Creativity amid crisis: How marketers can navigate outbreaks and uncertainties

Let's refrain from reacting out of panic, but instead accept the challenge and get creative.

The global economy may be coming down with a massive cold, as you have surely read. While we diligently wash our hands, cough into our elbows, and don masks in crowded spaces to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we marketers need to act upon the challenges already impacting some of our clients’ businesses. And—contrary to the panic-inducing news you may have read so far—there are plenty of things we can do about it.

There’s no denying that many businesses across many industries are suffering as a result of this latest outbreak: travel and tourism, conventions and festivals, restaurants and retail, and more. However, we need to understand—and history will remind us—that things will bounce back. As consumers, our priorities are going to shift but people are not going to stop eating, communicating, or seeking solutions to their needs. People are going to continue consuming—they will just do it differently. 

Let’s understand the fact that productivity is going to slow down and build that into our plans to pivot and adapt our marketing efforts to give people the solutions they need. Let’s refrain from reacting out of panic, but instead accept the challenge and get creative.

So how, as a brand, can you accept the challenge and get creative during this and future times of crisis? Engage your agencies. 

Embolden your team of creative people to come up with ideas on how you can keep the motor running and the wheels turning. Your team’s ideas should help mitigate the panic and provide consumers information that is positive, valuable, and solution-driven.

Restaurants, for example, can find ways to improve their delivery, takeout, and drive-through experiences for people concerned about gathering in public places. Emphasize policies around cleanliness in a very public way and consider revising current policies or introducing new ones. Even the most disrupted industries, like airlines and hotels, can offer travelers the opportunity to purchase future fares or rooms at massively discounted rates. 

With a team of talented marketers, these ideas can come to life in new and unexpected ways.

Here’s an eerily similar example of the type of innovation I’m referring to, one I remember well: In Costa Rica, where I’m from, a yearly pilgrimage to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, outside of San Jose, mobilizes nearly 2.5 million people each year. People walk for hundreds of miles to get there, with journeys sometimes taking days. Ten years ago, a very specific strand of the flu—the H1N1 virus—broke out and the pilgrimage was canceled. It was the first time (and to date the only time) in the event’s over 200-year history that it was canceled. And the people of Costa Rica were very distraught. 

A local creative agency came up with the idea of doing a virtual pilgrimage, creating a website where people could build a profile, create an avatar, and make pledges that allowed them to take part in the pilgrimage, virtually. 

It was a massive success. Why? Because the virtual pilgrimage helped people by serving their needs and solving a unique problem brought on during an unexpected crisis. 

As marketers and creatives, we have an obligation to be part of the solution. Let’s address this crisis head-on, come up with creative solutions, and work to change things for the better. 

Warren Marenco Chase is chief operating officer at global digital marketing agency Firewood.

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