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How Do You Prepare for Uncertainty?

How Do You Prepare for Uncertainty?

Sarah Steimer

woman wearing hat looking through binoculars

Marketers have an opportunity to listen, respond and plan during the pandemic—a successful sequence if performed empathetically

Part of the Marketing News COVID-19 Special Issue

The defining emotion of the COVID-19 pandemic may be uncertainty. But looking back on this time will also conjure the certainty of things that made us feel safe: video calls with friends, board games digitized over email and meals safely delivered. And, lest we forget, these touchpoints are branded; they’re Zoom calls, Hasbro games and meals from a favorite local café. Each experience provides brands with an opportunity to form a positive memory in consumers’ minds.

Marketers are, first and foremost, the same humans wondering about their own safety and logging in to those video chats. But they’re also in the unique position of listening and responding. Now that brands are past their initial emails assuring customers of their presence in these uncertain times, there’s an opportunity to play a meaningful, thoughtful role.


Industry leaders and academics are working to design best practices and guides to our current moment. For example, Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe designed the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication. The two Texas Tech University Rawls College of Business professors sought to focus on five strategies for how companies can interact with consumers amid the uncertainty. The acronym is broken down as: Humanize your company, educate about change, assure stability, revolutionize offerings and tackle the future.

“It’s a way to look for opportunities,” Wetherbe says. “You can get paralyzed out of panic and fear, so you [can use this to] go through the boxes and use them as a way to explore possibilities.”

One of the common threads in the framework, as well as any advice marketers are sharing with one another, is to offer empathy during the uncertainty. You don’t have all the answers and it’s inauthentic to pretend that you do. What you can offer are solutions (“We’ll bring the meal to your door”) and a plan for whatever the future may hold (“When it’s time to reopen, seating will be distanced and reservation-only”). Then, keep up the good work.

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Sarah Steimer is a writer, editor, podcast producer, and yoga teacher living in Chicago. She has written for Marketing News, Chicago magazine, Culture magazine, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, and other outlets.