May 5, 2020 | Go-To-Market

Be Human, Be Real: New Rules for Marketers Right Now

Martina Lauchengco

Written by

Martina Lauchengco

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Amazon versus Verizon marketing campaigns.

This is a time of intense vulnerability and crushing uncertainty.

But in a meaningful way, it’s also become a time of remarkable connection and communication. The COVID-19 crisis is forcing us to be more human in our approach. Work conversations don’t just get right to the point. Instead of getting down to business, we first get to the heart of things: “How are you doing? Are you and your family well? How are you dealing with all of this?” Glimpses of homes on Zoom calls, baby noises, dogs barking — it’s all opening our eyes to the multidimensional people we work with.

This is the lens marketers need: a human one. Good marketers meet customers where they are, using their needs and perspectives to frame why products and services are relevant. Today, the strongest ways people are segmenting are psychological and emotional — and, unlike demographics, you can’t program against that. There’s just no way to know for sure precisely where someone is.

That’s why, at this moment, only a human-to-human approach will work.

Blend the emotional with the factual.

Case in point, I received two emails from competing airlines in mid March, right when COVID began to heat up in the US in earnest. United used emotive phrases like “…our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another” and “The response to this crisis has been extraordinary; as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people.”

It included this reference to the government bailout: “I want to relay to you, in as deeply personal a way I can, the heartfelt appreciation of my 100,000 United team members and their families for this vital public assistance to keep America and United flying for you.”

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In contrast, Delta incorporated more factual language: “…you will have fogging on domestic aircraft overnight as we have done internationally and sanitization of high-touch areas,” “temporarily moving to essential food and beverage service onboard,” etc.

It also included a thank you with a different twist: “I want to add that we are deeply grateful to members of Congress, the President and the administration for steps they have taken to provide emergency relief to airline employees nationwide.”

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United’s email landed better because it built emotional connection first, brought in concrete mention of ways the company was using its airplanes for good, and then indicated gratitude for the bailout that was more people — not government — centered. In contrast, Delta hammered the factual information that was useful but perhaps too early in the crisis to resonate. Plus, they thanked the government, not the people, for the money needed to keep operating.

It just didn’t feel good.

Understand that run of the mill, average marketing is not going to get the job done.

If your plan is to put out some discounts, say “we’re all in this together in these unprecedented times,” and go from there, pause and think again.

The best you can possibly do is be authentic and true. Strive for genuine engagement. Within our portfolio companies, we’ve seen success when marketers strike a “this helped someone else like you and might work for you too” tone. A humble “let us help you” spirit can accomplish more because it feels tonally on point.

When consumers get emails that sound like everything is back to normal — or, worse, like it never changed — it feels dissonant. It makes them wonder why you just don’t get it. And it invites them to delete.

Think deeply about context.

When coronavirus hit, Verizon ran an excellent campaign that combined both heart and head to great effect. It made common problems like abruptly working from home (see again: the human element) the centerpiece, visually communicating that shared commonality, the “we get it” message. But they married it with concrete information: giving mobile customers more data (15G), extending customer service hours, free international calls to affected countries through April, waiving late fees, etc.

Verizon understood it had a vital role to play in helping customers stay connected with family and friends — and newly at-home workforces stay productive. And it played effectively within that context.

Amazon launched its own communications that featured and thanked its warehouse workers. But unlike Verizon, the approach misfired as workers — buoyed by consumer demand and their essential role in keeping customers supplied and fed — pointed out that the company was falling short in keeping them safe, paid and supported. Employee pushback (including the strike on May 1st) continues to overshadow the positives from company leadership (e.g., its $20M AWS Diagnostic Initiative). As long as workers’ rights remain an ongoing issue, Amazon’s words will feel like salt in the wound.

The point is, you have to consider your external environment plus internal strengths and vulnerabilities to ensure whatever you’re putting out feels right and consistent with who you are.

Take it week by week.

A crisis that’s still in its infancy makes it impossible to plan long term. It’s okay to let that go for now. Planning with a longer outlook would be a waste of time and energy when conditions — the market, the customer, the world — are changing at the present pace. On our weekly marketing calls, we’ve been asking, “What have you done this week that’s worked?” Opening that dialogue, and concentrating it just on this very narrow window of time, has been a more effective way of ensuring we make some progress.

Ultimately, this is a time when people don’t want to do business with faceless, soulless corporations. They want their money to support people like them, plain and simple.

So, sure, tell your consumers about your products and services. But be human when you do it. Be real. And you’ll be more successful.