spirit remains strong, and that the terrorists don't get what they want, which is to bring us down. I have experienced such a renewed bond as Americans since the terrorist attacks, with such genuine and sincere caring and concern from businesses and individuals alike that fills me with such respect and appreciation. I know that Maine businesses will continue to respond appropriately to this new world in which we live and that they will prosper because of that response.
Kimberly McCall is the president of McCallMedia & Marketing, Inc (www.MarketingAngel.com). She is the monthly "Game Plan" columnist for Entrepreneur magazine and a frequent inc.com, Wall Street Journal's StartupJournal.com, and MarketingProfs.com contributor.