A chat with writer/director/marketer/overall creative brain Stirling Gardner about how to handle your advertising & marketing without being tone deaf to what’s happening all around us.

“I feel like you have to have some semblance of empathy, just understanding what’s going on – you’re literally trying to read society and then massage and pivot your message almost every week. So I don’t know that there’s a ‘guideline’ other than just pay attention, try to be smart and to have a heart. Whether you’re selling, or it’s just a blog post; how you respond to those comments, tells you everything you need to know about that brand”

– Stirling Gardner


June 16
Hey live today, it is 20 minutes in Lockdown and I’m with Stirling Gardner who is a Facebook strategist, digital marketer. He’s a writer. He wrote an awesome book, which maybe we can talk about at the end, but I thought it was really great. And, um, he’s pretty, uh, he’s a pretty creative brain, pretty smart. And. I thought it was important to have him on, because if you have a business, if you manage a brand, maybe by somebody else, um, or if you have a message to communicate, it can be really, really difficult at this time. It’s just very disorienting or racial tensions. You got that little thing called COVID. There’s so many things happen. There were locusts in Kenya. I mean, you name it. You know, somebody just told me about a 17 foot Python in Florida, so it’s, it’s all happening. And how, how do you, how do you navigate this? So, first of all, welcome, say, Hey, and I’m, you know, I’m sure when you start talking, the birds are going to be chirping, which is awesome. So I’m looking forward to getting some nature infused in this chat, but how are you? I’m doing great. How are you? I’m good. All right. So let’s start off by the burning question. When something happens like this, you know, and a lot of people related it to nine 11, but this COVID pandemic, there was a lot of tone, deaf shit that went on right away.
People were like, Oh my God, I have no money. I better start making money. Let me go sell it. You know, a million dollar course until people are going to make $5 million, or let me go do this and let me go to that. What is, is there a guideline for an appropriate time to step back when things happen? So it’s not disrespectful when you’re marketing and when is that right time to sort of start to come back, being that you don’t want to be asleep at the wheel?

Well, we actually first connected on the subject when COVID was six weeks ago or whatever, when that was like blowing up. Um, and I feel like we were going through so many phases so quick, like things are iterating so quickly. Even if you hadn’t tossed in the crazy writing and all this stuff, that’s like, that’s like another added layer.
Right? Um, so what, the one thing I did, which was, so I have a lot of clients and we mostly specialize in Facebook ads and I was like, well, cov is going down. You can’t not address it. How do we address it? And I started to think, and I called my team together and then I would meet with all of my clients and I thought, okay, Because I’m a consumer too.
So it was like, what are the two things right now? I didn’t know. There were two things, but like, what are the things right now that people need more than anything else? And after some soul searching and just thinking about, I said, I said, right now they need leadership because I don’t know who to talk to, who to follow who to listen to, but if there have some brand loyalty, um, you need to step up as a leader and just address what’s going on. And the second thing was community. Cause we were all scared. We were all locked into our place. So we met with each one of our clients and said, okay, we’re not going to go. We basically kind of paused like the hard, it’s not a hardcore selling. It’s not like we’re used car salesman or whatever, but I mean just the, the, the traditional sales type ads.
And we just started to put out content that was on brand in their voice, caring and talking about, Hey, Let us know how we can be there for you, let us know how we can galvanize our people for you. So that was the subconscious messages. If you’re putting that out there, that you are a leader in that space and you want to create a community.
So that’s what we did for the first couple of weeks. It works really, really well. Actually, we just wrote some blogs. That were about community and what you can do to stay safe. And like, I have a client who’s sells baby clothes and we’re like, okay, we’re going to pause the sales sale of clothes, but we put together this giant list of things you can do at home with your children right now during quarantine.
So it was really kind of shifting your perspective of how you show up for your audience. And that also folds in like, what are you actually offering your audience? So we just, we did that. Then we came back and I was noticing as I’m sure everybody that’s watching this and you, you go in Facebook and it’s like, these people are in the hospital, this thing’s happening, this thing’s happening, but people like buy my stuff and you’re like, it’s so.
Offensively tone, deaf to what’s going on. And it feels very heartless know at the same time, you’re like, I have to make a living. What do I do? You know? Yeah, exactly. So I don’t, I didn’t blame people for trying to make money during this time. You can’t, everybody’s got to put food on the table, but it’s just how you approach the situation.
So then from there I felt like not necessarily with my clients, but a lot of, um, I saw a lot more messaging come out. Like the next wave of messaging was like, the world has changed. This is how you can, right. You see that as messaging, clearly no, we’re not going back to the way it was. And you might as well make, do with how it is now and sort of doing that. I feel like that worked loosely and quotes work. Like at least it was a step in the right direction of addressing it. But it still felt a little bit gross, felt like you’re kind of getting people to do something because of the circumstances. Um,

Then that’s the question, how much is too much with that kind of stuff?
You know what I mean? Like, it was always like this, I get the whole alone together. I saw a really funny meme. It was like if one more celebrity tells me we’re in this together. I’m going to send them my electric bill. It stops being effective. I mean, like you’re right. Like that lasted a little bit of time, you know, the whole thing.

Yeah. It felt like the messaging was kind of taking advantage of people’s fear to then get them to buy something. So I saw those messages come and go after about the course of a week. Um, and then it’s sort of strangely went back into this place where like my clients itself, digital products had the best months ever because people were home. So if you’re asking somebody. Hey, sign up for my webinar or watch this video. This is 20 minutes long people have the time to do it. And then they also have the time to take the course or consume whatever that product was. Um, while they were home. And I had one client who’s who was a, he coaches artists, so we came up, thank God. It turned out to be a gangbuster thing, but we did a quarantine art challenge. So we threw together this big group. People are home painting and communion, communing and all that stuff. And he emerged as a leader and he did this 30 day challenge and at the end, Hey, if you want to continue on with us, we have this low price course and that went, that was a two 97 course. He spent $3,000 and we made him $144,000. So that tells you how it was just the. The perfect timing, the perfect messaging we’re in this together, and let’s do this thing together. I can teach you through this and it worked great. Then as you know, the last couple of weeks there was like, um, should we be advertising while cities are on fire and people are getting lynched.
I mean, just all kinds of craziness. And then we chose some of my clients about half of them chose to do the blackout last week, so from Tuesday through Friday, a lot of people weren’t advertising at all to answer your question. How do you know it’s too far? I just feel like you need somebody who’s an empath on your team or on the marketing side to say let’s kind of.
Take a pulse of what’s going on. Let’s let’s look at the comments that are on the ads. Let’s look at the comments on the post. You’re getting a flood of horrible comments; that’s obviously wrong messaging. Let’s delete that post. So it’s, it’s subjective. And I feel like you have to have some semblance of um, empathy, just understanding what’s going on and trying to read- you’re you’re literally trying to read society and then massage and pivot your message almost every week. Right. So I don’t know that there’s a guideline other than just pay attention. Try to be smart and try to have a heart.

No, but that, that makes sense.
There is a line to that, you know, it’s just, okay. Drop everything. Give. Yeah, build community building built, you know, be a shoulder I’d say right. Instead of a seller and a hard marketer. Um, you know, and then also, you know, as much as building your community is important, you have to listen to them exactly to your point. Cause there’s so many people that do that, that part brilliantly, but then they don’t read the comments. They don’t engage. They just say, Oh, you know, I had one bad comment in, in, you know, 500 positive ones, but I forget it. It’s just not going to work. And I think, um, a lot of people don’t listen to their audiences enough. Do you agree with that?

Yeah, well, just strictly on the Facebook ads side, I have clients that will run ads. They’re not responding to any of the comments and sometimes like one crazy comment can start a whole fires firestorm. So you have to pay attention to that. And that’s, that goes with comments on your blog posts and any, anywhere that you’re doing messaging. Um, the other thing I would say is whether it comes to actually, I think this is a great point for what we’re talking about. Whether you’re selling or it’s just a blog post it, how you respond to those comments, tells you everything you need to know about that brand because I’ve seen ads and you see the, the, the, the, um, whoever’s doing the actual selling, responding like snarky or crappy back.
And I’m like, why on earth would I buy a product from like, you’re telling me everything I need to know about you. Yeah, as opposed to somebody says something snarky and that, and the company replies graciously warmly non-judgmentally it pushes me, Um, I’m very likely to buy that thing. If I’m just becomes part of your marketing strategy is your customer engagement the way that you handle.

And I love that Facebook makes that so public invisible, rather than relying on somebody to share a story of a great turnaround or a great pivot, you know, like you’re seeing it, you know, and like I love when somebody responds before there was even a problem. And, and it’s, that is I think a huge part of every marketing, especially at a time like this.

Yeah, I agree. And it says, like I said, it’s, I’m, I’m a, I love the term. Um, how you do anything is how you do everything. So if you can’t respond graciously to a simple comment, what does that say? When like, if something else goes bigger, goes wrong. So to me it’s a complete, no brainer and I’m always shocked. This morning I was reading, this is this guy’s selling tax strategies or something. And some snarky comment. And he was like, who are you to comment? I was like, really? That’s where you’re going with that. Um, and so it’s just, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a wave in what’s happening right now. There’s just so much the tension. So high, the emotion so high, and you kind of have to surf it with a heart, do your best to ride it with a good open heart and you might make a mistake. You’re gonna, you’re not going to make everyone happy all the time, but if you feel like you’re showing up authentically and helping people, that’s literally right before we got on, we were saying, this is all I can do. This is all I know how to do it. Just show up and be there and know you’re going to probably take a punch from somebody who’s in a bad mood on Facebook or, or whatever. Right. That’s unavoidable. But how you respond to it is everything.

Hundred percent and you’ve done some really funny things. You’ve done edgy things. What do you say about integrating humor in a way? Because that’s always my default. I mean, I laugh when I fall. I laugh and other people, you know, I’m, I’m just that kind of person, but, you know, um, I think it’s important. I think we lose humor a lot in these situations, but is it ever appropriate? When is it appropriate? Um, you know, what are your thoughts on that? Being the humorous that you are.

I that’s a, that’s a, there’s no way you can make jokes. I mean, making a joke about COVID or black lives matter right now would be like a disastrous PR move. Like it just be the ultimate in being tone, deaf Mmm. Here. And here’s a fence who asked me this idea is like, Hey, maybe work on the script he’s coming. And he’s basically built a really cool Mmm, kind of bowl, I won’t even go into it, but there’s like all these ecological factors about the size of it, the color of it, the shape of it, all these things that help reduce appetite. So it’s ultimately going to help people lose weight. I mean, that’s the ultimate thing, right? He was like, well, I think it’d be really funny if we, you know, we show why like, like he’s French, stereotypical French woman isn’t fat and this is why we can do this. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No funny, there is no funny way to make any kind of even fat implication.. don’t do that, do not do that. Um, but if you were doing something like the Harmon brothers do with the Squatty potty and making fun of poop jokes, that’s, that’s a different thing. You just can’t, you can’t shame somebody about something. So. I feel like that’s a subjective thing too. Like I do try to inject some humor into everything that I can, but sometimes it’s just flat out not it’s not the right time place and you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. If you do it again. I think it’s just; wisdom and having a heart and going, I can’t, this isn’t something I can make fun of.

Agreed, agreed. And something came up that I want to ask your opinion on. Okay. I think I mentioned this to you the other day, um, in my industry, which is travel, there was a very dissenting opinion from somebody in the industry saying I am tired of.
Hotels, just, you know, turning your advertising on their heads and just saying, okay, we’ve got plastic flexi glass at check-in. You’re not going to see anyone at check-in. We will never speak to you or talk to you. We’ll be very distant. There are no self-serve anything, by the way, you’re going to have X less amenities in your room cause they carry germs. But please come! You know, and I think it’s, it’s difficult because you want need, like, there are certain protocols that need to be adhered to, especially in hospitality. You need to convey them, but are you becoming to hospital like, and are we doing that in a lot of industries and how, how do, how, how do you balance that, I guess, or how would you advise to balance it when you need to speak to certain things, like safety to ensure people feel okay, but not to want to take away from the overall and experience that they’re supposed to be having.

You know, we did talk about this a little bit on the phone. Uh, my opinion is. And I could be biased because I’m the, let’s be more safe than sorry, but I feel like you, you have to have those things in place and mention them because that way, at least you’re going to get people like me, who, okay. They’re taking every precaution that they can. If I really need to do this or the other thing, I’m going to go do it there because I know they’re at least being thoughtful about it. And you’ll also get the people who don’t care as much being muffled, but if you don’t mention it at all, you’re never going to get somebody like me to go there.

Yeah, the whole point of the question, like what, you know, I mean, is it, is it making the difference, is it doing, is it helping? I’d say, you know, even if it’s a little overboard.

Well, as again, we were talking before the show, like I went to, um, To eat for the first time. And I was Googling everything and asking Facebook, like my local Facebook groups. I’m like, what’s the safest place to go. And why do you think that way? I think there’s a lot of people that were commenting and care about that stuff. So I think the gentleman you were referring to who was like getting frustrated with it, I don’t. I don’t know him, but my take could be it’s. So people are so stressed out about so many different things. It could have just been something that pushed him over the edge of like, it’s so annoying, but I feel like you have to have that if you don’t have that, people just don’t think you care. So. Could it be overkill maybe, but I think it’s a no brainer. You have to tell people you’re, you’re taking the necessary precautions, period. We had contractors come out to look at the siding on our house. And um, if they didn’t say on their site or in their messaging, we’re taking all the necessary precautions. We’ll stay social, the social distance. We didn’t have a map. They might still do it, but they didn’t tell us. So why. If I have a choice between somebody that is and somebody that isn’t, of course, I’m going to take somebody that. If they’re pretending to care, at least at least I perceived them to care.

Your saying put in the effort. I know, I agree with that. And I think, I think it has to be mentioned. This is far too big of an issue not to talk about. Um, you know, I think the question is how do you balance it with okay. Trying to discuss the end result of what you want somebody to feel, you know, without making them too nervous. Um, that it’s too clinical. I think going out to eat is a huge example. I haven’t really been yet, you know, I’m in the same boat, you know, I’ve got, I got to see what the org is doing it right. And all of that. Um, but do you have any brands that you would like, um, that you think have done it right? Or have been really balanced throughout this whole thing? Or maybe an example that you would point to, to somebody that’s done it the right way?

Um, no, the only thing I can really draw from is like my own personal experience. We, we do have a client who sells sustainable ecofriendly um, no dye stuff, uh children’s clothes. And they did a thing where they had these scarves and there, um, one of the owners and their charge, uh, young kids was stuck in, I can’t remember whatever country it was and they were trying to get out on one of the last flights before they shut down the whole, all the flights. And she did a completely organic pictures, like selfie with her and her son. Just to have these covered up with these scarves, I’m telling the story, like we didn’t want to travel. We did the best we could with what we have. Um, and people just started clicking on that. That was just an organic post, it clicking and like going to buy these scarves. So I feel like I may not be the best example cause it wasn’t an intentional salesy thing, but it was from the heart and it resulted in sales.
If that makes sense. Um, as far as who’s doing it right. I can say that I’m probably a little bit more on that guy’s side. Now he was talking about hotels, like getting frustrated with them. I feel like every commercial on television and you’re just like, I know you’re D they all mentioned COVID and they all mentioned, how are you doing this, that, and the other thing.
And you’re like, I know, thank God you should. But it’s like the messaging. I may be contradicting myself, but I feel like that messaging is getting tired. Like at a certain point, it should just be known that you do these things, but I don’t know what that date is.

None of us know we’re just operating with, you know, it’s a moving goalpost, doesn’t matter what your industry is. And they think, yeah, I wonder what the future is for that. Like, is that just going to be, you know, standard is, is this temporary until some something is found to sort of stave it off or, or curate, you know, we don’t know, but I think in the meantime, do you foresee this just being just a simple, basic part of marketing moving forward in every forum?

Until there’s some conclusive vaccine slash cure, I think people are going to have to make mention of it. And that’s, I don’t even like to think about that, but it is what it is. And we’re like you said, we’re doing the best we can every day. And I.. look, something crazy can happen in two weeks. And there’s like this whole new, weird pivot that we can’t even predict, but probably it will, right now we have to deal with COVID period.

Yeah, no, you’re right. I think you’re exactly right. Well, thank you so much. 20 minutes has gone by very quickly, but I, I have learned a lot as I’m sure everybody else has and will stand point. I’ll probably have you back when, you know, in a couple of weeks, hopefully that, that thing that you just mentioned won’t happen and we’ll be talking about the next wave.
No pun intended of, of how we’re going to deal with marketing. So thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me anytime. Bye you guys.

Connect with Stirling on: Twitter @StirlingGardner or via LinkedIn

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