Like many others in St. Augustine, I was wide awake at 2 AM on Monday, September 11, listening to the howling winds and torrential rain as Hurricane Irma made its way through our beautiful historic town. Anxiously, I watched as flood water from the nearby marsh crept my way.

Fortunately, the San Sebastian floodwater never reached the doorstep. The next morning, while I surveyed downed trees and power lines, I expressed thanks for the safety of my family. And I offered prayers to those who would struggle due to damaged homes and impacted lives from this catastrophic storm.

Since helping businesses market their products and services is my livelihood, I always have a keen interest in messages that reach my ear. Through the din of 24-hour weather news with images and stories of tragedy and destruction, some messages from businesses stood out.

  • A food truck offered free bags of ice and food to those who lost power
  • Veterinarians provided tips on helping pets through the storm and kept people updated on their office schedules
  • Handymen and cleaning services were quick to offer help to those in needs (many times for free)
  • Fusco Law Group provided updates on courthouse closings and schedules
  • Augustine Independent Restaurant Association (SAiRA) provided updates on local restaurants opening after the storm—much-needed information for families seeking a breather from their home situation

The majority of this communication came from social media, specifically Facebook.

Businesses that seemed to project empathy along with wholehearted efforts to help the community rode a wave of social media sharing. People were hungry for businesses seeking to make a positive difference in the face of a catastrophic event and rewarded them with their patronage.

How to Market When Faced with a Natural Disaster

As a small business, marketing is essential for your livelihood even after a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma.

However, there are certain boundaries you should be aware of, that when crossed could have a detrimental effect on your business. Tensions and emotions run high during this period and if it appears you’re taking advantage of their situation for money, word will get out—fast in this social media environment (Rants and Rave posts are popular these days).

When promoting your products and services keep the following in mind:

Be Human & Empathic: Authenticity wins every time. People respond positively to someone who understands their situation. If you’re a St. Augustine local who owns a business here, then you personally understand their situation. Use your own feelings and emotions as a guide to how you’d like to be communicated with.

Understand Evolving Emotional States: Stress changes through the course of a natural disaster. From the initial storm to recovery, people can experience emotional states of fear, anxiety, overwhelm and anger. Make sure your tone, voice and message don’t add to those emotional states—instead, try to communicate assistance, relief and comfort.

Understand Needs: Decision making shifts abruptly after a storm like Irma. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good guide to what your customers might be dealing with.

  • Basic needs will always be paramount to their interests: Food, water, warmth, rest, security and shelter
  • Followed by Psychological Needs: Relationships, accomplishments
  • Then Self-Fulfillment Needs: Freedom to express and be creative—have fun

Stay in contact with your customer to understand where they are in the hierarchy. This is your guide to the buyer’s journey. Help fulfill what they need at the time they need it. Be their solution.

In the end, people just want their lives to get back to normal as quickly and painlessly as possible. See how your business can help people achieve that objective then put the word out and be responsive.

When Hurricane Mathew struck St. Augustine, we watched our business community rise above the catastrophe and spring back quickly. Much of that is due to the fact that St. Augustine is full of local businesses– a major advantage to the community. Every one of these local business owners and staff understood what each other was going through and we all pulled together.

We expect the same in the aftermath of Irma.

We’re always available to help your business communicate your message. Give us a call at (904) 429-4588.