How Marketing Can Help Emergency Evacuation Communications

Sep 10, 2019

Marketing is all about compelling people to take action. Visit a website. Sign up for a newsletter. Buy a product. What happens when the action you’re trying to get people to take could save their lives?

After devastating parts of the Bahamas, residents up and down the U.S. East Coast in the path of Hurricane Dorian were ordered to evacuate their homes. Many heeded the warnings, but a surprisingly high number did not. In South Carolina, officials estimated more than eight in 10 residents ignored evacuation orders in the Myrtle Beach area.

Evacuation rates have been higher in other areas affected by the storm, but scientists and public health officials are starting to put a bigger focus on evacuation communications and how to compel residents to move to safer ground.

Marketing an Emergency

Marketing pros won’t be surprised to learn that how you communicate the need to evacuate has a major impact on the number of people who leave. A message that scares people to take action is effective, but that emotional tone has to be coupled with practical and useful information – how to prepare, what to pack, what evacuation route to take. That’s content marketing 101 – provide value and actionable insights.

Researchers have also found that the messenger matters – calls for evacuation from elected officials and subject matter experts are more effective than when the message comes from TV anchors or other media sources. Those messengers need to be consistent, too. Before Hurricane Harvey, Texas’ governor told Houston residents to leave town, while the mayor told them to shelter in place. Messengers need to stay “on brand” and speak with one voice.

The channel matters, too. Calls for evacuation on TV and radio can get drowned out among all the media coverage, whereas text messages and app alerts are more likely to reach and resonate with the intended audience.

It’s important to note many people don’t have the means or mobility to simply pack up and leave, which adds another wrinkle in effective communication and helping that audience overcome those challenges. As countless communities grapple with Hurricane Dorian’s impact, the importance of effective communication can’t be overstated.

Long story short: The psychology behind effective communications is universal. There’s real power in compelling communication, whether you’re marketing a product, motivating employees or encouraging communities to take steps to protect their families.

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