In this article Jane Scandurra, global marketing consultant and coach, suggests a path of sensitivity and empathy for addressing consumers whose behaviour may have been irrevocably changed by the current crisis.

Although it has already become an overused description, it is still safe to say we are truly living in an unprecedented time in history. Never before has the entire planet been impacted so widely and so deeply by a single event as it is now with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is affecting every human being in every way imaginable – physically, mentally, financially.

There’s no pandemic playbook for knowing how to successfully manage through this – as individuals or as marketers. Political leaders have had to make difficult and severe decisions regarding social distancing using data that constantly changes the outlook. Likewise, the only thing marketers can do is continue to gather available data and keenly observe behavior changes to prepare for a multitude of possible outcomes we never had to imagine before.

Everyone’s experience, perspective and outcome will be different, depending on your location, which will make predictions and planning for them even more difficult. I live in New York, the current epicenter of the largest outbreak of the virus in the United States. To say that everyday life here has come to a sudden, screeching and surreal halt would be an understatement. Once a simple, frequent and pleasurable task, grocery shopping has become super-stressful. Face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer…. oh, my!

Simply breathing has its issues: When wearing a face mask, my glasses fog up and I can’t see where I’m going or what I’m doing. Staying home as much as possible is being mandated and is the only way to feel safe – especially given the new challenges faced ‘on the outside’. When will we be ready to risk that safety to happily mingle again with our fellow humans?

Empathy must lead in the new normal

For businesses, the new normal for the foreseeable future will require an overly conscious and delicate balance between conveying empathy and enthusiasm in marketing and sales efforts. Campaigns of the past have tried to happily excite customers to take immediate action for fear of missing out (FOMO) on some amazing ‘limited time!’ opportunity. Going forward, marketers will need to know how to effectively empathasize with customers who, while in quarantine, have developed an overwhelming hesitation and fear of going out (FOGO) to enjoy everything the real world still offers – which may include whatever your company sells.

The insightful concept of FOGO was recently predicted by Mark Manson, one of my current favorite writers (and modern day philosophers, in my opinion). He’s the author of the bestselling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. In his recent newsletter, Mark wrote:

“FOGO is the inversion of FOMO. Whereas someone with FOMO feels constant anxiety that they may be missing out on something spectacular by staying in, people with FOGO live with constant anxiety that they are guaranteed to miss out on something horrifying by staying in. 

“Later this year, new infection numbers will decline, restrictions will ease, and we will slowly begin to leave the house again. But whereas before we left the house in fear that staying home would cost us, now we will leave the house in fear that going out will cost us.”

What a sad, but quite likely, prediction. Restoring customer health – physical, mental, financial – is at the heart of it all. How will your brand manage the delicate balance of stimulating enthusiasm and interest for what you sell with the understanding that it may take a long time for people to overcome hardship and fear to take advantage of it?

This will be the question that should be on the mind of every brand for the foreseeable future. No one has the answers, but marketers must err on the side of sensitivity – and empathy. If there’s any good news, it is that, if we choose to, we ALL have the ability to be empathetic to the situation, as we’re all living through it.

Smart brands will brainstorm now on potential impacts that FOGO will have on their specific businesses and pivot their activities and communications accordingly. Those who get it right (or even semi-right) will likely be rewarded with loyal, appreciative customers who know the company has their safety and best interests in mind first – even above its own. Those who are unempathetic and tone deaf to the short-term and long-term behavioral impacts that this health crisis is creating may not recover.

Photo by Milo Bauman on Unsplash

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