Marketing Lessons from the New England Ice Storm

Trees Heavy in New England Ice StormHall was in the company of nearly a million homes and businesses in New England that lost power on Friday due to an overnight ice storm.  The storm came in fast and furious, coating everything with sheets of ice that sheared limbs off trees, resulting in downed or damaged powerlines.  As of this moment, 400,000+ are still without power though Hall was back online by sunset on Friday.

Still, when you wake up and the plan you had for that day was involuntarily changed by an unexpected weather pattern, it gets you thinking.

Since everything comes back to marketing (right?) here are some lessons I took away from the storm:

1. Be Prepared

Remember the old Boy Scout motto?  Well, it still applies.  If you’re not prepared for the worst, the worst will probably happen.  I still espouse the Murphy’s-esque belief that the best way to avoid a rainstorm is to bring along a rain jacket.

For your business, this of course means things like a disaster recovery plan and business continuity strategy.  But it also applies from a marketing perspective: keep a long-view perspective of the changes in the marketplace and the implications on the way you market your company and attract, retain, and nurture customers.

After all, if the world is moving towards fuel-efficiency and you’re in a ten-year roadmap with gas guzzlers, you’re going to run into problems.  Likewise, if you’re using radio commercials and print ads because it’s what your used to, and not because it works, you’re going to eventually run into a rut that is much more difficult to get out of.

2. Have a Plan

Whether or not the worst happens, you need to have a set of rules defined in a non-emergency state to follow.  Obviously you can’t predict every nuance of how the situation will evolve, but you can develop a general strategy of how your regular plan gets adjusted in the event of emergency, so that the outage of a relied-upon service doesn’t result in absolute anarchy.

The best-made plans will change, but that’s a part of your planning, right?  You should incorporate flexibility to adjust with changing times along with the structure you need to keep things moving within the framework you can anticipate.  Knowing that a storm may brew up doesn’t mean a sailor goes to the ocean without a map.

3. See How Everyone Is

This first thing our team did when we realized that something abnormal was going on was to call each other and make sure that everyone was OK.  The most important thing in an emergency is knowing that everyone was present and accounted for, which then puts you in a position to rally the troops and work on other problems such as technology outages.  You don’t work on getting the servers back online when no one knows where anyone else is.

With your marketing, you should be spending the same effort checking in with your customers.  Don’t lose yourself in designing products or services because you happen to think they’re great, and force them on your customers whether they like it or not (Are you listening, Google?)

It won’t take you much time, and it will make all the difference in the world. Ask your customers how they are, how they’re feeling, what they’ve been up to, and what problems you can help them fix.

4. Focus on What’s Important

An emergency, whether weather-related or in our personal lives, does a great job of re-alligning our perceptions.  We begin to realize what’s important and what’s minutiae.  Things which were stressing us and keeping us from fulfilling our potential get thrown aside.  We’re able to move forward with a fresh look on what we’re trying to do.

So while moment-by-moment dealing with an emergency may be terrible, it’s a time where all of the “extra stuff” gets winnowed out for what’s important.  We focus on the bigger picture and think about what we’re trying to accomplish, not about the 10,011th email of the day. Let’s try to keep this perspective in focus even when all of the distractions are back online, okay?

5. You Never Know What’s Next

Friday we had ice pouring on our heads until noon.  Then the sun came out and things started melting.  Then it slammed into the single digits (F) overnight.  The following day hit forty-degrees in some places, and today it’s feeling like spring (no kidding — a coworker was just outside in a short-sleeved shirt!)

The point?  You can’t know for certain what will happen just a few hours from now, let alone tomorrow, a week from now, a quarter or a year.  We can make projections based on data, past performance, experience and expert opinions, but there still may be that weird factor from dimension X that completely changes the landscape and forces you to react to circumstances you never imagined.

Until the iCrystalBall comes out, we’re stuck here on the ground, looking as far as we can ahead, coming up with the best plan we can, and adjusting our course in an ocean whose waters are changing hour-by-hour.

But that’s the joy of it, right?  Just be careful where you park your car.