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Marketing in a crisis

In extraordinary times, extraordinary measures force a change in the rules of the game. We saw the “three pillars” of society — the state, markets, and communities — work together to tackle the coronavirus, and it made me wonder how much more they could tackle if they worked together more often.

For now, I want to focus on the first two pillars, the state and markets. During a crisis, it’s crucial to increase marketing spend. Many organizations pull back during troubled times, and for the opportunity seekers, it’s a great time to gobble up market share.

On the front page of the Washington Post website in the beginning of the pandemic, for example, ServiceNow bought what marketers call a “homepage takeover,” which afforded them every ad spot above the fold. They wanted to get an important word out.

During the coronavirus outbreak, they began offering their platform for public organizations to fight the disease. The technology allows these agencies to run their crisis response operations, emergency outreach, and reporting and communications seamlessly.

This move from ServiceNow, what Bret Starr might call a “brand-defining moment,” also shows the power of capitalism. Markets self-organize around wherever resources are most needed. This is the famous “invisible hand” at work.

Emergency response teams need software to scale their efforts, and here’s a private entity raising its hand to join the fight.

Shopify also joined in to help — in some small way — by giving its employees $1,000 to set up a home office during this period of self-isolation. Alibaba’s Jack Ma shipped 500,000 test kits and a million masks to the U.S. to support our shortage.

It was exciting to see the state, markets, and communities come together to help each other on a scale I haven’t seen before. With the coronavirus still spreading further and further every day, and myriad other crises facing our workers, our institutions will need all the help they can get.

This is what the human race is best at — building systems and machinery to be a steward of the earth given to us, to build the great city, to look out for each other. Sadly, you see the brightest example of this during only the darkest times.

Maybe instances like these will change our habits for the better, if only temporarily.