Crisis Marketing 101: Be Agile, Creative, and Show Your Humanity
It can be a struggle to find an appropriate voice to use when marketing your company during the COVID-19 pandemic. On one hand, you want to stay in business and provide essential services. On the flip side, a health crisis is not a time to make funny commercials or create a tone-deaf advertising campaign.
For Matt Tyner, the answer was relatively simple: “You just have to be human,” he says. “Brands need to be human right now.”
Tyner is the director of marketing for four companies located in three states: Williams Comfort Air and Mr. Plumber in Indiana; Thomas Galbraith Heating Cooling & Plumbing in Ohio; and Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Kentucky.
“Be human—that’s the biggest thing needed right now,” Tyner says. “That’s exactly what we’ve done. Our TV ads—we’ve changed from our traditional customer acquisition type ads to be more ‘thank you’ for the nurses. Thank you for the doctors and researchers. Thank you for the grocery store clerks. Thank you for the delivery drivers.
“We’re putting this mass message out there saying thank you, you guys have done a phenomenal job.”
That thank-you messaging is tied with information about safety and community service.
“Part of this is also letting everyone know how we’re going to keep them safe,” Tyner says. “So, we’ve developed a series of videos that are online, on social media and through some landing pages we’ve created.
“We’re going to do our part to respect everyone’s wishes, and make sure we keep our team and our clients safe.”
The last thing the company wants, Tyner adds, is for a team member to catch Coronavirus and be in an incubation period of 10 to 14 days, or be sick for a number of weeks.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to put our team at risk just for an $89 tuneup,” he says.
Humans need groceries, and Tyner’s teams deliver
After seeing stay-at-home orders go into place in three states, Tyner and team evaluated the landscape. They saw that a large part of their workforce—the maintenance group on plumbing and HVAC—was going to be idled. Was there a way the fleet and the team members could be used to help give back to the community?
That’s when a grocery delivery program was created.
In part, Tyner says, the company wanted to help its team provide for their own families by working as close to 40 hours per week as possible. At the same time, they noticed a need for some people to get groceries home from food markets.
“There’s a whole population of people who are considered at-risk who are going to the grocery stores without masks, without gloves, without any means of protection,” he says. “Something about that didn’t feel right.”
The company decided it could assist high-risk people who shouldn’t be leaving their homes—for their own sake and for the greater good of the community.
Now, the company has expanded the eligibility criteria to include first responders and healthcare workers.
At first, Tyner’s team reached out to the grocery stores themselves.
“As you can imagine, they are busy,” he says. “They didn't really want to talk to an HVAC company, even though we explained we have this fleet available, and we can help your clients."
Direct contact with the grocery stores didn’t pan out, so an organic approach to providing a delivery service was initiated.
“We did a social media push,” Tyner says. “Not only on the company side, but each individual within the company. I provided our team with content to post. It was company-branded and showed the process and the service we were offering. We had our people post on Nextdoor, Facebook, Instagram, wherever they deemed it essential.”
It should be noted that field technicians were not getting into the business of doing grocery shopping. Tyner and company were offering delivery. Customers were directed to online sites such as Kroger’s ClickList and other in-store grocery pickup programs to do the ordering.
There were obstacles. Many of these online sites are swamped. Delays are common. But as the ad-hoc delivery system started to catch on, Tyner says customers learned to place grocery orders in advance and plan for delivery days later.
Tyner says the response has been phenomenal. We started encouraging people to do this,” he says. “As soon as someone places an order, they get us the information and we put it in the service side (through ServiceTitan). We have it ready to dispatch.”
Customers get a text notification and can track the delivery. Employees call customers after a drop off, so they can safely come out of their home and retrieve their groceries and take them inside.
The PR payoff of being human
As the grocery delivery program progressed, it got exponentially more publicity.
“We're starting to see more and more pick up on it,” Tyner says. “The TV stations and radio stations are really getting behind us—and that’s been tremendous support. Because as they support us, we’re able to support more of the members of the community, which is really exciting for us.”
Tyner has been amazed to see how communities have taken to the program, which has resulted in measurable marketing impact and impressions.
He is also pleased at the internal impact and what has happened from a morale perspective, as employees branch out and do other things, such as donate blood, on their own time.
"When people do some type of volunteer work, we ask them to take a picture to help tell the story,” Tyner says. “We ask them to wear a company uniform, drive your company vehicle, and be proud that, in a time of uncertainty, you work for this company.”
Tyner is proud that “just be human” has been a very clear stance by the company from the very beginning of the pandemic. The company has a plan, and the team respects the plan and is executing it. He says everyone is in great spirits.
“Everything we’re doing now is going to pay dividends when it comes to the summer months, or when demand increases,” he says. “Our goal is that we’re top of mind. That folks remember us. They know how active we are in the community, because it’s through their support of our business that we’re able to give back to this community.”
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