Using Disasters as a Marketing Tool

March 17th, 2011 | Author: Larry Walsh

Comedian Gilbert Godfrey lost his job with Aflac for making a joke about the Japanese tsunami. So too did an aide to Mississippi Gov. Hayley Barbour for the same reason. And some government officials and activities are catching criticism for using the crisis to grand stand on their favorite environmental and energy causes.

Politicians, media personalities, marketers and everyday people are hypersensitive about what they say and write about the horrific disaster in Japan, and with good reason: People are dying, period.

But should the disaster preclude tech companies and solution providers from talking about Japan in messages to customers and prospects? Is it inappropriate to raise concerns about preparedness, planning and contingencies in light of the enormous destruction and suffering in the Far East? Absolutely not.

Oli Thordarson, CEO of Alvaka Networks, sent a note to contacts and customers about the disaster that struck a solid balance of sensitivity and marketing without crossing into self-indulgence or gratuitous promotions. His message read:

After watching all the sad news on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan I felt compelled to write a short blog about being prepared for disasters.

We all need to keep adequate supplies of food and fresh water in our household. The same should really be done in our cars and office, too, as we are not always home when disaster strikes. Keep in mind your household disaster preparedness. It is time for me to rotate our emergency supplies I keep at home for just such situations. If you rotate often you can donate to charities like Second Harvest.

The main target of my blog is the business of your IT. Are you prepared?

My blog is somewhat self-serving in that DRworx ( is our disaster recovery solution. I felt this is a good time to get people thinking about whether they are prepared for a disaster in their business.

What makes Thordarson’s message good is how he plainly professes how part of his message is “self-serving.” However, the bulk of the message is about being prepared to ensure personal safety by stockpiling water and emergency food. It’s very humanistic.

In the last decade, the world has witnessed numerous natural and man-made disasters – the 2001 terrorist attacks, 2003 Northeast blackout, 2004 Indian Ocean tsumani, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. While everyone needs to exercise sensitivity in the moment of crisis, it’s equally important to think about prevention and risk mitigation for future events. And that’s what necessitates the need to send messages such as Thordarson’s communiqué on disaster recovery.

And it’s not just human disasters that precipitate the need for crisis marketing. New computer viruses, security vulnerabilities and anticipated hacking waves are often good times to remind customers about the need to update antivirus, patch systems and, if they so desire, deploy better management and automation systems.

Can solution providers wait until after the crisis has passed to start marketing against disasters? Perhaps, but there’s the risk of such messages turning into FUD. So many enterprises roll their eyes every time a vendor or solution provider invokes the massive TJX hack that compromised nearly 100 million credit card accounts as a need for improving security. Is the message wrong? No. But it’s so over-used that it’s meaningless. By having conversations in the moment of crisis is effective because it’s present in everyone’s mind.

No one wants to appear to be capitalizing on crises, and nor should they. But individuals and companies need to understand their risk exposure to computer, man-made and natural disasters, and what they can do minimize or reduce their risk. Responsible and sensitive communication is what needed in times like these.

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Lawrence M. Walsh is CEO and president of The 2112 Group, a technology business advisory service that specializes in optimizing indirect channels and partner relationships. He’s also the executive director of the Channel Vanguard Council. He is the former publisher of Channel Insider and editor of VARBusiness Magazine. You can reach him at