Think back to how you felt when the pandemic started shutting down your city, your province or state, your country and then the world. People were scared and millions were being thrust into unfamiliar, isolating situations. Businesses and other organizations were scared too—suddenly marketing campaigns felt irrelevant, and selling and promoting felt disingenuous.
That’s what was going on in the world as we were in the midst of working on a new campaign for the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba (CPMB), highlighting the evolving human rights case against the province’s health authorities and the lack of services provided to adults with physical disabilities. After trying to figure out how to proceed, we realized that the most effective marketing campaign under these difficult circumstances had to meet people exactly where they were. This was not the time for CPMB to pause their campaign nor was it the time to minimize people's current concerns. The most innovative thing we could do was address the current state of the world—which in this case, was a global pandemic.
CPMB connected our team with four people, living with Cerebral Palsy, who agreed to speak with us via video call. We recorded each call as they offered heartfelt words of encouragement to Manitobans that brought to light the stark isolation realities they face every day, furthering public awareness of the human rights challenge.
In marketing, addressing trending topics is not a new concept. Some trends last for years, some just weeks or months. But all give marketers an opportunity to innovate.
Often when addressing current events, you don’t need a lot of budget, data, or strategic planning to open up new opportunities for your product or brand. You just need to be willing to experiment.
Sometimes your innovation will work. Sometimes it will fall flat. In order to make sure capitalizing on a trend doesn’t damage your brand, here are four things to be mindful of for when the next trend comes along:
1. Be sensitive to what the event is and how people may react to your campaign.
Our message for the CPMB campaign, for example, wasn’t about making money or capitalizing on people’s sadness, it was about people connecting with people. It didn’t feel insensitive or out-of-touch, it showed empathy for others, which is exactly what people needed at the time.
2. Make sure the events you’re addressing with align with your brand values.
Just because everyone is talking about something, doesn’t mean it’s right for your brand. The current event or trending topic still needs to align with your brand values. For example, creating a TikTok video may work for a playful and fun brand to showcase behind-the-scenes work, but it would feel entirely wrong for a conservative brand to do the same.
3. Stick to a single project or campaign rather than attaching your entire brand to the issue at hand.
Current events are constantly evolving, so rather than embedding something into the fabric of your brand, dabble in small doses. Otherwise, as the conversation changes, your brand may find it difficult to adjust course.
4. Do a little research.
While you don’t need a lot of data to begin experimenting, you will need some to ensure you don’t come across looking silly. Look for a trusted industry resource for guidance, or look at how other brands are addressing the issue or trending topic organically.
Once you’ve developed the idea and made a plan, don’t overthink it or stall. If you think you’re onto something, launch as soon as possible. Because news cycles revolve so quickly, topics can disappear as quickly as they appear, sentiments can change and moods can shift—if you come out too late, rather than hitting the right note, your campaign could look dated and foolish, or worse, insincere.
Update: We know CPMB’s video, “Sharing Hope in Self-Isolation,” struck a chord because it earned three Silver Telly Awards for Social Video in the Public Service & Activism, Social Impact and Diversity & Inclusion categories. The story was also picked up by CBC Manitoba. Read the coverage: Physical distancing requirements raise new and old concerns for Manitobans with disabilities and Canadians with disabilities left with few alternatives amid COVID-19 shutdowns.