The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill, as individuals, healthcare professionals, and businesses scramble to come to terms with the new normal.
With several countries imposing stringent lockdowns, businesses find themselves in a precarious position with no revenues coming in to keep them afloat. While some companies that could quickly switch to online are aiming to earn some passive income by accepting orders to fulfill once the lockdown is lifted, a significant majority of them do not have this luxury. Even if there is an online medium to place orders, the environment is not very conducive for customers to even consider shopping for anything non-essential.
Brands that quickly adapted to the changing scenario and used a hard-found link between their offerings and the pandemic have faced brickbats from customers for being insensitive, profiteering, and opportunistic.
Organizations seem to be facing a double-edged sword here. On one end, they are facing an unprecedented decline in revenues and an acute financial crunch, and on the other end, they are facing severe scrutiny for marketing communications or advertising in the time of the crisis.
Let’s face it. This scenario is not an opportunity a marketeer can maximize upon when there are pressing matters in the minds of the customer.
So, does that mean brands completely stop communicating with their audiences?
Absolutely not. But these are sensitive times. Companies who are unapologetically trying to hard-sell their products are fighting a losing battle with today’s well-aware customer.
The first to go down the drain were companies promoting false claims that their products are anti-coronavirus — these include companies manufacturing sanitizers, masks, and even mattresses. Misrepresentation with a myopic vision to boost sales is nothing short of a suicide mission.
Neither is fear-mongering to create panic amidst extraordinary circumstances.
Instead of exploiting fear and trying to capitalize on the crisis, brands should leverage the platform to make a real connection with their audiences.
Remember, customers today are much more aware and savvier in the age of information. Social media platforms are a two-way street, and you could face a backlash openly across mediums if you are seen opportunistic.
So, How should you go about communicating then?
First things first, stop your regular marketing communications. The circumstances today are anything but ordinary and brand conversations cannot be impervious to them.
The first step we did at TheSeasonedStorytellers when the lockdown was announced was to pause and go back to our client’s content calendars to check if they were still relevant.
Hit pause, and reflect. What does your brand offer? Are they essential? How can they make your customer’s lives easier during this time of crisis? If these answers lead you to a logical messaging, then excellent, reframe your communications along the new lines of thought and distribute it across mediums.
If they don’t and you genuinely find a gap between your current offerings, then don’t force-fit your product.
Listen to your customers and make an effort to understand their position. Turn the narrative away from selling your offering and keep the spotlight on the customer instead. Communicate what is valuable to the customer.
Reach out to them only if you and your solutions can help them without adding to their woes. And even when you do, stick to the facts — realistic communications over aspiration or idealistic brand messages at such times.
If you do not find a connection, take a different approach to reach out to your customers. Educate them, uplift their moods, make their lives easier, and win their trust. Revolve your messaging around the current scenario, of how they can protect themselves or their loved ones, curate a list of reliable sources they can trust, and tell your customers, “You understand their situation, and you are there for them.” Period. In the long run, it shall pay more dividends than closing a sale today.
Refrain from virtue-signaling in times of crisis. The intentions behind your communications become evident in testing times. Make sure you are very clear with the “why.” Does this communication help your brand recall or puts to ease a customer’s worry? Think this through thoroughly, because it can make or break brands.
Your objective in a crisis is purely to build an audience and make them stay — nothing more, nothing less.
A few examples of brands genuinely reaching out to make a difference that I came across
Transparency holds true for every stakeholder. Customer’s loyalty to a brand is not just based on how you treat them, but also on how you manage your own employees, suppliers, and partners. Be transparent in your communications with every stakeholder.
Everyone’s resources are stretched thin currently, and your hands might be tied in terms of the extent of the support you can extend to them. But that is immaterial. Your brand’s legacy will depend on how you treat your stakeholders. Keep the communications open, address their anxieties, optimize your resources the best way possible, and avoid chest-thumping these initiatives.
While the lockdown maybe for 21 days, the undercurrents of the impact will still be felt by businesses for much longer. Unlike recessions in the past, there is no visibility of the end as the virus continues to spread rapidly.
Do not stop marketing altogether. But now is the time to show that your brand is more than just a profiteering machine out to make money. Show that you care, mobilize your communities to stay positive, and hope that the community remembers your efforts once the crisis passes.