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Marketing in an Unstable Environment

by Glen Emerson Morris
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It would take several pages to fully list the environmental disasters plaguing the United States in the first half of 2011. Tornadoes wrecked towns. Fires scorched hundreds of thousands of acres. Transportation down the Mississippi was stopped at one point. Factories were flooded. There's no question that the weather will impact the GDP, it's just a question how much.

Without doubt, this is one of the most challenging times to run a business in the history of our country. If scientist James Lovelock is correct in his weather predictions for the rest of this decade, it's going to get progressively worse. Even if weather just stays the same, we'd better start thinking about how we're going to maintain business as usual in times that are anything but usual.

The idea of a small to mid-sized business investing time, money and effort in developing a natural disaster contingency plan might have seemed extreme a few years ago. These days, it's just being practical. Weather and other natural disasters can affect your business in three primary ways. It can affect you locally, damaging your place of business and/or surrounding areas. It can affect the transportation lines that connect you with your suppliers and their suppliers. It can damage your suppliers' places of business and/or surrounding areas.

Living with these new weather patterns is something like living in a war zone. Intense weather events are destroying infrastructure as certainly as an enemy's bombs could, but no one knows what to expect next. At least in a war you can guess where the enemy will strike and concentrate your defenses accordingly. With Mother Nature, everything is a target.

Unfortunately, Nature is well armed with the additional energy in the system now available. Even a slight increase in temperature can cause significantly more intense storms in that energy is concentrated in a fewer number of events, and that's what some scientists are predicting. One huge storm that drops a foot of water can do more damage than 20 storms that drop an inch each. It's relatively easy and inexpensive for a city to be prepared for an inch of rain, even for a few inches. Getting a foot at one time could be a real problem, and being prepared for it would cost a fortune, relatively speaking.

We're in the position of facing weather that exceeds the ability our country's current infrastructure to withstand. It would cost too much to weatherproof the entire country, even if it were possible. How do you protect a town like Joplin from tornadoes? Can you protect New Orleans from hurricanes? Realistically, the answer is no. The best you do is to try to be ready for anything, and that means having a formal disasters plan in place, just in case.

From an advertising and marketing perspective your local natural disaster contingency plan should consist of two parts, to be executed immediately following a local disaster. The first part is to determine if you can provide your usual products and services at all, and if so, at what level.

The second part of the plan is to communicate your company's status to your customers as soon as possible. Update your company's Website with you status, and if you have radio and TV ads with stations that are still on the air, update them, too. If you're not open for business say you'll be open as soon as possible and provide a realistic estimate if you can. If you are open, make sure your customers know that you are. If you provide an essential product or service, this could be the public relations opportunity of a lifetime. Somehow, no matter what it takes find a way to stay open, and stay open longer hours if needed. Your regular customers will never forget it, and neither will the new customers you'll likely acquire.

Developing a plan to deal with natural disasters that impact transportation and non-local suppliers is far more problematic. The superficial answer is these days it might be worth the added expense to buy from multiple suppliers, even though you lost the ability to argue for a lower price based on volume.

A more realistic answer is that we've become overly dependent on a global manufacturing and shipping system that has too many potential failure points. The only way for us to maintain business as usual over the long run is to build a far less vulnerable infrastructure system.

If the The Economist is correct in it's prediction of 3D printing largely replacing conventional manufacturing within the next decade or two, there's a solution developing that will solve part of the problem. With the economies of scale gone, so is the dependency on centralized manufacturing and the transportation network needed to support it.

The best defense against disasters affecting transportation may be to make as much as possible at the local level, like we've done for most of our past. Historically speaking, we've always made nearly everything we needed locally, even well into the industrial revolution. Back in the 1920's, there were metal shops in most towns that could make custom cars given just the engine and chassis. Within a decade new 3D technologies will give local businesses even greater capability. In the event of disaster, this capability could be used to immediately start replacing what was lost in the disaster. A quick recovery from disasters may not be as desirable as invulnerability to them, but it's a lot more likely if we try hard enough, and we'd better.

Our current global market approach is a system with many single points of failure, vulnerable to natural, accidental and deliberate forces. In the long term, major disruptions will be inevitable, and we will have to learn to deal with them. Over time, we will.

In the meantime, we can at least try to be ready to continue business as usual whatever happens. If you have a disaster contingency plan in place, you're well on the way to doing that.


Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.




Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.


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