When disaster hits, brand communications are suddenly thrown into the spotlight. Just think about your inbox, overflowing with emails from dog groomers, garden centres and that dodgy music streaming website you signed up to when you were sixteen, all explaining just how “deeply concerned” they are by the coronavirus situation.
It may seem like overkill - but the thing about a global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic is that it can’t be ignored. Bars and restaurants are closing, whole companies are moving to remote working and nobody is buying flights.
This isn’t life as we know it. And you’re going to have to update your brand communications to match.
Step One - Choose Your Fighter
If you’re a small or medium-sized business, put one person in charge of approving all external communications, at least at the beginning. This person is your communications czar. Depending on the structure of your company, this might be your communications manager, your brand manager, your marketing manager or your copywriter.
By having one person who approves every piece of external communication before it goes out, you’ll increase the chances of keeping your messaging on track.
Step Two - Take Back Control
Speaking of “approving” messaging, you’re going to have to take some autonomy away from your employees for a few days or weeks while everyone adapts to the new tone.
This is because different people within your company will perceive global crises in different ways.
Take the current COVID-19 crises as an example. I’m sure you know people in your own social circles who have reacted to the news in wildly different ways. The people in your company are behaving and thinking the same way too.
Some folks were stockpiling toilet paper two weeks ago. Some might believe that they’re invincible because they’re young, so they’re still frequenting bars. Some are concerned about elderly relatives. Others are simply upset that their holiday has been cancelled. And everyone is thinking about their own job security.
Because of these differing perspectives, communications can rapidly become too anxious, too complacent or too upbeat if left unchecked.
Step Three - Put The Brakes On
Pause all of your currently running ads, unschedule those newsletters and re-think your content calendar.
I’m not saying that you should chuck it all away, but each piece of content needs to be carefully reviewed before you send it out into the world.
That blog post on must-see sights in Venice? It’s going to have to wait a few months. Captions about “getting up close and personal”? Ditto. Facebook posts about adorable kittens? Go ahead. But can you re-frame it in a relevant way? “13 Fluffy Kittens to Take Your Mind Off Your Neighbour’s DIY Noises as you Work From Home”.
Step Four - Find Your Feet
Now, this is the tricky part.
How you approach this will depend entirely on what your company does, where you are, and what’s happening around you.
It’s not going to be set in stone. Unlike your existing tone-of-voice and communication guidelines, it’s going to be fluid, and it’s going to need to continuously reviewed, possibly on a daily basis as new stories hit the news cycle and the crisis develops.
As with any piece of content, you have to bear your target audience in mind. Ask yourself:
- How are they feeling at this time?
- How is the crisis affecting their purchasing power?
- Where in the world are they located?
- How are they currently being affected, either directly or indirectly?
- Will that boomerang of your colleagues jokingly shaking hands still be funny in a month’s time? Probably not.
If you sell fish to restaurants in Amsterdam, you’re going to need a completely different approach to a company that sells online upskilling courses, and you’ll need to adapt your tone and your messaging to match.
Step Five - Gently Does It
See this as a great opportunity to see how flexible your team can be, and how quickly they can turn around new, sensitive and relevant content at the drop of a hat (and over video conferencing).
Now is not the time for the hard sell.
Now is the time to adapt your brand communications to lift your clients up, show your potential customers how they can rely on you and demonstrate that they can rely on you when they need to. No matter what you’re selling.
And, for the love of God, don’t make a video of you and your teammates singing ‘Imagine’.