When NOT to Promote Yourself

There is a time to speak and a time to listen. This past week, when Superstorm Sandy plowed into the East Coast, it was a time to pay attention, seek shelter and offer genuine help. But not a time to promote your brand.

American Apparel and The Gap learned that lesson the hard way. American Apparel was roundly criticized for launching a 36-hour Hurricane Sandy Sale, and Gap got an equally well-deserved trouncing for encouraging those who might be bored during the storm to shop online. Both received an outpouring of angry social media push-back. With so many suffering from the disaster, the pitches were justly recognized as tasteless and completely inappropriate.

Sears was chastised, too, for pushing generators and cleaning products via its Twitter feed in the storm’s aftermath. Even if people were looking for these items, the promotion appeared self-serving. Which, of course, it was.

Other businesses demonstrated thoughtful restraint or offered genuine assistance. Chevrolet donated 50 trucks and vans to search and rescue efforts. The Citi Foundation, which gives $500,000 annually to the American Red Cross, donated $1,000,000 for Sandy disaster relief. Sure, these moves helped burnish brand image. But they were tangible gifts of much-needed resources.

So, what’s the best, most humane approach to marketing your brand under such circumstances? Two rules make sense:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of the people affected by the disaster. What information would be truly helpful to them that’s relevant to your work? Can you be of genuine assistance in some way, or will your offer appear to be simply self-serving or making light of the true suffering involved?
  2. If your business is located within the disaster zone, sincere words of support and comfort are appropriate (emphasis on sincere), as well as any updates about what’s happened to your business, when you expect to be available again for your customers and how to contact you.

For thoughtful commentary on the subject, see:

Nick Cicero: Is There a Right Way to Respond On Social Media After a Hurricane? on Social Fresh

Michael Sebastian: After Sandy, Lessons Emerge for Corporate Communicators on PR Daily.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

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