Brands need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by communicating authentic and empathetic messaging

This post was published on April 6, 2020 based on information available at the time

In the midst of a health crisis that has resulted in significant economic and societal upheaval, it can be hard for marketers and advertisers to strike a delicate balance between brand awareness, corporate social responsibility, and information delivery.

In speaking with business and agency partners in the past few weeks, by far the most-uttered phrase is: “We don’t want to look like we’re being opportunistic.” In other words, nobody wants to appear to be trying to profit off of COVID-19.

That probably means getting out of the direct-sales-pitch game and figuring out what place your brand has in the lives of your consumers right now. It means aligning your brand with the right values and communicating them in a way that is authentic and empathetic.

It’s impossible to satisfy every critic in today’s overactive social landscape, but appropriate creative is certainly more important than ever and requires careful thought and oversight.

Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right to you and your team, adjust accordingly. How can you communicate with existing and potential customers effectively and sensitively with content marketing? Is your organization making a contribution, financial or otherwise, to COVID-related efforts?

Don’t let audiences forget about you

Before the pandemic changed everything, I used to say to clients: “You need to be in market all the time, jumping up and down to get noticed.” I’m a big believer in always-on content-marketing campaigns that are adjusted based on business imperatives.

This has to be done strategically, of course, not just loudly. The basic premise is still relevant. If you have the financial means to stay in market, you may not want to jump up and down, but you do want to stay in the public eye, reassure your customers that you’re still operating, and communicate positive brand initiatives.

When all of this has blown over, businesses of all stripes are going to dive back in at the same time. Brands that kept a regular presence will have an advantage over those that bowed out.

The right message at the right time

Companies and careers are being disrupted on a mass scale. Some industries have been effectively shut down.

The Globe and Mail has recorded huge site-traffic increases since the pandemic began, as our audience searches for all the guidance it can get.

In looking at data on the types of stories readers have been consuming over the past several weeks, a few threads rise to the top, providing a sense of what Canadians want to know:

  1. COVID-19 news and political updates.
  2. Service journalism, or news you can use, such as how to deal with your investment portfolio, how to exercise at home, or how to stop yourself from touching your face.
  3. Employment issues, such as layoffs, government initiatives, and legal advice.

The old adage of delivering the right message at the right time is more important than ever. Any marketing or advertising spend needs to come out of an authentic desire to steer Canada through the crisis. Consider using these topics as a guide.

As a brand, what can your in-house experts meaningfully contribute to the conversations? Is your business in a position to help existing and potential customers get through the crisis?

If you’re struggling with messaging, you can’t go wrong by promoting your support for front-line workers, medical researchers and staff in essential-services roles.

Time is your friend

There’s no way to predict when the pandemic will start to slow down, let alone end, but getting the post-COVID creative process started now, following typical workbacks, will better position your brand when those times arrive.

As you approach the launch date, there’s always the opportunity to pause and postpone if the need arises. Keeping the content evergreen will make that decision easier.

What others have said

Looking to delve further into this topic? Here’s some recommended reading:

General Mills boosts marketing spending, pushes for appropriate messages during COVID-19

Just 8% of consumers think brands should stop advertising due to the coronavirus outbreak

What The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Means For Marketers

On a personal note

This was a column about business. The COVID-19 crisis is disrupting our physical and mental health. I am hoping for a quick resolution so we can start to put all aspects of our lives back together.

Sean Stanleigh is head of Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national media organization.

The Globe is a daily destination for audiences looking for credible information on COVID-19, among many other topics.

Published by Sean Stanleigh

Head of Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail

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