The business world has changed a lot since COVID-19 swept around the globe. Aside from enforcing social distancing and other health measures, businesses have had to change how they do things to minimize the impact of the pandemic on their customers and workforce.
Business communications, especially PR and marketing, also needed to adapt to customers’ shifting priorities. With much of the world grappling with uncertainty, your brand needs to present relevant solutions that address people’s needs.
1. Ensure consistent messaging
Businesses and consumers have had to deal with a lot of uncertainty since COVID-19. Lockdowns forced many companies to close for extended periods of time. That’s impacted the way we work and engage with our customers.
Reactive government policies at the local, state, and national levels mean we’re probably in for months of further uncertainty. That’s not good for businesses or consumers.
As a business, your goal should be to try to convey a consistent message during this time. If possible, figure out what elements of your business will remain unaffected by COVID. Focus your marketing and messaging efforts around this.
Providing a coherent message to your customers ensures they know what to expect from your business regardless of new variants that might arise, the vaccination roll-out, or anything else. If you can do this, you make it easier for your customers to stay loyal to your business.
That approach, focusing on one core marketing message, is critical to the success of your business. We’re basing our marketing at Jarvis around this one clear messaging theme.
2. Review your crisis management plan
COVID-19 has become a highly politicized issue. Politicized issues are a minefield for businesses because you can find yourself in the middle of a PR story you never wanted to be a part of.
Consider the example of Airbnb in Australia, for instance.
An Airbnb host rejected a couple from staying at their home because they had a COVID-19 injection. The couple then complained to Airbnb about the story and probably shared their experience on social media.
Airbnb did not have a clear policy in place for this issue.
The issue gained traction in the media. Airbnb found itself in the middle of an unfolding story. They were forced to make a reactive policy decision to an entirely predictable series of events.
You should review your crisis management plan. Identify where you might encounter problems, and set out a policy. Take the time now to consider your options. You are more likely to make a mistake when the pressure is on, and you’re forced to make reactive decisions to an unfolding situation.
3. Avoid trying to please everyone
As I just highlighted, COVID-19 is a politicized issue. If you run a business, you will have customers who are for or against vaccines. You will probably have customers who are for or against wearing masks, etc.
Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone. Accept this fact and make some difficult decisions.
If you have a brick and mortar store, or COVID-19 impacts your business operations, you will need to set out a policy that you think is right. That policy needs to be communicated to your staff. You also need to decide on the best way to share this information with your customers.
4. Explain your policies to staff
Creating a set of guidelines and agreed managerial policies is normally quite straightforward. You’ll have one meeting, or maybe several meetings. You’ll agree on some outcomes. Someone will create meeting notes, and maybe they’ll be typed up into a report.
Communicating your policies to staff and making sure they are trained in responding to situations or what they should say in certain situations is a lot harder. Yet, you must get this right. Failing to train staff properly is the fastest way to annoy customers and get yourself into the middle of an unwanted press story.
The larger the business, the more chance you’ll have a problem.
While you can’t eliminate the risk of an issue, you can mitigate risks. For example, proper staff training, like half a day spent in a workshop, will help staff understand your policies.
5. Shy away from virtue signaling in your message
Finally, your business should be careful of claiming the moral high ground when it comes to social issues. Standing for a principle is fine, but that doesn’t mean that customers standing for different principles are automatically wrong either.
Taking care to understand both sides of a particular argument would always be a sensible policy. Standing for principles is a fine thing for a company, but doing it for the wrong reasons is very dangerous.
Doing so is one of the quickest ways of chasing your once loyal customer straight into the arms of your competitors who do understand empathetic brand messaging. Today’s customers can see through insincere advocacies and are willing to drop brands that don’t sound authentic.
The pandemic has created much fuss and turmoil, so the challenge is to realign your business with its customer’s current and future wants and needs. Once you’ve done your market research, you should be able to come up with a brand messaging strategy that works for the new normal.
Your strategy should consider how COVID-19 impacts your business. You need to have a crisis PR strategy in place, and you must identify a consistent messaging strategy you can share with your audience.