How brands can learn from people’s crisis coping strategies

December 9, 2008 at 4:40 pm Leave a comment

OMG, another crisis-related blog entry?

To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse: the crisis or people talking about it constantly. Which is why I thought, how do people cope? And, what could brands do?

Whatever the crisis, usually it follows this well-known process.

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What’s interesting here is really the area of coping, because this is a) the phase that usually takes the longest b) is the most visible character building one and c) for our purposes probably the place were brand can play a role. What’s more inspiring that people that master a crisis? Without crisis, there are no heros. And, boy, don’t we love heros?

However, most brands and the companies behind them are still struggling with the crisis themselves, and, in a way are still coming up with their coping strategies. As usual, the bigger they are, the longer it takes. But the biggest ones are the ones that  people are waiting to hear from, and the ones that could make the biggest qualitative difference in people’s lives. In other words: it’s nice when my local restaurant is offering me a recession burger, but what if someone could do more?

More interesting therefore are the different coping strategies people adopt, and, this is the theory, brands adopt as well.

Coping strategies

1. Rejection of reality:

This essentially means you stay in lethargic denial, and invent ways of pretending none of it, or certain aspects of the crisis aren’t happening. You see the crisis, but you are too paralysed and uninspired to actually convert the crisis into something new. If anything, you’re just hoping it’s a bad dream.

One great example for this are financial institutions. Not only are they faced with utter loss of trust, but they also stand for a failed system who got us into this mess. So, what do most of them do?

They run the same advertising as before the crisis, promising the same stuff that is now proven to be a pipe-dream.

Bad idea.

2. Regression to previous behavioral patterns, ego-centricity:

Instead of looking at the crisis dead-on, you use your arsenal of previous crisis coping strategies to distract yourself from it. This is visible in the typical “après-nous-la-deluge” behavior, where people buy that expensive car and caviar in a egocentric spiteful hatred of the world at large. It’s a reaction to having become a victim and not wanting to be one and showing the world: “hey, buzz off. I am doing good, let’s get a drink on.” I am reminded of the pink-slip parties of the first dotcom crash.

To some degree this helps, as you are less likely to get mired in total lethargy and inaction which makes your more likely to stumble upon new opportunities. Finding a way to  celebrate a crisis can be therapeutic. Problem is, it might make you feel better, but doesn’t address any of the systemic issues in the long-run. You are setting yourself up for a bigger crisis in the end. And how long can you sustain a regime of Louis XIV type partying while there is a revolution going on? The chopping block is waiting, and they don’t even serve you a drink there. This kind of reaction can be seen in the luxury brand segment. Things are getting more expensive, not less, due to the crisis.

3. Acceptance of reality

This coping strategy is characterized by a feeling of letting go, looking for new avenues, infomation, new strategic partnerships in your life, and by a sense that “hey, there is some good sides to this crisis”. Maybe the crisis even helps in re-orienting yourself and questioning the values that might have brought you into this crisis into the first place. It’s like “Well, it’s not business as usual, but business as usual wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be anyway, so that’s an opportunity, right?”

So while this is the most constructive strategy to deal with it also has a dangerous side: if you are not completely honest and precise in your assessment about the ramifications of the history of the crisis, you just see the good things in it because you have to, and you are actually, in a way denying it through imposed optimistic behavior. Back to square one.

Also, you become more vulnerable to rescinding your responsibility and follow the expert’s advice or some kind of “leader” without question his/her motives. Manager magazines and financial publications are full of this expert stuff. If you thought you were great at managing your portfolio, you now are in pre-school again. You can’t do it alone. So, anything that looks positive and actionable suddenly becomes a way out at the price of disenfranchising yourself. The most dire historic examples for this kind of thing: any dictatorial leader that took over because there was a crisis beforehand, getting away with murder.

So how is this relevant for brands?

It could be avered that brands behave like people, meaning they have or will have the same coping strategies for this crisis, which, if true, it means you know what to avoid.

So, the tough ticket is this:

First of all, don’t wait. The crisis is gonna end. But sticking your head in the sand will mean that you either gonna be out of business, or, if you survive, you will have no role in the new lay of the land. You will have missed your chance to be a hero, or at least will have made no difference.

Secondly, as a brand, do all you can do to reassess the situation carefully, and know the part you may have played in it. Then accept the crisis and don’t jump on the band wagon of promising an unrealistic relief or offering gratuitous and self-serving distraction: instead, find a new human purpose that utilizes the new insights from the crisis.

Thirdly, people are already talking about it. The web is full of people reaching out to each other, sharing information, and coping with it their own way. The last thing they need is someone to shout at them with big bang messages. Join the conversation credibly and offer your honest opinion and be ready for heated arguments. Be inspired by what people do, so you can come up with acts and solutions that make a difference, one act at a time.

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Entry filed under: design, Funny & Off-topic, humankind, opinion, Trends. Tags: , , , .

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