The first advice I give anyone when approaching work on their brand is honesty. There is nuance to this but it’s a truism that cannot be overemphasized. The truth always catches up to you in the end, especially in business.
This brings me to an observation made, by myself and my colleagues, during the weeks leading up and through our current pandemic. Something we now call “tactical empathy”. Tactical empathy is the strategy to gain market advantage through the utilization of the consumer’s propensity for moral and ethical action; especially during crises. On the one hand, you have businesses who were founded with the intent to help people in times of crisis and create awareness around their availability. On the other, you have essentially scam artists; looking to take advantage of the uncertainty through nefarious dealings. Between these extremes, purely altruistic or purely nefarious, there are the organizations and individuals who requisitely use the crisis strategically to their advantage. Fundamentally, I believe that most are trying to help their people and community reconcile with the change in one way or another. But, it’s also true that most businesses identify the potential upside to this action, a cost-benefit analysis if you will. Further, they can and often do coexist. Too often we create the false dichotomy of either/or; you either agree with me or you’re wrong.
Back to honesty. Or, in this case, self-awareness and how it relates to the perception of your brand. When evaluating your best course of action it is important that you set aside self-interest and consider how your audience will weigh this against their lives. We break this down into Signals, Perspective, Value. What signals will you put out, what perspective will your customer see this from, and what values will they then attribute to those signals.
The current situation surrounding the spread of the COVID-19 virus is a telling story of tactical empathy in action. We have observed businesses take an initially conservative approach to cautionary measures only to be lambasted for their inaction by the general community and then take a hardline stance in the opposite direction. This, while the same community simultaneously criticize businesses and government institutions for layoffs, lack of preparedness and transparency. In general, this behavior is understandable. In the face of uncertainty, we naturally act out in the face of fear and anxiety in search of answers.
The current situation surrounding the spread of the COVID-19 virus is a telling story of tactical empathy in action..
One CEO we observed took a heavy-handed public stance against the insensitivity of marketing agencies continuing to pursue business, only to announce a week later a temporary cut in their pay to preserve jobs. But how can a CEO criticize an entire sector of the economy for trying to keep their lights on while simultaneously making a public stance about trying to do the same? Especially when it equates to their own salary being so disproportionate to contribute significantly to the continued employment of many workers?
This signaled a few things to us. First, that this leader was utilizing tactical empathy. Second, that this organization was being hit harder than most. Third, that they were being reactive and not considering the SPV of their messaging. For individuals, it is fundamentally easier to take a stance and act reactively without the need for concern over how this will come off. For businesses and their representatives, however, we must consider the long term effects of our messaging.
- Perspective: What are the current frustrations your audience is experience?
- Value: What is their vision for a solution? How would they measure this?
- Signals: How can you, the business, design a solution for them that still makes sense to your mission?
A great article in Forbes about the “rules of making money during the time of COVID”: HERE