The end of marketing as we know it? Lessons from the pandemic

As the COVID 19 pandemic rages on, the media picked up on a “feel good” story recently based on a simple gesture from a few front-line hospital workers. They wanted to show their desperately ill patients that the people hovering over them were compassionate human beings.

The gesture: caregivers enlarged pictures of their smiling faces and tacked them on the front of their head-to-toe protective gear that conceals everything human.

“A smile goes a long way in comforting a scared patient ― bringing some brightness in these dark times,” said San Diego respiratory therapist Robertino Rodriguez who came up with the idea.

What does this have to do with marketing? I believe this simple, empathetic gesture may be a reminder of what marketing must be today, when we are beginning to realize the world is changing permanently. Open, human, totally honest.

In a damaged society, people are finding it hard to know who and what to trust, whether it’s the White House, City Hall, or the companies we do business with. And in the age of social media, fear and misinformation spread quickly and widely.

In such fraught times, perhaps nothing is more important than telling the truth – with facts and humility –followed closely by helping people concretely, openly and collaboratively, which demonstrates optimism instead of just talking about it.

How do we sell?

Business leaders are wondering today, how do we market and sell at a time like this? As the veteran sales and business development consultant Adrian Miller said in a recent Linked-In post, “My answer is don’t.”

Instead, let’s relearn how we should always sell and what is consistently true. As Adrian says, establish a rapport, build a relationship, ask and answer questions plainly about needs, discuss ways to help improve the situation and, together, agree on action steps to move forward. This is not brand new!

A crisis like this, ultimately, creates an opportunity to reimagine, or remember, how we want to live. For businesses, long criticized for putting sales and profits ahead of people, the opportunity is to put human values first, from the well-being of employees and the community to the integrity of products, services and marketing programs.

In short, do the equivalent of pinning a smiling picture of yourself on your suit and do what you can to help. That’s marketing as it should be. And I’m happy to help, too.

Don Heymann

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