Changing your communications approach during a crisis

Content calendars, creative briefs and advertising budgets are being ripped apart during the coronavirus pandemic as brands rethink their content and marketing messages to make sure it is appropriate. While the temptation would be to pull all advertising and not respond to your audience, this is the critical time when your audience needs to hear from you to protect the image and long-term future of the company.

For some companies, such as travel, hospitality and the automotive industry, any content to encourage people to buy is not going to work at the moment. That is the last thing on people’s minds, as much as we’d love the distraction of planning a break when all of this is over. 

Therefore brands have to adapt and think how they can stay relevant with their audience by providing content that demonstrates leadership, expertise and trust to maintain that relationship with their customers. It is vital to keep top of mind with your customers. If you go dark for three months, it is going to be hard to re-engage with customers if you haven’t been talking to each other. Remember what it is like when you see that friend you haven’t seen in a long time, there are lots of questions and plenty of awkward silences as you re-establish your boundaries.

Over the past few weeks, there has been plenty of content from brands about how they are safe guarding their employees, supply chain and services. But as we move into the next phase of communicating with your audience, brands need to drastically change the type and frequency of content to continue to tell the story to their audience.

What is communicated out now will impact how customers view you in the future.

Social communications should focus on the steps you are doing to support your employees and customers. It is an opportunity to be proud of things you are doing and how you are safeguarding everyone within the organisation. 

The recent Edelman Trust barometer showed that 71% of people will lose trust in brands and companies that place profits before people in a crisis. That’s a real incentive to get your content strategy right.

Here’s some tactics that you can use to help you reprioritise your content strategy during this unprecedented time.

  • Longer videos

Remember when the sweet spot for video content was 30 seconds or less? Well forget about that now. We all have more time on our hands and are prepared to watch a lot more content. Facebook has revealed that people are spending more time on its platforms as people are getting around the social distancing by connecting with more people online. People want to know what is going on and are willing to invest the time in reading what brands are doing during COVID-19 lockdown

  • Unpolished videos

With the lockdown restrictions, it is impossible to film videos in studios or locations, but that shouldn’t stop brands from producing videos on their phones or online conferencing software and from wherever they are based. By producing less slick and polished videos, you are giving an insight into how your employees interact, and giving the brand a personality. 

  • More community-led content

As a Community Manager, I always said the easiest way to generate content was to listen to your audience and see what they were saying. And now, more than ever, it is important to look at what your community is saying/feeling/talking about. Take the lead from your community and produce content that is relevant to their current situation. Talk to your community and find out what they are thinking. Untap the insights and feedback within the community. Ask your community what they want to see. Now is a great opportunity to ask for photos/videos/tips/stories on how the brand can help them.

  • Nostalgia

There is only so much information we can absorb at the moment and when there is a lot of negative news around, a video that can make you laugh or smile will be the light relief that people will remember and share with others. It’s not about making light of the situation, but thinking about content that is light-hearted. Have you got any bloopers  or outtakes from previous adverts? Could you show the challenges of working with children or animals when working from home? Think about your brand values and what your brand stands for. Could you reuse or reproduce content that demonstrates what life was like before the pandemic and what it will be like after? For example what car/plane/hotel look liked in the 80s, compared with to the 2020s. Or produce content to take advantage of Throwback Tuesdays and Thursdays. People want to feel hopeful and be reminded that life was normal and it will be again.

  • Stop selling 

Now is not the time for some brands to be selling or be seen to profit from the pandemic. For some brands, particularly those selling high ticket items, it doesn’t make commercial sense. But that shouldn’t stop you from producing content, you need to move to brand awareness and being helpful. Produce content that helps and informs the audience to bring back some normality into their lives. Find out what content works well with your audience and interests people. This will have a knock-on effect  – when this is over, and they’re ready to spend again, you’ll be at the forefront of their minds.

  • Highlight your employees

There is no need to hire the professionals to star in your latest advert, when you can use your own staff. There are a number of adverts from brands, such as Barclays and KLM, where they have filmed their employees in their own home environment telling their customers about keeping safe during the pandemic. If customers see that the Chief Marketing Officer is working from home, exactly as they are, then this gives them something to relate to. They know we are all in this together. Seeing employees in their own surroundings helps to break down the monolithic corporate image of the company and creates a human and authentic personality.

No matter what brand you are, all your customers have been affected in one way or another.

For some brands it is more extreme than others. How you interact with your audience now is crucial to ensure the longevity of your relationship with your customers. 

And don’t forget to listen to what people are saying to you when they respond to your content.  They will have individual issues, queries and questions and it is vital that you respond accordingly. Brands who are able to respond in a timely manner and in a way that is open and human will deepen their relationship with appreciative customers, who will continue to support your brand.

The brands that will succeed are those that can create genuine human connections with their customers. They identify with them. Robots have their place, but it takes humans to create relationships. An outstanding relationship lies in the brands’ ability to make their consumers feel like they are listening, and they care about customers’ values, concerns and issues, especially during this unpredictable time.

No one has the magic formula to what works for your specific brand. Everyone is different. Which is why it is important to use your data and find out what your audience is talking about on your social channels. This data will give you the insight you need to know what to say to your audience and when. 

The key to maintaining a relationship with your customers during a global pandemic crisis is to be authentic and genuine in all communications, look at what your community and data is telling you and constantly changing and adapting your content approach to remain relevant.

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