Swine Flu Crisis: How to Profit From It Ethically

by Victor Cheng

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard about the swine flu health crisis.

I have several thoughts to share on this topic, but first let me start with the most medically useful.

Forget all the news stories on the swine flu and the coming end of the world as we know it. Get the facts directly from the CDC by going to this link:
http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/

On the right hand side, you can get links to real time email updates directly from the source. Then, get back to work rather than read 19 versions of the same story over and over again all day long.

My point isn’t to make light of this crisis. My point is to get the facts, make any adjustments you need to make, and then get back to work… rather than dwelling on the same information over and over again.

By the way, I do think we should all take this medical threat very seriously. It’s one of those things that’s likely to be a mild problem by treating it like a massive problem.

It reminds me a lot of the Y2K problem when everyone thought all the computers in the world would crash at the stroke of midnight on Dec 31, 1999.

The next day, nothing happened.

Many critics claimed it was all hype.

In reality, it was the billions of dollars governments and private corporations around the world spent preparing for it that made it largely a non-event.

I suspect the swine flu will be similar. Attack it aggressively and early… and hopefully we’ll nip the problem in the bud.

In a weird way, I think the Hurricane Katrina fiasco has prompted officials at all levels to move quickly and pro-actively… with the philosophy of let’s err on over-reacting and pulling back our unnecessary efforts, than to be caught off guard, too late,  too slow, and  under-resourced.

Okay, so now let me tie this back into how to ethically profit from the swine flu crisis.

From my perspective, a crisis is a crisis is a crisis.

Most of my commentary has been on dealing with the economic crisis. But the rules of thumb for ethically profiting from any crisis are the same.

In a crisis, what your customers pay attention and what they make their priority changes.

You can’t force customers to care about things you care about. You can only align yourself with what they care about right now.

Customer demand is never created. It is only harnessed, and perhaps channeled, by a marketing savvy business owner (hopefully that’s you).

Here are a few ways to ethically profit from the swine flu crisis:

1) If you provide a product or service that legitimately is useful to help companies and businesses deal with the swine flu crisis, you have a moral obligation to let your customers know this (or remind them of this).

Whether you sell anti-bacterial soap, face masks, food delivery services, groceries, highly sensitive thermometers, or any number of things people might conceivably need in such a medical crisis, tell your customers. They will be grateful and thankful for it.

If your company provides web marketing or web site design services, isn’t now a good time to ensure your clients have a strong web presence that can continue to do business even if their employees may not be available?

If you sell tele-conferencing or webinar services, isn’t now a good time to have your client’s employees work from home — cutting out airplane travel, crowded airports, and face-to-face meetings — while still meeting sales targets?

If you provide telemarketing services from call centers in India, isn’t India one of the places NOT impacted by the swine flu. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have an offshore, non-US based back up call center — just in case?

All of these examples have two things in common. A) the make your company more money, and B) they really do help customers too. It’s a classic win-win.

2) If you sell a service that is likely to be use LESS during such a crisis, such as a restaurant that’s normally crowded with lots of patrons, explain to your customers what steps you are taking to reduce such risks.

Perhaps you’re increasing your staff dedicated to take out dining. Perhaps in addition to normally sanitation guidelines, you’re requiring all employees to wash their hands every 20 minutes. Maybe you’ve provided ear thermometers so all employees can check themselves for a fever before their shift.

Maybe you’ve granted additional paid sick leave for anyone with a fever — so to discourage employees from feeling like they have to work given the recession even though they’re feeling under the weather.

In other words, show your customers that you UNDERSTAND what their immediate concerns are… and what you are doing to better serve their crisis mode concerns.

Do this and communicate you’re doing this, and you’ll set yourself apart from your competitors in a heart beat.

3) Use the word “swine flu” in your short term marketing communications–preferably in a way that’s useful and relevant to customers. Here’s why.

In a crisis, any crisis, there are two ways to market.  You market with the crisis or you market against it. When you market against a crisis, you pretend the crisis doesn’t exist and hope customers ignore it.  Umm… good luck with that strategy.

When you market WITH a crisis, you pro-actively acknowledge the crisis, deliberately mention it, and show how your business is still relevant (or has made some adjustments to be more relevant).

In case you couldn’t tell, I believe in marketing WITH a crisis.  Here’s why it works.

When you market with a crisis, you get the power of CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS on your side.  Those tv networks not to mention thousands of news websites are all making your customers hyper aware of swine flu. That is hundreds of millions of dollars in media all devoted to making your audience aware of one thing: swine flu.

When you market with the crisis by incorporating the phrase “swine flu” into your communications, you’re able to ride the media wave. In short, CNN becomes your marketing partner.

This message is an example of this. (I do like teaching through example and my favorite approach is via demonstration / practicing what one preaches).

I used the phrase “swine flu” in the title of this message. If you’ve read this far, it’s precisely because you’ve heard about the swine flu from some source other than me.

So the strategy is to piggy back off the prevailing media trend (in this case swine flu… yesterday it was Susan Boyle frumpy looking singing phenomon, and tomorrow it could by Paris Hilton pet dog for all I know).

The next step is the segue “plug”… start with the news headline, then segue into some product or service you’d like to “plug” to your customers. Keep in mind the key to pulling this off in a way that customers appreciate and value is to provide some legitimately useful or entertaining information up front before the segue.

After you do that, then you way to use a segue like this:

I hope you’ve found today’s lesson on marketing in medical crisis useful. As crisis marketing is an area of expertise of mine, let me suggest getting a copy of my book The Recession-Proof Business: Lessons from the Greatest Recession Success Stories of All Time. The theme underlying the entire book is all about how to market in any kind of crisis.

The book is available for sale at Barnes and Noble:

The Recession Proof Business by Victor Cheng
(If you already have the book and liked it, I certainly would appreciate you writing a positive review for the book on the Barnes and Noble site)

A few free promotional copies remain and can be requested from my office by clicking here for a free copy of The Recession Proof Business by Victor Cheng.

Take care of yourself and your family with respect to this swine flu thing, and then get back to work.

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