As a digital marketer and someone interested in social causes, I have seen a missed opportunity that will do good here in NY now, and set a precedent for how responsible brands can mobilize to respond in times of need to help communities while creating incredible brand loyalty.

For context, I spent 3 days last week volunteering out in the Rockaways, which is one of the barrier island communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. I used social media heavily as a real-time information resource to understand needs of this community and drop-off locations. On one evening, we mobilized our community in Brooklyn Heights, and got a truckload of supplies from neighbors donated within 12 hours, including a donated moving truck. I then drove out to the area with volunteers. What we found was unbelievable.

There had been almost no organized response to deliver supplies to the people in need out there. FEMA and Red Cross have been largely ineffective – not there in any significant presence within a week of the Hurricane. They were just starting to mobilize but I fear that the supplies they are sending are not relevant, and on the ground distribution is very limited. Monday I spent the day distributing basic supplies in the housing projects on Beach 59th street in the Rockaways. These people are desperate and forgotten. No power for a week, and supplies are running out. The darkness creates security concerns. People are huddling in their apartments trying to stay warm and afraid to leave. Batteries are in short supply, and people are using their ovens for some heat, increasing risks of fire and carbon monoxide deaths. Prescription drug supplies are running out. On the other end near Breezy Point, sand dunes and destroyed houses intermingle. It’s like a post apocalyptic scene, that is 10 MILES FROM DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN. I suspect Katrina left a similar scene.

One thing I’ve noticed is that brands are not existent. Early this week, OccupySandy was the only organized effort that I can tell was doing significant good. That effort is completely driven by everyday people who are using social media to get real time information and make connections to manage supply distribution to the areas hardest hit. Inventory needs change on a daily basis and by area.

I am not posting as a digital entrepreneur today. I am sending this note as a citizen, who has seen how bad things are so close to my home. It’s amazing to me that the press focused more on the NYC marathon being cancelled last weekend than the fact that there are thousands of people about to die within miles of the richest city in the US and ground forces were totally insufficient.

What can be done by brands?

SEND TRUCKS. It seems there is an opportunity to help right now if brands from large companies, Mondelez, Kraft Foods, J&J, P&G, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola could be there in force. As responsible corporate citizens, and marketers seeking a path to break through, you likely want to help people in great need, and create loyalty that comes from this kind of response. Even one or two trucks per company handing out products to these communities will send a message of support while providing much needed goods. Water, ready-made foods, diabetic-friendly foods, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and blankets are in short supply. Batteries and flashlights are needed by everyone. Safe ways to warm up, even at night when it is coldest would be amazing. Social media can be put to work to communicate to volunteers and people in need. With a truckload of supplies, a few volunteers and real-time information regarding distribution sites in greatest need, it can have an immediate impact. I’m sure volunteers will be happy to help distribute these products for your drivers if needed.

Global digital marketing executives can mobilize a rapid response better than anyone else. We use social media daily but has there ever been a more pronounced test in the US of the value of this medium since Katrina? I can’t think of one. I’d love to see a few brands step up and get involved directly. I’m at your service to assist, and I’m sure I’m not alone in giving my brand loyalty to those companies who jump in to help.

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2 thoughts on “Can Brands be “First Responders”?

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