© 2016-2020 by Surveys & Forecasts, LLC

  • Robert Walker

Thoughtful Communication in a Time of Crisis

Updated: Mar 25



Every day I receive a deluge of email from companies with whom I have a glancing relationship, yet seem compelled to assure me about their healthy operational status during our shared Coronavirus pandemic. They breathlessly promote their products and services and go out of their way to reassure me that their services are available for purchase. Perhaps they are getting it all wrong: I'm not alone in this perception.


In the stampede to reassure me that their businesses remain uninterrupted, what are they really saying? They are telling me that they are mostly concerned about the impact on their business, and the disruption to their revenue and operations. Unintentionally, they have delivered a pandering, grasping, and self-serving message that conveys how little they care about the customers they serve.


On the one hand, it is understandable: Coronavirus has the world and virtually all marketplaces turned completely upside down. This massive disruption to our life and economic well-being is extremely upsetting. On the other, companies have an obligation to communicate to their customers in a way that focuses on them, and not on the operation of the company, its products, or its services. We assume that companies are already doing what they can to remain operational. We do not need to receive dozens upon dozens of emails to point out the obvious. What we do need from marketers and advertisers is a complete shift in strategy – from an “all about me focus” to a “fellow citizen focus”. What might this look like?


I listen to (and highly recommend) the Research Business Daily Report (RBDR) on the marketing research and analytics industry, and most recently listened to media researcher Bill Harvey about his ideas on thoughtful messaging adjustments during this worldwide pandemic. Bill founded Research Measurement Technologies (RMT), a pioneer in media measurement. He points out that advertisers need to pivot to quality of life advertising – and away from the advertising of features and benefits.


More than ever, advertising and messaging need to convey shared ideals and motivations. What are the areas of overlap between a brand and its customers? How can we as marketers build relationships with customers based on motivations that are positive and uplifting?

Over the years Harvey identified 15 motivational drivers, similar (in principle) to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs developed in the 1940s. These motivational drivers exist, more or less, in all of us. They are:


• Achievement

• Aspiration

• Belonging

• Competency

• Creativity

• Experience of life (including sex)

• Fitness

• Heroism & leadership

• Love

• Power

• Security

• Self-knowledge

• Self-transcendence (or altruism)

• Status

• Success


Advertisers would be well-advised to investigate how they can incorporate some of these fundamental human motivators in their messaging and advertising right now. If you are solely focused on features, benefits, usage situations, or problem-solution messaging, chances are that those messages will be ignored because your consumer is primarily focused on health, sustenance, shelter, and survival.


Are you simply marketing your product or service as usual? Are you using your messaging during this pandemic to pat yourself on the back, or check the box with IR or HR? Or are you really, really in the trenches with consumers, psychologically lifting them up, and making them feel like you care about how they are doing? Ask yourself: are you being genuine?


If your answer to the last question was no, then you need to rethink your entire communications strategy for the foreseeable future. In a world of pandemics and unpredictable externalities, no one cares if Product A removes stains better that Product B.


Consumers already assume that your product works. What they really care about is whether you believe what they believe.


So, what is it again that you believe?