Is there a Message in All This Mess?

Author: Linda J. Popky

The economy is doing somersaults, our financial institutions are in a tailspin, we’ve been hit by hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, and on Wall Street, and we’re in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election. It seems like a day doesn’t go by without news stories that range from bad to horrible.

I’m reminded of the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area in September 1989. There were news reports about the Bay Bridge collapsing, the Marina district in ruins, the Cypress Structure falling, and downtown Santa Cruz ablaze.

It sounded like life as we knew it in the Bay Area had ended.

I experienced the earthquake in an office building in the heart of Silicon Valley: the walls shook and the furniture swayed, but there was no catastrophic damage. As I drove home that evening, I remember looking around me and thinking, “Hmm. In spite of what I’m hearing on the radio, everything looks ok here. All of these homes and streets look fine and for the most part, the people around them look pretty darn normal. How can this be, when we are in the midst of such a momentous natural disaster?”

After a day or so, we realized that although there had been pockets of severe property damage and lives lost, the damage wasn’t nearly as severe as we’d been led to believe originally. In fact, we noticed that the news outlets were running the same three or four dramatic video clips over and over again – probably because there wasn’t that much additional drama and crisis to report.

Nineteen years later, we live in an age when we have even more access to incredible amounts of information and news is reported instantly. In fact, events today are reported as much by ordinary people on websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter as much as by the “professionals.” The good news is that we know what’s happening very, very quickly. The bad news is that we can become fixated on the crisis of the day, or sometimes even of the minute, and this instant access can blow things totally out of proportion.

This isn’t to belittle the fact that there are people who are homeless as a result of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, or that the financial crisis and rapidly rising number of foreclosures have put many thousands of people out of work or, worse yet, out of their homes. We face many serious economic and social problems that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

But we also live in a society that adapts and evolves. In spite of all the excitement and crisis, our businesses keep running and our customers continue to need our help to run their businesses.

What’s the message for business people amidst all of this?

  • Downtimes are a great time to invest in marketing. Marketing is an investment and investments need time to mature. We need to plant the seeds of good marketing campaigns today so that we can reap a solid harvest in the future.
  • Now more than ever it’s important to build your brand. Large corporations, small businesses, and individual consultants all need to be clear about the value they offer to their customers and the key characteristics they want their brand to portray. When people are confused or uncertain, they turn to partners they know and trust.
  • Your competitors are still out there. And they may very well still be marketing as aggressively or more than they did before. If that’s the case, you need to make sure your message is getting out there, too. And if they’re not, this is a great time to build market share at their expense.
  • Effective marketing campaigns don’t have to be big and expensive. We have more marketing tools available to us now than ever before. With the advent of social media and customer-driven marketing, there are new and exciting ways to communicate with customers, launch a new product or service or build a brand.

We may not be able to control the environment around us, but we can control our reaction to these events, and not only survive but thrive in challenging times.

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