Many companies are trying to figure out what should be an appropriate stance for marketing and communications during this time.
I understand that there cannot be a blanket approach everyone can take, as what’s appropriate for your brand depends on a lot of factors – from what your organizational mission is, to what services and products you provide, to the people that you serve.
At the point of me writing this piece, I’ve noticed that Asian headquartered businesses – especially those in China – are starting to become more aggressive again as their business goes back to normal, whilst western brands headquartered in Europe and the US are taking a more conservative approach, given that it is now their countries who are experiencing the brunt of the infection, and the associated economic impact. So, depending on where your brand is headquartered, you may receive quite different instructions from your head office.
However, I’ve seen a few general guiding principles that should apply across the board, regardless of what kind of brand, and I hope that these will be helpful for your team if you haven’t had the chance to think about what your communication strategy is as you tide through the Covid-19 period:
- Avoid self-serving announcements. I’ve seen most of my clients pause their communications around product updates and business wins, and we’ve also seen our partners like HubSpot and LinkedIn shift their communications to reassuring their customers and partners about continued service delivery during this time.
- On that note, when communicating to customers, remember to show empathy to customers who are affected and be mindful of what you say, and how it could impact customer perception. Don’t assume that it’s business-as-usual on their end, and that they will be able to continue spending with you, but express understanding of their situation and difficulties.
- Building on that, be mindful of the tone of voice you use – it has to be neutral as can be. Try not to be too optimistic as you don’t want to seem disconnected from reality, and at the same time not too doom and gloom because you want to still spread some positivity. One of the best examples of communication I’ve observed during this time is the flow of messages from Singapore’s government to the public – from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong address right after the country went into DORSCON Orange, to Vivian Balakrishan’s interview with CNBC that everyone was quoting as a “masterclass” in communication
- Be helpful during this time, offer tips that relate to the most pressing topics like business continuity planning or remote working. If you can’t add value, then don’t try too hard to join the conversation. Some brands like Coke have famously decided to go quiet on social media out of respect for the difficult times that we are in.
- Pause – as much as you can – any lead generation or direct selling efforts that don’t relate to products or services that can help people through this time. So if you’re a brand like Zoom – fine. But, if you’re a luxury car maker, maybe not. Such messaging comes across as insensitive, especially if you know that your existing customers are struggling. Protecting customer lifetime value is more important than acquiring new ones at this stage, because they will continue to remain loyal to you once the economic recovery picks up.
In times of uncertainty like these, you’ll likely have to adjust your public-facing messaging as the situation evolves – sometimes even weekly or daily – so the above guidelines should act not as prescriptive principles but rather guideposts to assist your decision-making during a period where so many things are fluid.
Whilst we don’t know when recovery is imminent or when the global situation will take a turn for the better, what I know for certain is this – organizations who communicate well during a time of crisis will emerge stronger after the crisis is over. You’ll retain customers, engender brand goodwill, and be ready to burst out of the blocks when the economy starts to swing upwards again. Until then, hang tight in there!