In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, governments worldwide enacted some of the harshest sanctions in modern history while brands working and investing in Russia acted swiftly to alter their involvement or completely cut ties with the country.

Devising a plan of action for the current situation and for when the next country breaks international order could mean the difference between being deemed by consumers as socially responsible and getting canceled.

Knowing where consumers stand right now is a good starting point. According to a Gartner survey of 281 US consumers conducted between February 25 and March 1, 60 percent of US consumers believe brands should reconsider doing business in Russia or partnering with Russian companies.

Respondents see several paths for a corporate response. After reconsidering doing business in Russia, or with Russian companies, consumers’ top priorities for actions companies should take include:

  • Ensuring the safety of their employees and personnel who are in the war zone (55 percent)
  • Preparing emergency plans to ensure that anybody connected to their organization is safe (46 percent)
  • Minimizing disruptions that would lead to consumer good shortages or price increases (46 percent).

Gartner also found that for 60 percent of consumers, an increase in fuel or energy prices is a top concern, followed by the safety and well-being of people outside the US (56 percent) and cyberattacks against US entities (56 percent).

Though 70 percent of consumers rated their level of concern about the invasion at a four or five (where five is extremely concerned) and many want businesses to take concrete action, they’re not eager to hear about it directly from those businesses yet. 

“Marketers should focus first on developing a compelling storyline about company activities, so teams are ready to take action when consumers do become more open to hearing from brands about actions they’ve taken,” said Kate Muhl, vice president analyst at Gartner Marketing practice.

According to Gartner’s survey, few consumers say they want brands to stop or reduce advertising at this stage of the conflict. But brands including General Mills, Google, P&G and more have already announced plans to suspend advertising or close shop in Russia.

General Mills said in a press release that it doesn’t have any plants, employees or distributors in Russia, but that it does have a joint venture with Nestle called Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW). CPW sales in Russia represent less than 1 percent of the total General Mills sales but the company and Nestle decided to stop advertising and suspend all capital investment in CPW.

P&G has discontinued all new capital investments in Russia and is freezing all media, advertising and promotional activity, the company’s president said.

In a rare step, Google paused its ad business in Russia, including search, YouTube and display marketing after the country’s regulator demanded Google stop showing what it considered ads spreading misinformation about the invasion.

In solidarity with the hundreds of global brands rebuking Russia, the CMO Council has created a list of “Brands Taking a Stand,” which it will update daily as long as the crisis continues. 

As marketers assess the Ukraine-relevant exposure, Gartner suggests they consider these three near-term actions:

  1. Review and pressure test existing plans, especially in relevant categories like travel or whose brands have associations with the region.
  2. Direct teams to vary the topics and tone of social posts and other messages. The smartest brand strategies acknowledge and accommodate this diversity of concerns.
  3. Consider the brand’s audience: differences in degree of concern and key concerns can be seen along demographic lines, which may warrant differentiated strategies.