Business Must Be Sensitive to New Consumer

While the nation grapples with the new reality of being the victim of terrorist attacks and being at war—and the business world at large deals with the uncertainty of a volatile stock market—it is critical that individual companies remember that they’re now doing business in a different world in which the rules of business have also changed.

To some extent, we have already seen American businesses adapting to these new rules. There have been reports of companies and Web sites changing their names in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the entertainment industry has perhaps been the swiftest to catch on to this drastic alteration which the attacks have had on American sensibilities.

Hollywood has delayed or even cancelled scheduled events that were deemed inappropriate or insignificant, and many action-oriented TV shows have been rewritten so that plots don’t focus on any terrorist or other inappropriate themes. For the first time in its more than 50-year history, the Emmy Awards broadcast was canceled after the United States launched strikes against Afghanistan. The telecast had already been postponed after the terrorist attacks.

The American consumer—who has been market-researched and focused-grouped to death—has suddenly changed, and many of the old rules of how to turn them into your customers no longer apply. The marketing and public face of companies must reflect this new environment, must acknowledge the seriousness that still pervades many aspects of business. Add this new dynamic to our already uncertain economy, and you have some difficult times ahead for corporations across all industries.

Like Hollywood, corporate America may need to adapt existing endeavors to reflect the post-Sept. 11 sensibility. Companies who were thinking of launching multi-media campaigns to promote new products or services—with any combination of radio, TV, print or Web advertising—may need to think twice about the message the campaign will send, and also whether or not such an effort would be wasted on a market not likely to be receptive. With consumers not focused on purchasing and retail numbers off, the timing of these activities may need to be reconsidered.

Any advertising or marketing themes of heroism, bravery or New York-related should be re-evaluated. Labeling any person or group a "hero" now could ring hollow in light of the true heroism and sacrifice by firefighters, police and other emergency personnel and alienate or offend consumers.

Inspirational and patriotic themes—the idea that America moves forward strongly, that we will not let our infrastructure collapse—are very popular right now, and marketing materials—brochures, newsletters, etc.—can also convey a similar uplifting message. But any attempts at false sincerity would also reflect poorly on the company or individual. Companies need to think carefully before launching into a huge commercial or marketing endeavor. For example, sending out news releases announcing an act of charity or concern could give the impression that a business has ulterior motives.

Businesses should evaluate all angles of their public communications to ensure that their actions cannot be perceived in a negative light. One way to do this is by hiring outside consultants who can objectively evaluate whether your Internet site needs to be modified, company literature or brochures redesigned, or newsletter updated.

Companies also can certainly let their clients and vendors know that their thoughts are with them during these trying times by writing letters and sending cards. For example, a global pharmaceutical firm posted letters of support written to the CEO and President on its web site. These letters came from other global divisions of the company from such far-flung locations as Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

Again, in taking this approach, words should be chosen carefully so that they don’t appear insincere by mentioning a business matter in the next paragraph.

Business will go on. It will just be with a new civility – which can have its own positive influences.

Marjorie Brody is the president of Brody Communications Ltd. and is an internationally recognized expert and motivational speaker on career enhancement and corporate etiquette. She is author of 15 books including Speaking is an Audience-Centered Sport and Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?