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Maintaining And Building Brand Awareness During a Global Crisis (Forbes Agency Council)

The following interview was held between CEO Jaymie Scotto Cutaia and JSA’s EVP of Business ABM & Account Strategy, Dean Perrine, to develop our latest piece in the Forbes’ Agency Council. To read the full article, click here.

Jaymie: We’re collectively experiencing something for the first time as a global community and the tech and telecom industry certainly isn’t immune to the impact of the pandemic. Having been in the industry for over 20 years, what are your thoughts on how to market and message in this environment?

Dean: For sure. Drastic times call for, well, drastic reflection, support and conscientious action – not measures. As brand stewards, counselors and strategic advisors on messaging, outreach and overall brand elevation, we’re often called upon to advise in “crisis” situations. And while the COVID-19 pandemic certainly falls within the parameters of the common definition of a “crisis,” it is also an entirely different animal than a typical business-specific crisis. 

It creates a wholly different and unfamiliar set of brand management issues that must be addressed with a global conscience and tact. There are no hard and fast rules, and no playbook or prescription for guaranteed brand success during this time, but I believe with careful consideration and the right tools, there are ways to continue brand advancement and do so in a measured and appropriate way. As an industry, we’ll need to dig deep and find brand and public purpose – to find compassion – without sounding like a Lifetime original movie. Seriously. 

Jaymie: Let’s talk more about what clients should be “considering” and what tools are best for strategic marketing pivots during the crisis. What do you recommend from a practical and pragmatic standpoint? 

Dean: Know Your Audience! Wait, no, know what’s important to your audience. Or don’t, but don’t pretend. Not now. Not ever. Every good marketing strategy starts with knowing your audience, right? Sure. We know this. Knowing the audience means we know a bit about who the buyers are, what they look and smell like, personas, demographics and firmographics, yadda, yadda. And while it’s critically important to have a data-driven strategy, a global pandemic can take the math right out of the equation. In this situation, it’s equally – if not more – important to have a better understanding of what your audience values, now, and plan any outreach accordingly. 

Better yet, don’t plan ANY outreach, particularly if you don’t have a firm grasp on the crisis’ immediate or developing impact on your target audience. Your first step must be to figure out how individual audiences are being impacted by the crises. Good news, bad news here – because we become the litmus test. How might a specific sales message or CTA make us feel given the backdrop of a global pandemic? To borrow a grossly overused but appropriate phrase, “we’re all in this together” and that means we’re all tuned into the same channel. It’s okay to use it. 

Jaymie: Clearly knowing the audience is the first step here, but it should be noted that there are fundamental shifts in tone or angle that should be considered as well, same with using the proper mediums and channels, social media platforms, etc. 

Dean: Absolutely. The best messages make people feel like you’re, pardon the expression, “sleeping in their bed”. You know and can articulate their problems, challenges, goals and desires so clearly that it feels like you’re reading their diaries. The holy grail is to acquire the ability to message to that specific challenge in a way that is so compelling that your target can’t help but follow your CTA. But marketing and outreach during a global health crisis adds a new, much more sensitive layer; the human layer. Keyword and other persona data have less impact and may feel tone-deaf, or worse, opportunistic. It is thus far more critical to simplify the message and position it in a way that is less keyword or persona-driven – less mind reading and more “heart reading”. 

As for using the right channel, I couldn’t agree more. Every outlet or channel has its own tonal (formal or informal, etc) expectation. Not all outreach mediums are created equal and mass message blasts about customer acquisitions, product rollouts or award wins will, at best, fall on deaf ears, or worse, be viewed as inappropriate or completely tone-deaf and offensive. For example, a press announcement, prospect or customer mailing about a product award win likely isn’t going to be particularly well received…unless that product has a clear benefit tied to making lives better – that’s the human layer. A message that can be positioned appropriately without being overtly salesy –  and that provides immediate and relevant support or comfort – is not only acceptable, but in high demand. A shoe-horned message or angle will be sniffed out immediately. Best to keep those for a more appropriate time or use them more passively as social media messages or blog fodder – something to be found, not forced.

Jaymie: As lead JSA strategist on Account Based Marketing (ABM), how effective or ineffective is this type of uber account-based targeting during a global crisis – particularly as many are scrambling to make adjustments to their existing brand and messaging strategies?

Dean: Well, actually, much of the above can be synthesized efficiently and meaningfully as the building blocks for an effective Account Based Marketing strategy. ABM is a highly-focused business strategy in which a marketing team treats an individual prospect or customer like its very own market. The marketing team can create content, events and entire campaigns dedicated to the people associated with that account, rather than the industry as a whole. Sound familiar? It doesn’t get any more personal or human than that. 

Account based marketing isn’t meant to take the place of overall company brand and outreach strategy and should be looked at as a supplement to your larger initiatives. Highly effective under normal circumstances, under the Crisis Management umbrella it is arguably the best way to target individuals with specific messages with tonal-clarity and focus. It is your personal relationship strategy and it works. Account based marketing solves many of the issues presented by global and company crisis management and outreach…without even trying. 

Jaymie: I’ve heard you talk, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, about the importance of brand story and company purpose. How does that basic brand exploration and evaluation exercise play in a COVID world? 

Dean: Ahh, my favorite subject! Your company and brand origin story is personal and unique, but it wasn’t born in isolation. See what I did there? It was born of people and by people. It’s uniquely human.  And it’s as universal as the pain and concern we all feel during a global health crisis. It began as a public purpose, a product or service produced to help or support a person or community or industry. It’s a purpose and message that must be tapped in times of crisis. And I believe that it’s key to protecting and exercising your brand strength during any crisis.

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