Compassion Marketing

It’s the height of hurricane season. As a new resident of Southern Florida, that’s something I can’t easily ignore. Over the past three weeks, we’ve been hit by Charley and Frances. It looks as if Ivan is now hot on their tails.

I’ve noticed the degree to which businesses endeavor to make life easier for Floridians both prior to and following the storms. Not to perpetuate a cliché, but it’s as if every enterprise bands together to take on Mother Nature (and to return life to normal once she’s through). Of course, local service centers and shops make every effort to facilitate weathering storms like these. Somehow, however, I never expected to see national enterprises pitch in — and to do so online.

Like most people in the Internet industry, I not only work almost entirely online, I rely on the Web to fulfill my personal business needs as well. I bank, shop and read the paper on the Web. If a business service requests my email address, I’m happy to volunteer it, knowing they’ll likely use it to make my life easier. Yet I was surprised when I recently started receiving emails that fell outside the scope of standard correspondence from two different companies.

E-mails from GEICO, my auto insurance company, started to arrive just hours after Charley left the state. “Our goal has been to inspect every damaged car and resolve every claim more quickly than our customers thought was possible under these circumstances,” one message read. “We hope that you did not suffer any harm as a result of Charley. If, though, you need to report a claim, please call us. We are always here for you.”

As hurricane Frances approached, I received another note: “We would like to offer you some basic safety procedures that can be implemented quickly and provide you and your family additional protection.” Though I was disheartened to see the email was addressed “Dear Policyholder,” the signature it bore of a GEICO executive made it feel personal nonetheless.

I also received several emails from Netflix, the company I use to rent DVDs online. Their messages, which did address me by name, informed me that in order to prevent the loss of disks for which I was responsible, shipping to my area would be delayed until the U.S. Postal Service had resumed normal delivery. “All of us at Netflix would like to extend our sympathies to those affected by this disaster,” read the messages.

As a marketer, I know such mailings are largely self-motivated. I don’t doubt these companies are empathetic toward hurricane victims, but I bet that’s not what primarily drove them to deploy the above emails. Modern businesses fall all over themselves to offer loyalty programs in an effort to keep clientele happy and devoted to their brands. Can you think of one that stands to boost brand allegiance as efficiently as an email campaign that shows compassion in a time of trauma and distress?

Regardless of their impetus, the messages these businesses crafted demonstrate a lesson that’s of value to all marketers: the importance of knowing your audience. Media buyers understand this to mean remaining aware of consumer geography, behavior and trends, purchasing habits and the like. All marketers must be finely tuned to any and all external forces and socioeconomic circumstances that may affect their clientele.

While GEICO and Netflix undoubtedly managed to tug many a heartstring with these recent mailings, what they’ve really done is reveal the degree to which they know and value their market. They also delivered the message trilogy virtually all marketers wish to convey; the messages that power the growth of such Internet initiatives as business blogs, site personalization and e-newsletter customization: we’re human, we understand your needs, and yes, we have a heart, too.

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