“What should we be doing?”
“Is this even effective?”
“Do we have a plan?”
“Are we doing enough?”
If any of these questions have momentarily crossed your mind or been opened in conversation, then keep reading. We don’t have all the answers- no one does. We’re trying to navigate through this challenge the only way we know how: by breaking down the situation, delivering insightful strategy, working cohesively, and acting to create impact. Oh yeah, let’s throw some creative thinking in there as well.
So, here’s the situation.
As far as we’re concerned, COVID-19 is going to be around for a while. While the virus will hopefully be contained in the near future, COVID-19 will have left a lasting impact on global economies, governments, businesses, and brands. None of us wanted this to happen, but it did. If you’re left wondering when and how you should respond to COVID-19, then this is for you.
Before we get started…
There is a question of knowledge that dates back to Plato and Socrates: If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know if you’ve found it?
With any project, from a simple social media post to a high-level marketing campaign, it helps to keep this question top of mind. Through every step, think, “What am I trying to accomplish with my COVID-19 response?”
Is it to ease client concerns? Inform your community? Take action? If you are unable to answer this question, then your message, and your positioning, is already suffering.
For starters, it doesn’t help if you communicate anything but the truth. Organizations that take a self-centered or profiteering approach are only worsening the pandemic and betraying the trust of their employees and followers. Don’t venture too far away from the core pillars, your business-savvy consumers will be able to snuff out a disingenuous response.
Bill Gates recently wrote, “In any crisis, leaders have two equally important responsibilities: solve the immediate problem and keep it from happening again. The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent case in point. The world needs to save lives now while also improving the way we respond to outbreaks in general.”
While directed more toward government and health systems, this statement should challenge marketers and communicators to be better. CEO’s, founders, and high-ranking executives need to communicate to the whole organization and adjust as they keep moving forward. Committing to your values and remaining true to your brand will demonstrate that you really are what you say you stand for.
If you’re an association, this could be your members. For an agency, it could be your clients. In the conceptual phase of anything, you need to know who you are aiming to reach. Let’s look at this from the perspective of an association like the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
NACS’s core audience is the convenience and fuel retailing community. They offer a whole page of resources directly targeting this audience including the latest COVID-19 industry related news, a template letter for retailers to give employees that recognize them as essential workforce, and blogs from leadership that offer key nuggets of advice for convenience retailers. NACS’s page doesn’t overwhelm you with unrelated COVID-19 content but instead focuses on the people and organizations who are specifically turning to them for guidance.
There’s no denying that the rapid ascent of our technological capabilities means that when a crisis hits, it unfolds at an incredibly quick pace. Digital channels are flooded, the media is on a 24-hour COVID-19 cycle, and the whole process of communicating is being put in a blender with its top off. It’s a mess. This is why positioning matters so much. There won’t be a magic button you can press that will handle all of the stuff you don’t want to. Your response has to be organic, focused on informing your stakeholders of key details, answering employee questions/concerns, and demonstrating what you are doing to better the situation. COVID-19 needs to have a long-term strategy that can adapt to shifting consumer behaviors and new information. You don’t want to respond too fast and dig your organization and brand image into a deep hole.
A slow response isn’t good either and can have an equally negative impact. However, you need to look at the entire timeline of your response. The best we can do is routinely update and improve our message based on the latest pieces of information from reliable sources.
Every industry is approaching this situation a little differently. And if we’re being honest, there isn’t necessarily a “right” path to take. However, I think we can all agree that communicating during a pandemic is essential. Retailers in the beauty, wellness, and fashion businesses that suspended their in-person services and shopping are now being painted as “proactive” and “responsible.” In the fitness industry, gyms are pounding out live classes and trying to maintain their hard-earned culture from home. Even restaurants are adapting to online-only pickup and delivery options.
If you’re like me, you’ve gotten hundreds of emails from every brand you have ever interacted with outlining their COVID-19 plans. Some organizations have gone about this the right way, providing a sympathetic tone and even offering a chat option or resource page for people with specific concerns or questions like The American Marketing Association. Determine what your core audience will benefit from and leverage your expertise and brand capital. This isn’t a scenario where getting there before anyone else really matters. Sure, I have seen a lot of other companies do things where I’m left thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”. Just take what they have done and do it differently. Do it better. Timing isn’t always about being first. It’s about leading in a crowded space.
Connect by being human. Your audience probably isn’t looking for flowery language and sales pitches right now. They want security. They want to know that you’re working through the same challenges as them and pushing the agenda to make things better in any way that you can. Yes, positioning and the timing of your response are critical. But if you can’t connect with people on a human to human level, it won’t matter how captivating your graphics and copy are or when you post responses. Humans in every industry across the globe are struggling right now. Let them know that there is a human behind the computer who is driven to make real impacts.
Because that’s what positioning comes down to during a crisis; the ability for your organization to rise to the occasion, deliver timely responses, and contribute to communities in a meaningful way.
And there you have it.
As COVID-19 pushes teams into remote, virtual workspaces, our “Staying Connected During COVID-19” series is here to help. Let’s commit to keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, one step at a time. Follow us for tips on how we can further your mission together.