In times of crisis, marketing can be a slippery slope. Fear is pervasive and priorities change. Businesses must be sensitive to this shift and use their platforms to educate and instill confidence. If done successfully, this can bolster your brand. If not, it can antagonize your customers. Here’s a look at what to do—and what to avoid—when it comes to brand messaging in uncertain times.
Rework Your Content Calendar
During a major crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, marketers have two choices: pivot quickly and react, or proceed with business as usual. Choose wisely, because the way you handle the onset of a crisis will set the tone for consumer relationships in the coming days.
In times like these, it’s usually best to nix your current marketing plan and shift gears. Ignoring the elephant in the room can feel tone deaf and alienate your audience. Your best bet is to develop messaging that addresses the situation and helps consumers understand what to expect. When there are more questions than answers, people want to feel guided and supported.
Throw out your pre-existing content calendar when a crisis hits and rethink your forthcoming communications plan. The materials you prepared a couple months ago are no longer relevant. At the very least, they’ll fall on deaf ears. At most, they’ll offend your consumers. Organize your team and take these three steps instead:
Acknowledge what’s happening and how it’s affecting your audience
Connect with your audience emotionally by addressing their concerns
Offer solutions that can benefit and/or comfort your consumers
Be delicate with your messaging—you don’t want to seem as though you’re trying to profit from someone’s hardship. For this reason, it’s important to be genuine and focus more on helping people than on selling to them. This means product pushes need to take a backseat to educational content and other valuable resources. In times of crisis, engagement becomes more important than conversion.
How you position your content is just as important as the message you’re sending. Pay close attention to the copy and imagery you choose. An innocuous stock photo can be distasteful if the location or activity pictured is no longer feasible. During the pandemic, for instance, it makes more sense to show images of at-home workouts and outdoor activities than training sessions at the gym. A clothing retailer may opt for pictures of people lounging in activewear instead of wearing heels on a city sidewalk.
Take a Different Approach
During a crisis, the ways people interact with their environment and each other will inevitably shift. It’s important for businesses to be aware of this and find ways to accommodate the new normal. Many have done this well. Examples include stores and restaurants offering curbside pickup and contactless delivery, financial institutions providing deferred payments and low-rate loans, news outlets removing paywalls for coronavirus content and fitness centers offering on-demand training videos.
Be sensitive to your consumers’ changing financial situations. People may feel strapped for cash due to lost jobs, declining income, stock market volatility or the uncertainty of not knowing what comes next. Pushing consumers to spend as usual, particularly on items perceived as nonessential, is a quick way to antagonize them. This can be challenging, depending on your industry, which is why it’s more important to send messages of strength and unity during this time than to promote your products.
There is also such a thing as playing it too safe. Generic marketing messages can fall flat. Businesses that address the crisis and the way people feel are more likely to see success than those offering deep discounts without an accompanying content strategy or acknowledgment of current circumstances.
In a crisis, we all must compromise—businesses and consumers alike—and the best thing you can do is rally around your community. Stay relevant by making your organization a trustworthy, reliable source of information and support. This will help nurture relationships and build loyalty, keeping your business afloat and setting it up for success when the crisis subsides.
Stay One Step Ahead
You may be tempted to scale back your campaigns or pause them altogether, especially if your revenue stream has been compromised. While it may seem difficult to justify, ongoing marketing is essential to the long-term success of your business. Don’t stop your marketing efforts during a crisis, just change them. This will keep your business relevant and ensure it can come out the other side.
Even as a crisis unfolds, formulate your plan for what comes next. Develop a blueprint for how to handle business practices and consumer interactions as things begin to normalize. Use your marketing materials—and every channel available—to broadcast this plan. Effective communication is crucial to driving clarity while things are in flux. To mitigate confusion, convey all aspects of your approach, including your timeline and any nuances or implications. Which locations are open? Have your hours changed? What services are available? The more questions you proactively answer, the more confidence you’ll instill.
The stakes are high during a crisis, but the more you can relate to your audience on a personal level, the more painlessly your business will weather the storm. Your consumers will likely look to your company website and social media channels for the latest signals from your brand and its response to crisis. Contact ZAG for help developing a marketing plan that will benefit both you and your customers during this trying time.