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Brand strategy for a global emergency: Help people survive and thrive

A growth mindset is the belief that we all can learn and develop by deliberate curiosity. Carol Dweck writes in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, "In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."

So in the spirit of building resilience during this unprecedented global health emergency known as the COVID-19 pandemic, let us consider learning from different disciplines so we can reduce blind spots, optimise our effectiveness, and produce marketing with purpose that has meaning and is inclusive in nature. This is an inclusive approach to business such that when more perspectives are considered, better decisions are made. We can apply key lessons from psychology, first responders themselves, and the art of storytelling. In this article we’ll discuss how to apply these lessons to your business during a time of crisis, to better meet the changing needs of your customers and community.

The house is on fire, what would you do first?

If you came home from taking a walk on a hot, sunny afternoon with your dog and discovered the beginnings of a small house fire, where you can see the flickering of flames skirting up the wood siding of your house, would you first:
  1. Proceed to fill your dog’s water bowl with the garden hose on the porch so that she could quench her thirst?
  2. Run into the house to get online and shop for a luxury handbag or wallet?
  3. Call the fire department to report a fire?
  4. Use the garden hose to try to dowse the fire and extinguish it?
  5. Open the front door and yell into the house to anyone inside to “get out!”?
  6. Answers 3, 4, and 5?

1. A lesson from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Focus on your brand strengths that can deliver life-supporting solutions

In 1943, a paper published in the scientific journal Psychology Review titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation” by Abraham Maslow offers a key lesson that business leaders could use to navigate a global or local emergency. This theory is still referenced today in psychology and sociology and is about what motivates humans to take a particular action first. It centers around fulfilling innate human needs to ensure survival. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is used to understand why and in what order humans partake in behaviours. The key point is that there’s an order of human needs that motivates us to act, where our priority is to maintain our biological life first and safety second, and everything else comes after.
In the house fire example above, you definitely did not choose to fill the dog’s water bowl first nor did you run into the house to shop online for a luxury handbag or wallet. You probably chose to call the fire department, while at the same time you yelled “get out!” into the house to protect loved ones. Then  quickly, after evaluating your options with a little courage, you tried to fight the fire with the garden hose as you were on the emergency call asking for help from the fire department. Your first order of business was to survive, then protect, and then ensure your future investment. However, if your life is not threatened, then you might choose to move onto more quality of life considerations like quenching your dog’s thirst and then maybe further, onto things that might be considered a luxury.
Considering all of us, no matter what part of the world we live in today, are experiencing a threat to our survival due to the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, it would behoove any business to consider how to play a positive role in the global health emergency. In other words, how can you help satisfy the hierarchy of human needs as Maslow outlined? It will not only help people survive the pandemic, but it could help your business survive by being of valuable service. When we apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the two initial areas businesses can focus efforts to provide value during a crisis:

A. Products, services, operations, or experiences that support biological life.

  • An example is a small local distillery switched from making spirits to making hand santitiser.
  • General Motors has retooled their factory assembly line in order to manufacture crtical life support medical devices, like ventilators for patients and respirators for medical personnel.
  • Another example is an AI-powered bot Microsoft developed that is deployed on the Center of Disease Control (CDC) website that can help people self-diagnose based on symptoms if they should seek medical attention.
  • LinkedIn announced that they will offer free job postings for front line, mission critical jobs in the fight against the global pandemic for for the next three months.

B. Products, services, operations, experiences that support the community to sustain a way of life.

  • An example of how a service can help us sustain the new version of our way of life as we know it is how remote working software like Microsoft Teams or Zoom can help workers continue to provide for their families and earn a living while sheltering in place.
  • Shopify has stepped up to help small businesses with a 90-day Shopify trial. If you’re a small business owner, now is the time to take this opportunity to pivot and build out your online store. From fitness instructors holding classes virtually, to real estate agents using Facebook Live for virtual home tours, finding a way to support your customers is supporting the community.
  • An example of supporting our clients in the business community is our Advertiser Analytics Insights Team. They’re a business unit in Microsoft Advertising that deploys analytics to illuminate business potential for our advertisers. Recently they pivoted to produce COVID-19 business and consumer insights to help our advertisers react to the global health crisis with insights you can read about here.

2. A lesson from first responders: Clear critical thinking and agility is the best combination

Now let’s consider the skillset it takes to be a first responder and what businesses can learn from this group of life-saving professionals. First responders must have the critical thinking skills to analyse problems, identify and evaluate options, and explain choices based on solid reasoning and evidence, usually in a short amount of time. And this ability to execute in crisis requires a mindset that enables them to perform effectively at all times which is based on the ability to remain calm under pressure, have foresight, be organised, inventive, team-oriented, unbiased, and courageous. Whether your business is considered essential or a business that supports essential businesses to operate thereby making your business essential, we all have a role to play by adopting a first responder mindset.

3. A lesson from storytelling: Find your genuine story that’s about helping your community survive and thrive.

Lastly, a third lesson from the art of storytelling. The answer to why stories exist lies in the history of storytelling and its’ core purpose: survival. An inspiring example is that of the Moken people, known as the sea gypsies of Andaman Sea. A 60 Minutes segment tells their story about how they were the only ones who knew a tsunami was coming. Considering the Moken people, of all the peoples of the world, are among the least touched by modern civilisation, and were able to predict that the tsunami was coming is incredible. The story passed down was about what the ocean looked like right before a tsunami, described as receding as far as the eye could see. It described the behaviours of the animals, like the cicadas which are usually loud becoming silent. It described when these signs would come that “the spirit of the ocean would come to eat people.” This story endured throughout the ages because its purpose was to ensure their people’s survival — making this story both extremely meaningful and memorable.

In the midst of a crisis in today’s world, what genuine and authentic stories can you share that can help someone better survive or even thrive during this pandemic? What stories can your business tell about the ways you’re being a first responder to the first responders and to your communities? Tell the stories that your business genuinely has to tell in pivoting to serve your community with your product or service as well as your employees’ stories while keeping your customers and employees safe. It’s supported in the lesson from Maslow — in which the Hierarchy of Needs comes into play, but also supported by the purpose of storytelling.

A fantastic example of how everyone and every business might unexpectedly play a role in ensuring we all survive is that found in the story of a printer label service technician. Jacob, a printer repairman, was interviewed on the podcast Every Little Thing, in the episode Essential Workers Call In, and explained his job is to make sure that the label printers keep working to ship COVID-19 tests from laboratories, for shipping labels for medicines to be shipped from pharmaceutical companies, and labels for products being shipped from retailers like Amazon. A lesson can be found here — your business may not be part of the first line of defense in the crisis, but you may play a critical supporting role. Jacob says, “I’m just a printer repair guy but I’m realising how many people are really essential in keeping the world running.” Most businesses have a mission statement and a clearly identified purpose. Sometimes it is to serve the local community and sometimes it is to serve the entire world. Regardless of the scope of your business reach, knowing your mission in the world is the key to your success. So, lean on your business’ purpose, re-center on your strengths, pivot with a growth mindset, and focus on the genuine expression of your products and services that your business can provide… and become a first responder to the first responders and to your community.

For more stories like this one that provide insight for your business during the COVID19 health crisis and beyond, visit Marketing with Purpose and COVID19 insights and resources for advertisers.