Part Two of our Three Part Series on COVID-19 Communication Dos and Don’ts
Trish Thomas, CEO, TEEM
Let’s continue our conversation on etiquette in corporate communications during a global pandemic. Another question I’ve gotten a lot in the past few weeks is, “How do we deal with our competing goals of maintaining revenue and being socially sensitive?”
How do you keep sales and marketing moving without seeming insensitive?
Don’t ignore the crisis.
You can’t be an ostrich in times of crisis. The primary reason many companies’ marketing messages come off as tone-deaf during the coronavirus outbreak, is that they seem to be sailing along on autopilot without addressing our worldwide reality.
For the most part, I believe consumers do not fault a company for trying to keep revenue flowing and stay alive through this COVID-19 pandemic. They do fault companies for being self-absorbed, insensitive, and money-grubbing during a national emergency.
Be sure you acknowledge what is going on and update marketing execution to address the coronavirus in tandem with your offers. Cancel pre-scheduled posts, ads, and emails that preceded the pandemic and are insensitive in light of the current landscape.
Exercise emotional intelligence.
If you choose to continue actively promoting your products and services during the COVID-19 outbreak, here are some practical tips:
- Adapt your messaging to explain why you are continuing to promote your products and services, and how your survival – or ability to support customers, staff and the community – is positively impacted by maintaining sales.
- Adapt your sales processes to protect your employees and customers, and follow all government and healthcare recommendations. If you are keeping doors open or continuing to work, share how you are keeping employees and buyers safe and how you are modifying “business as usual” to fit the current operating environment.
- If your products or services are essential or are increasing in demand during the pandemic, promote them through the lens of mitigating the crisis and making people’s lives better in a difficult time. And please don’t get greedy and raise prices.
- Don’t pretend discretionary purchases or luxuries are essential! People aren’t stupid. They know that many of the products and services being hawked right now don’t benefit their lives, and are solely self-serving for the seller. Frame your pitch appropriately or don’t pitch at all.
Demonstrate tangible concern for customers and your community.
Times are hard. But they are never too hard to help and support each other. Don’t neglect finding ways to give back. Not only will this help your ecosystem stay strong and boost your reputation, it will also give you solid footing to share what you are doing within your network.
The scope of giving back doesn’t have to be huge, but it does have to be authentic and genuinely intended to help others. Buy or prepare meals for healthcare workers and first responders. Offer discounts to good customers on products and services. Defer interest, offer special payment terms, or volunteer to cover shipping. Even something as simple as being a reliable conduit to accurate information and local resources can be a true service to your community.
Think of them – not you. Provide relief where you can, and look for places to offer empathy rather than capitalize on a selling opportunity. Do the right thing first, and then figure out if there is an appropriate way to gain some marketing or public relations lift from your good deeds.
Consumers can smell a fraud, but honest efforts to help will be seen and appreciated.
And, perhaps most crucial, don’t whine.
You really shouldn’t complain publicly – especially if you are better off than most of the recipients of your sales and marketing messages. Discussing our coronavirus reality…sharing your action plan…making legitimate offers of help and support… these are all okay. But avoid “woe is me.”
Celebrities are seeing strong backlash against their self-serving and narcissistic social media posts right now. A few choice examples:
- The ridiculous. Moaning about sheltering at home with your kids from your sprawling beachfront compound complete with pool and tennis courts is ridiculous to the average family crammed into a small apartment without money for rent and necessities.
- The fake. Pretending to share ‘real life moments’ from your posh chef’s kitchen when you’ve obviously had a makeup artist and hair stylist working on you for hours is absurd.
- The ire-inducing. Faking empathy or benefits just for an opportunity to weave in promos for your latest bootie, protein shake, or makeup line will earn the ire of millions.
- The inappropriate. Asking your followers who are infinitely worse off than you to donate to the coronavirus cause on your behalf is dreadfully inappropriate.
And celebrities aren’t the only culprits. Companies can fall into the same trap, ignoring true desperation around them and focusing only on their own problems, to the detriment of their brand authority and customer loyalty.
As an alternative to the examples above:
- Why not make your own donation on behalf of all your friends and followers, earning respect and inspiring them to help in their own small way?
- Why not take a break from constant influencer placements and be real with customers and partners who do business with you?
- Why not use your public platform to share stories from the street about everyday Americans who are hurting instead of hyping your own brand?
And it doesn’t end with customers.
Small businesses may feel the same way about global enterprises that fans feel about a griping celebrity on Instagram. If you just spent a billion dollars on stock buybacks in the past year, and are now cash poor during the coronavirus crunch, you’re not going to get much sympathy from smaller vendors and partners who struggle to meet payroll under the best of circumstances.
Remember that everything is relative. Dark times for your company may look like sunny days to others. And whatever messaging you take live, at least have the decency to express gratitude for your blessings.
Part Three of this Coronavirus Communication series will be coming up soon.