In the bestselling book Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author weaves a rich tapestry of eccentric and memorable characters as they build a life during cholera pandemic. Like the characters in Love in The Time of Cholera, we’re living through the crazy time of the Coronavirus - social distancing, furloughs, layoffs, an impending global recession and a lot of deaths. When you look at it that way, communication seems like its way down on the list of things businesses should be concerned about. People who work in communication and geek out over marketing and branding sometimes believe that brands are the center of the lives of consumers (read: human beings). But to the average person, brands are a relatively small part of a daily routine and may seem even smaller at a time to marketing teams when companies have bigger fish to fry like no short-term revenue and layoffs. Having said that, this time of uncertainty is when communication is needed the most. A survey done by the American Association of Advertising Agencies on March 18,2020 shows that 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust during these uncertain times.
Much in the way that Gabriela Marquez’s writing connected with me a decade ago, it’s important for brands to be memorable to their audience by making an authentic, emotional connection at this time. Before you click this window closed, hear me out. Here are three factors that I think make this true. 1. Sudden and Drastic Change The highly contagious nature of the coronavirus resulted in governments around the world bringing face-to-face commerce more or less to a halt. The result feels like someone shaking up a giant snow globe with everyone and everything in it. From one week to the next, things were not the same - personal freedoms, where you work, how you work, how you interact with others, family routines, if you still had a job - the very fabric of our lives changed. 2. Unknowns and Anxiety We build our lives around structure and routines. Even when all we can expect is the unexpected, there’s usually a tacit acknowledgement of the realm of possibility. The pandemic blew that up. Medical experts are still learning about the virus and determining ways to treat it. Meanwhile, regular people have to adjust their behaviour as findings are revealed. We are also dealing with the economic fallout, insane numbers of infected and dead people, and fake news about the virus.
3. Increased Time on Digital Platforms As a result of either having to work from home or having no work to do, people are spending more time on digital platforms to stay connected to others, find out the latest news or to distract themselves from what is happening. More often than not, brands are already communicating on at least one digital platform that people are spending more time on.
Keep it Real in a Crisis
Understanding the factors that create the need to stay in communication with consumers is only the first step. Forty percent of consumers wanted to hear how brands are responding to the coronavirus outbreak, such as cleaning procedures for essential services that are still operating. And 56% are happy to hear how brands are helping out communities in response to the pandemic. One of my favourite examples is from coconut water brand Vita Coco. Having seen a triple-digit sales increase during the outbreak, Vita Coco is giving $1million of its pandemic profits to charity. There are also examples of smaller brands in the United States that are not able to provide financial resources but are putting equipment like vehicles to use in support of the needs of medical professionals and first responders. The takeaway is that we want to find comfort in the idea that we are in this together. We want the reassurance that everything possible is being done for the greater good, and that we will outlast this tough time. Knowing what to say and how to say it can impact how strongly the brand emerges from the crisis. Demonstrate Core Values and Beliefs Companies typically like to espouse core values that reflect their belief system. Now is the time to prove it. If your organization says it cares about customers, how is it demonstrated during the crisis? Is your organization highlighting how employees are being kept safer if they are still coming in to work? If corporate social responsibility is a priority for the company, how is your brand demonstrating it in an authentic way? Be Empathetic The anxiety and pain that we are experiencing collectively is real. Show empathy in your communication while keeping it on brand. This means using a tone and language that speaks to your audience like a human. If the company is offering specials during this time take a greater effort to not sound opportunistic and out of touch. Share Factual Information There’s a lot of information going around about the Coronavirus that isn’t true and can be deadly. I’ve seen Whatsapp messages saying that balancing out the alkalinity in your blood is a preventative measure. (Side note: To quote the book I’m currently reading: “Wow, no thank you.” Please don’t send me these messages, I don’t live a life that is unburdened by facts. Bye.) Use your platforms to amplify factual information from an official local government resource and other respected organizations like the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Be Ready to Communicate Effectively Ultimately, communication works best when it is cohesive. Maintaining cohesiveness starts with a strategy to determine how to craft the right message and build a connection to drive sales and engagement. This connection becomes even more important in a crisis situation. Although it may not be used to drive sales, it is the way to maintain and build a stronger connection with your audience and create a path to loyalty and long-term returns.