How to join the conversation
As people the world over scramble to adapt to ‘the new normal’, there are a number of challenges for businesses. Many companies have changed their working processes, supply chains and deliver service models overnight. No less challenging is the prospect of managing your brand in a time of crisis. How brands act and communicate with their audiences now will be a strong predictor of how they will perform post-COVID. Many brands might be unsure how they can – or if they should – join the conversation.
Brand relevance: what do you have to say?
First and foremost, brands should consider their relevance to the crisis. If you are a pharmaceutical company or a healthcare provider, your products or services are deeply involved in the pandemic and your role is more obvious to identify; whether that’s imparting factual information on health or recognising the work of staff on the frontline.
Other brands outside the realm of healthcare must find more creative ways of engaging with people. Essentially it’s about “understanding the unique role your brand plays in people’s lives, how that has changed, and how your brand can help or be useful during this crisis.” Think about it, what does your brand offer and how can it help customers with some of the new challenges they are facing? This can be something small; as long as it’s relevant and useful to your customers’ current situation. For example Slack sharing tips on remote working or An Post’s Write Now campaign which allows people to send free postcards to loved ones.
What’s equally important is what not to do. If your brand is not an authority on a particular subject, now is not the time to begin! It’s really key to keep within what’s appropriate for your brand and the space it occupies in the minds of your customers and potential customers.
Should I say anything at all?
According to research conducted by the Marketing Institute of Ireland, consumers want brands to proactively reach out to people and support communities in need, meaning that saying nothing might be a more negative response than engaging with the pandemic, even if it’s only in a small way.
Some brands might still find it difficult to engage meaningfully with the coronavirus crisis, but this doesn’t mean you should stay silent. Instead, consider releasing messages which acknowledge what’s happening in the world. Talk about how you are still providing service to your customers – or if you can’t, talk about how you are using the time productively. Put people’s minds at ease by highlighting how you’re looking after your people – a message that has resonance across the board; and lastly, express solidarity with your community, engaging with local efforts such as fundraising or outreach initiatives. A simple message will let customers know the important updates about your business, a more considered engagement with the crisis will demonstrate through action that you care.
Maintaining an authentic tone of voice
It’s natural to evolve your tone of voice based on circumstances, for instance, this may not be the time for certain kinds of humour or ‘salesy’ messaging; but you can still do this in a way that’s true to the personality of your brand. While many brands will perhaps feel the need to adopt a more serious tone, think about how you can acknowledge the situation while staying centred on what makes people love your brand. After all, a ‘fun’ brand might undermine its own persona if it suddenly changes focus to serious hand-washing tips. Take for instance the message from Lego’s CEO, which still referred back to the ‘moments of joy’ toys can bring, or even this post from Channel 4 which allowed people to take ‘44 seconds’ to enjoy the cute dogs of Crufts. In times like this, people want brands to be mindful of what the world is going through, but they want your unique brand perspective. Be confident in your brand’s tone of voice and respond, whether that’s a heartfelt message or a moment of levity.
Responding to real needs
For brands with the capacity to do so, responding to real needs and offering practical help is fantastic. Consider the enormously positive reaction to various distilleries using their equipment to make hand sanitiser or fashion brands making masks and protective clothing. And it’s not just manufacturers. A number of tech companies such as Zoom, Google and Microsoft are softening their terms of service or making certain tools available for free, with companies such as Adobe are giving access to their products specifically to help educational institutions. Companies you may not expect are also finding ways to help, for example the estate agent Flynn and Associates are providing free accommodation to hospital staff who have to move out of shared living arrangements temporarily and Therapie Clinics are donating their gloves, sanitisers and masks to hospitals in Ireland and the UK.
While some critics would point out that these actions also drive new customer acquisition for these companies, the fact that their products and services provide real, practical help to people outweighs this viewpoint. For any brand, the key is offering people the tools they need to solve new challenges.
Empathy above all else
Lastly, the guiding light for any brand in the midst of a global crisis should be empathy. According to Kristin Johnson, Vice President of Content and Communications at Sprout Social: “No brand wants to be seen as injecting themselves into a conversation for increased visibility or marketing at a time of distress for many. Now is an ideal time to build connections with your community by asking questions or looking for suggestions. It’s about showing empathy and relevance, rather than looking for ways to self-promote.” It’s great if your products or services are helping people at a time like this, and it’s ok if your company doesn’t have the capacity to do so. What’s most important is that when you are communicating with your audiences, show you are thinking about them, and thinking about all of those impacted by the crisis. Brand should endeavour to be human at a time like this – expressions of empathy, solidarity, gratitude and hope are universal, and individuals, communities and businesses can all identify with these shared values.
In conclusion, whether it’s by contributing practical assistance, advice or just a message of solidarity, every brand should be joining the conversation on Coronavirus. By staying true to your brand, maintaining your tone of voice, focusing on being helpful and remaining guided by empathy, you can communicate and engage effectively at this time. Unsure how your business and brand might best communicate over the coming months? We’d love to chat at 01 539 7939.