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At press (November 2021) Western Canada is coming off of yet another state of emergency due to weather events. Flooding is just one example of natural disasters (wildfires, etc.) that occur with increased frequency as climate change makes itself more evident with each passing annum. Yet despite it all, life must continue. And as a business you are wondering how to proceed with your online marketing initiatives in sensitive times. We’ve covered the concept of cause marketing, which must be done with care, but when it coms to digital marketing during natural disasters you must proceed with even greater caution. Let’s review.

Tips to Controversy-Free Online Marketing During Extreme Whether Events

Communicate Your Support Organically Without Flaunting It

If your business is in the position to provide community support during an extreme weather event, you may absolutely communicate this fact. Whether you have a brick and mortar establishment than can provide a temporary safe haven, or you are willing to sell essential products at-cost or at a deep discount, your community wants (and needs) to know.

Use the digital communication channels that are available to reach your community to do so. This includes your website’s blog in addition to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Be honest in your communication, speaking in a natural heartfelt manner. Don’t use verbiage such as “We’re stepping up to help…” or “We challenge our competitors to get involved…” because this can come-off as braggadocios and opportunistic. Your offers will get picked up naturally by local influencers and media, and the positive responses will unfold organically.

Stay Away from Paid Ads (for the time being)

Look, there’s no denying that there are branding benefits to offering support to your community during a natural disaster. You’re not at fault for thinking this way. Your business is your livelihood and the people that work for you also have to support themselves and their families, the very same ones who may also be impacted by a weather event. Garnering good press during trying times is an important part of public relations management in 2021-22 and beyond. But as alluded to above, you must walk on eggshells in how you communicate your involvement. That means staying away from PPC and Paid Ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram.

By communicating an offer that intends to support the community via PPC and Paid Ads, the messaging looks strategic in the eyes of the consumer. Remember, on Google Search your PPC messaging displays as an “Ad” and on Facebook/Instagram promoted posts are tagged as “Sponsored“. Consumers will see that you’ve paid for them to see your communications, which essentially turns them into a campaign. Even if you have nothing but the best intentions in doing so, the response can go sideways really fast.

Never Use “Clever” Lingo

One of the biggest downfalls of businesses who attempt to leverage natural disasters to gain good press is founded in their attempts to use clever language in their marketing. In 2012 during Hurricane Sandy big brands such as The Gap, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Sotheby’s, and Canada’s President’s Choice blew it when sending out Tweets and emails with offers to the public:

Digital Marketing During Natural Disasters

Not very “PC”…PC

Digital Marketing During Natural Disasters

All of the brands suffered backlash from the public, along with temporary boycotts. While each quickly removed their messaging and issued apologies, the damage had already been done.

“The Internet’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink” (The Social Network, 2010)

Avoid naming campaigns, offers, and promo codes with what your marketing team may deem to be a clever play on words.

Make Sure Your Offer Has Real Value

Even if your communications convey empathy, ensure that the offer has real value to those that you are trying to reach during the extreme weather event. 10% OFF offers are meaningless. If you plan on garnering goodwill be prepared to dig deep with truly helpful discounts (20% or greater) and concessions such as free and expedited shipping (when not usually available).

It spans beyond making your product/service more affordable and accessible during a natural disaster. It must be relevant to be of value to the public. A two-week free gym pass to displaced homeowners? Unless they can can spend the night in your fitness facility you’d better hold off on that campaign. Be honest with yourself. If your product/service cannot replace something that was lost during or immediately after an extreme weather event, do not use the event as motivation to craft and communicate an offer. Impacted individuals and households along with the general public and online media will know what’s amiss.

Keep in Constant Communication

Your offer and communications struck a positive cord and the community wants to take advantage. You’re on your way to helping, while developing a loyal customer base for the future. However, you cannot just post your offer online and walk away to reap the rewards. It is very important to maintain communications on the very same channels that your prompted the offer on. People will have questions. They may ask for clarity and guidance about how to redeem or take advantage of your offer, especially if they are directly impacted by the natural disaster. They are flustered, stressed, and are not thinking straight. If you’re going to be there for them, be there for them. Ensure that someone is at the helm to respond to emails and social media engagement in real time as much as possible. By being there to answer a question, or to even respond to a heartfelt thank you, will go a very long way to positing your business as one that cares, and is there for their community.

To all of the businesses who stand by their communities during trying times, we applaud you. Keep up the great work!


Strategis Consulting Group