Don’t Be Tone Deaf
  By Debbie Cline

Over the past year I have had many conversations with people asking what is the right way to  market during this uncertain time. There is no right answer, but the biggest wrong answer is to be tone deaf in your marketing communications. 

From COVID, Black Lives Matter protests and the election to various social unrest and the events at the Capitol, there have been plenty of examples of brands that have been tone deaf in their responses, communications and marketing.

Marketing during a crisis can be tricky. When done right it allows you to remind customers that you care, you are human and you’re trying to do what’s best for them, not just make a sale. We will recover from the health, social, political and economic disasters and consumers will remember not only what you said but how you made them feel.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is an example of a brand that took a very transparent approach to changing their iconic “Finger Lickin’ good” slogan at the start of COVID. Their slogan didn’t fit the hygiene advice of the environment and they addressed it head on, saying, “That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now.”

The company also used marketing that showed the slogan pixelated on their marketing assets from chicken buckets to billboards.

Even if it is not this obvious, minor mistakes can have a hugely negative impact on your business and brand. For example, many brands have changed imagery that features large gatherings of people in celebratory or other large group settings and other social distancing no-no’s.

Marketing at the moment needs to be about the customer, not the brand. Brands need to ensure that they are speaking to consumers at a human level and let them know that they care and how their products and services can deliver value to make their lives better.

Although today’s world is one where brands must put customers and their needs first, this doesn’t mean you have to stop your marketing efforts.

Here are some tips on marketing during this tough time: 

  • Make sure the messaging matches the moment – be aware what is happening in the world around you
  • Be authentic – make sure that you stay aligned with company values, walk the walk if you talk the talk
  • Practice agility – evaluate customer journeys, products, and areas of value creation
  • Invest in customer retention and loyalty – investing in maintaining the customer relationship will drive long-term success
  • Focus on long term marketing strategy, not just current tactics – don’t focus on short-term wins at the expense of customer trust and relationship
  • Listen and understand what matters to your audience. Understand and respond to their challenges and concerns where relevant
  • Show empathy – positioning people over profit goes a long way toward earning customer trust
  • Check imagery – should photos show people in groups not wearing masks for example?
  • Embrace digital transformation – customer behavior and spending behaviors have changed
  • Review early and often – don’t set and forget your marketing message 

Not only do these make sense in general human and social terms, but from a marketing perspective it will help your brand stay relevant and be remembered positively in the future.

It’s still about value.

Debbie is co-founder, chief of customer success at Buzzy Rocket and yellow lab lover. From LA to London, she is well known as an expert in creating that certain elusive magic that drives explosive growth at the intersection of companies, customers and mobile. She has proven strategic vision, and isn’t afraid to get in the trenches. In fact, she’s been doing this at companies big and small for 25+ years. Her background includes executive level positions at both public companies and startups where she has proven over and over again that her passion, drive and results oriented perspective get it done. She is tenacious, loves the game changer and loves to win.


Debbie is co-founder, chief of customer success at Buzzy Rocket and yellow lab lover. From LA to London, she is well known as an expert in creating that certain elusive magic that drives explosive growth at the intersection of companies, customers and mobile. She has proven strategic vision, and isn’t afraid to get in the trenches. In fact, she’s been doing this at companies big and small for 25+ years. Her background includes executive level positions at both public companies and startups where she has proven over and over again that her passion, drive and results oriented perspective get it done. She is tenacious, loves the game changer and loves to win.

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