New Yorkers huddle around an available electrical outlet in a Chase Bank in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday 10/31/12

Brett Denuo writes, from New York:

As 90 mile per hour wind gusts battered buildings and ocean waters rose, it became clear that Hurricane Sandy would do more than separate trees from their roots.  In New York City alone, millions of residents are still foraging for electricity, reliable cellphone service and running water.   And these are the lucky ones; Sandy claimed at least 55 lives in the US (and another 70 elsewhere) and triggered spontaneous fires that burned neighborhoods to the ground.

Still, the most frustrating element of the post-hurricane aftermath (at least to this New Yorker) has been the lack of answers.  When will the lights come back on?  Five days, maybe seven.  When will the subways work again?  Two weeks, maybe three.  Cellphone service?  Flights out of the city?  Rumors fly, answers hide.

In the electricity-less aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, 40th street in Manhattan became the dividing line between the haves and have-nots.  Only those residents living south of 40th street were facing prolonged power outages.  Along this street, the meeting point of the haves and have-nots, the Sandy-induced anxiety was truly palpable.  Any available electrical outlet (like the one pictured in the lobby of the Chase Bank above) became an oasis for throngs of electricity-starved New Yorkers.

While this storm did offer a glimpse into our culture’s fervent dependence on electricity, it also exposed people’s craving and need for leadership in a time of uncertainty.  Though it may not seem obvious in a time when seemingly nothing has gone right, there is a huge opportunity here.

Showing their real selves

Seth Godin once wrote that people are “presumed to be showing” their real self when they are late, on deadline, are facing a customer service meltdown or are forced to do without some seemingly essential resource: time, money, etc.  To me, the same goes for brands.  This is the time for brands to show their true selves.  At The Futures Company we’ve spent the past year talking about the new reality, in which brands will achieve long-term growth only when they can be claimed as a network of support, even as kin, by consumers.  Under these fraught conditions which have exposed vulnerability, people are more willing than ever—craving, in fact—to create meaningful relationships.

While the Chase Bank branch featured above did open its lobbies for people to power their devices, it would have also been wise to consider what else could have been done to seize this opportunity.  In what other ways could service, generosity and care have been provided?

Still, Chase did more than most.  In a rival bank across the street, a sign hanging in the window reads, “Hey New York, let’s connect!”  The lobby is as vacant as it was during the storm.  If this bank were serious about making that connection, they wouldn’t do it solely on their terms when it pleases them.

The time is now for brands to move closer to people.  This is the Kinship Economy.  Asking people to move closer to your brand is arrogant.  It doesn’t create kinship.  Marketers are always looking for a way to build relationships.  Well, there’s no better time than now.  People need help and they need leadership.  There’s talk in the political blogosphere about which candidate is ‘winning the hurricane’ and, though we may not like it, this same idea is true for brands as well.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by Brett Denuo. It is posted here under a Creative Commons license: some rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “The worst moments are your best opportunity

  1. Andrew Curry says:

    ‘Another night in the dark’ on NBC News’ Photoblog, has some photos that conjure the strangeness for us of life without instant access to electric light and power:

  2. Lee Shupp says:

    Brett is right: moments like these create “moments of truth” for consumers, and moments of opportunities for businesses and brands. For those brands that get it right, you can create the trust and emotional bond that creates loyalty for life. For those brands that get it wrong, it’s a long road back to a very cynical consumer.

    Here’s an example that we at TFC saw today, from a local NYC gym, Town Sports International, who is now #1 on my list:
    Good Morning Friends and Partners,

    We, at NYSC, hope you and your families have weathered the storm safely. We understand how trying and difficult these times are. To that end, we’d like to offer our clubs to all who need them (members and non members alike). From now through November 14th our doors will be open for people to take a shower, charge electronics and phones or even hop on the treadmill to work off some stress. Please see the following story for more information.
    Now THAT’S the NYC attitude!

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