31st of December 2019 11:59pm, do you remember? You were probably about to start the hopeful countdown to welcome the New Year. The new decade. Little did you know, a global pandemic was about to overtake us.
We are all in the same boat. “I’ll go to the gym everyday”, “I’ll walk to work more often”, “This is the year I’ll travel to French Polynesia” …we all had to put our New Year’s resolutions on hold to face this crisis together. Brands included. That new marketing plan you worked on for the whole of 2019? It’s probably not relevant anymore.
Companies find themselves lost, confused and unsure about what to do; especially when it comes to communicating with people. I just want to make one thing clear: nobody has the perfect recipe. These are unprecedented times, there’s no best practice or golden rules that have proven to be successful. And to those who say otherwise, I ask, “when was the last time you were allowed to leave the house once a day for an hour?” Probably when you were 12 and grounded.
That said, we – as communications specialists – thought we might be able to bring a little bit of clarity and direction as we all try to make sense of this situation. Instead of telling you what to do, we thought we would suggest what not to do, based on what we’ve seen so far.
In the last few weeks, we’ve observed an increase in brand communications. Particularly via email. A company who I once gave my email to is eager to remind me they are my best friend. Hey guys, thanks! I appreciate that you’re here for me at this difficult time but stop trying to sell.
While some organisations nimbly pivot their services to genuinely try and help (for example ESOMAR has built a LinkedIn support network amongst insights professionals), some others are just hiding sales techniques behind solidarity messages. You either care or you don’t. You either go all the way and offer something valuable, or don’t bother. For example, if you’ve completed an interesting piece of research or content, allow people to read it for free without giving their details.
Don’t tiptoe around the situation, don’t be afraid of the truth
Of course, don’t drown in negativity. Brands should encourage positivity and give a lighter escape to every day’s bad news. Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at System1, recently said to Marketing Week that “People want brands to be generous, modest, self-aware, have a sense of humour and demonstrate spontaneity.” It is now more important that you replace any insincere or disingenuous messaging with honest and frank communications.
Don’t pontificate on what you don’t know about
Don’t think that just because you have a platform you can dispense advice on matters that don’t fall under your remit. Companies shouldn’t change who they are to fit with the situation. As marketing guru Mark Ritson says,“The first lesson of the coronavirus crisis that now engulfs us is to shut the fuck up and let the experts guide us.” Marketers, keep doing your job, keep building your brand, keep talking to people, keep your company’s mission alive.
Although marketers still need to do their job and keep the communication going this is the time to build your brand’s reputation and to think long-term. When Covid-19 is defeated people will remember the companies that offered something valuable to them. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Use creativity to differentiate your brand for the best. Use honesty to earn people’s trust. Use empathy and solidarity to become impactful in the long run.
To sum all of this up, here’s our very honest list of “Please don’ts…”
2. Pretend that you care
3. Overly promote your services (especially don’t ask for money!)
4. Tiptoe around the situation
5. Stop your marketing completely
6. Cut off your smaller suppliers and partners immediately
7. Change who you are
8. Force-fit your services with Covid-19
9. Forget we’re all people
10. Think you’re the be all and end all
11. Leave the house (ultimately this is the most important thing!)
As we all collectively and globally stumble in the dark, our human mistakes will be forgiven. The world right now is divided between those who are genuinely trying and those who are trying to get away with it. Hopefully these tips will help you reflect on what category you fall under.