The Corona Crisis Communication Dilemma
If you are thinking you can and should continue marketing your business as usual right now, think again. In these unusual times we currently find ourselves, unique crisis communication strategies must emerge.
I see businesses still sending salesy emails and direct mail pieces as if nothing has happened. They seem to have the attitude that since everyone is working from home, there’s a captive audience. But nothing can turn off your target audience more than demonstrating you don’t understand or get what they are going through, and that goes for any marketing or crisis communications you put out there at any time.
Right now, you don’t want to be hitting customers with sales messages. It will make you appear clueless. Conversely, you don’t want to be sending emails as some businesses have with a reminder about hand washing and social distancing or a message about the precautions you are taking, only to use that as a lead-in or way to get their attention so you can sell something. Please be genuine.
Maintaining a Connection With Your Audience
So, if you shouldn’t be selling right now, what can you do to maintain communications with your target audience and build a connection with them? First, it’s best to leave the information distribution to the media. Even businesses in healthcare and wellness should do more than just be the bearers of information we’re already seeing across the media. Smart businesses in that industry as well as others understand the need to provide added value to clients at this time more than any other. For healthcare/wellness and similar businesses, this is an opportunity to convey your expertise by offering immune system boosting tips, mental health guidance, etc. Whether businesses are selling to other businesses or in consumer-facing industries, this is a time for spreading goodwill and providing a public service. As we hear often these days, we need to work together and come together as a community to overcome this crisis.
The Importance of Accuracy
Make sure that if you are trying to provide news and info on COVID-19 to your customers that it is factual and comes from reliable sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). You don’t want to incite hysteria by publishing an article from some pseudo-health site that may contain rumors or make unfounded claims. As we all know, the internet is filled with misinformation. Make sure you verify information by cross-checking it with other sources. Also, take care to use the COVID-19 outbreak terminology correctly. For example, know the difference between quarantine and isolation and between a lockdown and shelter-in-place. The term you should most understand and share with your audience is “Flatten the Curve” — practicing social distancing to ensure the number of cases does not exceed the capacity of our hospitals to treat those cases.
Again, don’t feel you need to be the bearer of the latest news and info, but certainly be helpful to your customers by providing links to the CDC, government or public health agencies, or hospitals.
The Impact of Storytelling
Storytelling, a PR technique that’s become very popular in recent years, can be very effective at a time like this as it can help your customers relate to you better and connect to you more easily. Share with your customers how your business or that of a partner or customer is helping people through this crisis. For example, if someone among your customers is in the medical field, perhaps they have some vital information to share. If an employee happens to contract COVID-19, their story of pulling through it can be valuable to your audience by answering some questions about the unknown aspects and giving more knowledge on what to expect. Any “feel-good” stories you have of people helping people can be inspiring and inject some light into these dark, uncertain times.
Focus on Customer Needs
Businesses should always be focused on their customers’ needs, but right now it’s more critical than ever if you want to be relatable and connect with them. That’s an important strategy in crisis communication effort. Think about where their minds and focus are now and how you can help or advise them or serve as a resource. What might they need from your business in terms of availability or greater conveniences? How can you help lighten their burden if they’re trying to juggle working from home while homeschooling their kids? Perhaps you can offer some free coaching/consulting time, online education, article sharing, extended hours, etc.
Of course, it’s a good idea to start by assuring them that you are taking precautions in the delivery of your products and services. Detailing the steps you take to keep a sanitized environment and ensure their safety will make them trust you and feel more comfortable using your business. If you run an “essential” business, you know what to do as far as explaining to your customers what the new normal is and how processes have changed to adapt to the new situation. Whether your business is essential or not, make sure you clearly communicate to your audience regularly on how you are now conducting business, whether it’s changing hours, processes or contacts. Try to provide added value by offering special services, discounts or delayed payments — whatever can make a difference with stressed or financially-impacted customers. Remind them that you are here for them but don’t use that it as an opportunity to say, “Oh by the way, have you checked out our latest line of……?”
There are many companies who understand crisis communication and are taking the lead in showing they care and that the customer matters. Companies such as Hyundai and H&R Block, who have quickly changed up their marketing messages to respond to the new environment, will resonate a great deal more with the public. At a time like this, when the entire world is in the midst of a crisis and people are worried and focused on survival, the best thing you can do to maintain communications and connections with your customers is be there to help them, not try to sell to them.