The Ostrich Effect (or how not to behave in a crisis)

Ostriches are known for burying their heads in the sand to avoid danger. “The ostrich effect” is often used to describe consumer behavior in a downturn, as we inevitably turn a blind eye to our investments to reduce stress and weather the storm. In communications, this “duck and cover” approach as companies navigate workforce, supply chain, retail environment and other issues is anything but the right one.

Before brands pull back marketing spends, it’s crucial that they weigh the value that communications can bring in maintaining their relevance – an investment that can reap benefits near-term and down the road. Public relations can be a marketing workhorse. When the going gets tough, key constituents—consumers, investors, analysts and even corporate partners—want transparent communications from brand leaders, and more of it. Many marketers think of this state of PR as crisis communications, but it’s ultimately more than that.

Thought leadership should not be reserved for only when profits are booming and a company is on a growth trajectory. Being visible and sharing expertise can help move your business and brand forward, while improving the lives of your customers. But C-suite leaders need to move the message forward, going beyond initial reactions and holding statements. As we’ve seen, there’s already been a backlash of consumer sentiment in response to the influx of coronavirus-related emails from brands.

Taking a phased, pragmatic approach to communications will go a long way. Near term, brands may be focused on how to deal with putting out fires, but establishing a perspective and prescient voice that helps customers look ahead can have a valuable impact on your business’ health.

How are you anticipating customer behavior will change post-coronavirus? Planning for the future and communicating this perspective publicly can help reassure your stakeholders. TripAdvisor’s CEO Steve Kaufer demonstrated this well recently in his comments regarding COVID-19’s effects on the travel, tourism and hospitality industry, one of the hardest-hit sectors: “While no one knows when this will end, the one thing I am confident in is that — yes, people will travel again. Customers will walk through your doors again. They will book reservations again. Get on planes, trains and hop in their cars again. Dine out again. Tourism will rebound.”

Confidence in your brand’s truths and how you ultimately serve customers and other stakeholders can be a powerful guiding light. It’s important to not just find your brand voice, but to use it. 

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