APR 22, 2020

I’m sure you know the basic concept: your marketing message is how you describe your company and its products to your customers and prospective customers. It sets the tone for all your customer interactions, provides the basis for brand awareness, and ideally drives sales and even customer referrals.

Under normal circumstances, most marketing messages fade into the woodwork, mostly because they’re cookie-cutter, pro-forma statements describing how a company perceives itself. Here are some common themes:
“Our founders were in college together and decided…”
“Our company’s product are the most state-of-the-art…”
“We have the highest quality service bar none…”

I’ve sometimes struggled to explain why these self-referential messages are so ineffective. The best analogy that I’ve come up with is a guy trying to hookup in a bar by talking all about himself, bragging about this, bragging about that, puffing himself up, and so forth. Sure he’ll occasionally connect with somebody who’s already decided to buy, but mostly he’s going to get a lot of bored eyerolls.

Now imagine that the guy notices that he’s getting nowhere and, rather than changing his behavior, he just gets more enthusiastic about tooting his own horn. That’s what I see novice marketers doing all the time: they think that turning their self-serving message up to eleven is going to make the message more effective. (“I’m VERY excited to announce that my company…”)

If anything, faux enthusiasm (or even real enthusiasm) makes a self-absorbed marketing message even less palatable. Under normal circumstances, if you’ve got a trite or weak marketing message, the best you can expect is that it will be overlooked because it’s just background noise. Certainly it’s not going to strengthen your brand or make it easier to sell.

During a disaster, however, these ham-handed marketing messages make you look insensitive and clueless. When people are coping with the crisis, the last thing they want to do is to hear about how wonderful you are. This includes touting how wonderful your employees are, BTW.

Right now, many companies are trying to position their low-level employees–the ones who have to keep working under dangerous conditions–as heroes. This is playing with fire, because while they may indeed be acting heroically, the fact that heroism is required is proof that a company is poorly managed. Nobody should have to risk their lives to make a living.

Plus, if you celebrate your employees for risking death to keep you in busines, you’re setting yoursefl up for a PR disaster. Sooner or later one of your employees will go public with complaints and then you have only two bad choices:

1) fire that person to warn others not to blab, or
2) ignore the complaint, in which case you’re opening the media floodgates to all your (understandably) disgruntled employees.

The marketing messages that work best–both under normal circumstances or in a crisis–are always told from the customer’s viewpoint. They’re “outside looking in” rather than “inside looking out.” From that perspective, the only heroes here are your customers.

Look, your customers don’t want you to be Superman and fly down to save them. What they want, at most, is for you to be is the sidekick who helps out, or the gadgeteer who gives them the tools they need to do their own heroics.

The Big Takeaway: the best marketing message doesn’t tell YOUR story; it tells your customers’ stories.
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