This is one of the hardest times most marketeers will face in their careers. However, done right, it could also be one of the most rewarding. After all, behind every crisis lies ample opportunity – and Covid-19 is a crisis like none we’ve faced before.
The outbreak of this vicious virus has caused the devastation that would be expected from a pandemic, but it has also produced a lot of unforeseen outcomes. It has seen communities come together and support each other in beautiful ways; something that your company or organisation can be a valuable part of. It has also seen people spending much more time on screens as the world enters lockdown, changing the digital landscape and the way we forge digital connections.
There will be no ‘winners’ from this dreadful pandemic, but I believe that companies can come out of it stronger, using a combination of clever crisis management, heartfelt empathy and a deep understanding of the ‘new normal’ that people are facing. Here’s what to do.
Protect and inform your team
Your team should be the most important thing to you right now. They are the people who will get you through these turbulent times. Protect them as much as you possibly can, allowing them to work from home or providing the necessary safety equipment when remote working is not possible.
Look to the British retailer Marks & Spencer for inspiration, which has kept its food stores open but has introduced a number of new measures including the majority of reshelving taking place outside of shopping hours, a limited number of customers allowed in the store at once, installing sneeze guards at tills, and all workers being given allotted time to wash their hands every half an hour. The company is also offering full pay for workers in self-isolation and has set up a fund to help those whose families may be facing financial hardship.
This level of financial support is a luxury that many smaller businesses simply do not have. However, go as far as you can to look after your team. One of the scariest things about the Covid-19 outbreak has been the uncertainty that hangs in the air, so be sure to also provide regular updates with exactly what the company is doing to manage the crisis and how this will affect employees. Create an internal document or page that people can come to for Coronavirus company policies and information, and make sure to keep it regularly updated.
Create an external communication plan that fits your brand
Now it’s time to focus on your customers and potential new clients. As people spend an increasing amount of time stuck inside, the global population turns to the internet for the majority of their entertainment, meaning that with a solid communication strategy you can boost your exposure and gain the attention of potential new clients.
Effective crisis management in a time like this requires knowing who your brand is and using your brand personality and tone of voice to its full strength. What are you known for? Are you a caregiver? An innovator? An entertainer? An authority figure?
You will definitely need to adapt your content to be sensitive to the current situation, but don’t lose your brand in the process. Instead, use it to get people through this difficult time, whether that’s by providing trusted information, providing some much-needed comic relief, or anything in between. For example, healthy drink manufacturer Innocent Smoothies is known for its eccentric, humorous voice, and it has continued posting out its trademark funny messages while showing an understanding of what its customers are going through. However you choose to proceed, ensure that all staff are aware of your new communication plan and are happy with how they can observe it.
A word of warning: Whatever role you take, be very careful to avoid spreading misinformation - crises are unfortunately a perfect breeding ground for fake news, and this is something you definitely don’t want to be associated with.
Be creative and find new ways to deliver on your promises
A situation like the Covid-19 outbreaks severely disrupts businesses, and so a large part of crisis management for companies is innovation. How can you continue to offer your services, albeit in a different way than you have ever before?
If you are an events agency, is there any way you can turn conferences or gigs into a virtual experience, allowing your clients to continue to learn and enjoy their hobbies while following social distancing best practices? If you are a homeware retailer, can you double up on your digital presence and continue delivering from your e-commerce site, recognising that many people are stuck at home with little to do apart from re-decorating.
Even if your offering is less than or different to your usual, your customers will remember that you went the extra mile to provide for them in the darkest hour. People are increasingly grateful towards brands that continue delivering on their promises as much as they can, obviously while ensuring that they are keeping their staff safe.
Look at luxury chocolatier Hotel Chocolat, which has streamlined its chocolate offering to ensure it can keep delivering to its customers over Easter and beyond, pinning a message about this to the top of its website so that any Coronavirus concerns are instantly addressed. It is also offering 50% off to all NHS staff and emergency workers, showing its appreciation for these key workers. These are the kinds of actions that will be remembered after this crisis is over, and will help to create loyal customers for life.
Do your bit to help everyone get through this
Following on from offering discounts to key workers, every business should be looking for ways to do their bit. This could be manufacturers using their factory facilities to create urgently needed items, tech businesses making app subscriptions free to help people improve their mental health or stay entertained during lockdown, or charitable corporate donations.
For example, luxury conglomerate LVMH is using its perfume production line to produce hand sanitiser, which will be delivered free of charge to French health authorities. Designer clothing brand Ralph Lauren has announced it is committing $10 million to help teams, partners and communities impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and has also begun production of 250,000 masks and isolation gowns. Try to act for your community wherever possible, as the only way we can get through a crisis like this is together, all pulling in the same direction.
At my digital marketing agency, Relevance, we have introduced a number of crisis management measures to benefit our clients and fellow marketeers, such as offering clients extra time from specialists at no extra cost, anticipating that this is a time when they will need us more than ever, and offering free workshops at our Relevance Digital Academy, available over Zoom to anyone who wants to give their digital marketing knowledge a boost.
Whatever business you are in, there will be something you can do to help your community - you just have to find what it is and make sure you share it, so that everyone is aware of the help you are offering and how to access it.
There is no doubt that the Coronavirus presents a unique challenge for marketeers, offering a million and one opportunities to find your company on a list of ‘marketing fails’. But with a careful considered crisis management strategy and a drive to go above-and-beyond where possible, businesses can ensure they survive and possibly even come out stronger from these terrible times. Stay safe and focused.
Rumble Romagnoli is chief executive of Relevance