Marketing In The Time of COVID-19: a Communications Path Forward for Businesses

By Jacques Hart
CEO of Roar Media

The coronavirus’s challenges have left companies searching for answers about how, or even if they want to communicate. Many find their pre-pandemic messaging doesn’t speak to the new normal with some responding by going dark. But the right messaging now is critical to your company enduring and coming out ahead when things improve. Finding the right voice for that new messaging requires your company to reflect and pivot. Here’s what you need to know.

Media consumption has increased by 60% since the pandemic. Consumers want more content from the brands they trust and they want to know that your company is still a part of the conversation during difficult times.

But more importantly from a business marketing point of view is that folks sheltering at home constitute a ready, captive audience for your company to engage with. If you’ve built a trusted name, now is not the time to abandon it by being silent. As the Harvard Business Review’s John Quelch noted, companies that continue messaging during tough times, “when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at a lower cost than during good economic times.”

Choose your crisis management team, your starting players to get you through this rough patch. Assess what your competitors are doing and prepare to move from day-to-day reacting by having a 30, 60, and 90-day plan. Begin selecting the best combination of channels for your messaging based on your industry, determining whether social media, email, PR, or a combination will be most effective for your business. Then consider running promotions and special offers to re-engage your customer or client base.

Remember to be communicating news and updates on an ongoing basis, especially if your product/service is pivoting to meet current pandemic demands.  Then make sure your business model and methods deliver on your brand promises.

Think digital-first.

As you activate your own proprietary channels – website, social media channels, email, and PR channels – your messaging should tilt toward useful tips and ideas that improve lives and inspire hope.

Pivot from promotional, to educative and useful messaging, focusing on three content buckets:  Supportive, uplifting messaging that allows your audience to feel better;  business continuity messaging that speaks to how your brand is delivering products and services in new ways; and messaging highlighting social responsibility.

The best new messaging strikes the right tone. To find it, focus on trust, empathy, and transparency. Your offering should be genuine, meaningful, and sprinkled with hope.

If you’ve created a brand, you have a voice. Keep it. If humor and an offbeat perspective is part of your brand, maintain that tone whenever appropriate. While your messaging shall be tailored to the moment, your company identity will remain constant, reinforcing brand values.

Benchmark and improve on your competitor’s content. Develop editorial calendars for social, email, website, and paid media, while boosting organic content when necessary by throwing a few dollars behind only the very best content.

Listen to what your audience is craving by tracking engagement and investing in social listening. Then reassess and finetune your messaging evaluating your results.

If executive leadership doesn’t support shifting to content marketing and lead-generation, focus on backburner projects and future prepping. Think about your messaging for after the crisis and work towards optimizing your digital platform by maybe reworking its design or email templates or improving your database of contacts and content or maybe updating your style guide.

Better days are ahead. In 2019, consumer spending drove 68% of economic activity (U.S. GDP). We need marketers to drive commerce now to get your company to the other side of this crisis, without losing touch of its audience.  At a minimum, don’t give up your current footing. History is filled with stories of brands that capitalized on a downturn and leapfrogged their competitors in market share. Remember, marketers have an opportunity and responsibility to give consumers a reason to hope for the new tomorrow on the horizon.