If you’re anything like us, there’s no doubt that your inbox has been blown up over the last few days with Coronavirus updates, from the ubiquitous “how were handling COVID-19” email, to ill-natured promotions aiming to capitalize on the pandemic that has seized our world.
It’s clear that we are living in unprecedented times and, for better or worse, during any public tragedy, nearly everyone feels the need to opine on the situation, including businesses. In the last few days, we have gotten a master class education on how-to and, unfortunately, how not to communicate with sincerity, compassion, and positivity in the midst of tragedy.
How we say something is far more important than what we say. Now more than ever.
If you handle the marketing and communications for a business, it’s incredibly important to think carefully about your brand’s voice and messaging before entering into public conversations.
Does your voice matter?
If there is ever a time to choose to remain silent, it’s in the wake of catastrophe. There’s a quote commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln that goes, “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” This is especially true in a time when only the most helpful information is pertinent, and even those communications must be exceptionally sensitive.
Almost every business has been affected by the spread of COVID-19, and it’s easy to become myopic in your view of your products or services, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an urgency to communicate about them. Don’t cloud the air by sharing unnecessary information. Many businesses could and should heed the example of brands like Coors and Hersheys, who recently decided to pull ad campaigns to avoid potential insensitivities during the outbreak.
Can your business or its products/services offer assistance or alleviate current concerns? Then there’s a need for your voice. Can you offer insights into the bigger story of the impact in your industry, your community, or the economy? Speak up. But be mindful of tone and timing. The wrong tone at the wrong time can come across insensitive or, worse, predatory.
Offer Help, Not Just Products and Services
Now is the time for compassionate creativity. Social listening will be incredibly important during the coming weeks and months, as will cultivating understanding and empathy in your messaging and outreach. A great example of this might be a home improvement company following up with a property manager they previously spoke to who had trouble finding the time to let them come in and renovate a declining bathroom. Now that the businesses in the building have shifted to a remote work model, in the interest of social distancing, the home improvement company can show empathy and creativity in offering to remodel while nobody is around.
Do your products and services provide timely help? Or can they be repositioned to help? If so, lead with that. If not, maybe it’s best to wait for a better time.
I recently had a client who runs a large warehousing and logistics company call and say, “we have a ton of extra, unused warehouse space that we know could be used to help store essentials but we need to get the word out.” This is a great example of creativity and sensitivity during a difficult time.
Smart businesses will recognize that, if there is a role for them to play in response to calamity, that role often shouldn’t speak directly to their bottom line. In other words, focus your marketing and communication on building community, not profit.
I love the example of grocery stores like Publix, opening their doors early to senior citizens (the most affected group) to ensure they can shop, worry-free, without the crowds present during normal business hours. Or, companies like Slack and Microsoft Teams, which provide tools for digital communication and collaboration, and are perhaps some of the best-positioned companies to “take advantage” of the spread of Coronavirus, are now offering free upgrades or extended free trials to help teams working during the crisis.
Be Mindful of the Message
Right now, it’s important to recognize that all of your communication is happening against the backdrop of a global outbreak and must be carefully measured and considered.
A few questions to ask yourself before entering into the conversation might be:
- Are you putting yourself in the minds of your audience?
- Is it sensitive to their needs, wants, and fears?
- What is your motivation (help or profit)?
- Does your message resonate with the current climate or does it come across as exploitative?
There are a number of times in the life of a business that will be looked at as “breadcrumbs.” Times when the organization came together and made the right decision in the face of difficulty and came out stronger as a result. Now could be one of those times for your business. The companies that come out stronger in this current climate will be the ones that choose community over profit, empathy over opportunity, and service over self.
These choices will undoubtedly affect how you talk about your business and, ultimately, the way your customers and community talk about you for years to come.