The ongoing pandemic has forced most businesses to shut down or go to crisis mode. However, brands can still engage with customers through communications. Keeping in mind certain concerns of stakeholders, brands can adopt creative ways to communicate with the people who value them the most.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to a unique, yet mainly undesirable situation for most companies. With demand falling for some industries and surging for some others, brands are finding themselves in a difficult position. Should they remain silent as their businesses shut down or should they do something to engage with customers and other stakeholders?
The answer is the second. Brands often become integrated into the life of their customers. Think about Apple- some fans will wait in lines for days in Apple stores to buy the next iPhone model. Such integration shows brands cannot but engage with stakeholders even if they cannot deliver value through their current operations.
Communicating effectively with stakeholders is the best way for brands for engagement. Having said this, brands should be careful about what they communicate. In the UK, KFC was about to receive complaints from several health organizations if it had not pulled out an ad featuring its famous tagline “Finger-Lickin’ Good” before. This sensitivity goes on telling that brands need to maintain a fine line in what to communicate and what not.
CRISIS COMMUNICATION BASICS
In this current time of the pandemic, all companies are undoubtedly in crisis mode. At moments of crisis, communication is the key. And the communication must be with every stakeholder of the company- starting from employees and customers to partners and shareholders. Thus, brands must take a holistic approach when communicating.
To ensure such a holistic approach, brands can create a task force team consisting of members from different departments of the company. Such an inclusive task force ensures that the concerns of every stakeholder will be dealt with and in a consistent manner.
For communication with every stakeholder during this crisis, the communication must be built on four pillars- honesty, transparency, accountability, and consistency. This means: telling the truth, not hiding the facts, not blaming someone else, and doing what you’re saying, while also saying what you’re doing.
What each brand will say to its stakeholders is different for every one of them. However, some issues must be addressed during the communication message- the company’s priority for employee and customer safety, preventative measures are undertaken, and resources for customers to keep themselves updated about the brand’s response.
BLENDING SELF AND OTHERS INTEREST: HOW BRANDS SHOULD TALK WITH VALUE CHAIN PARTNERS
One important stakeholder for brands, apart from customers, is value chain partners. Most brands rely on partnerships with other brands to deliver value to customers. At this current crisis, every partner is more or less affected. Problems faced by one partner can seriously affect the value chain of any business.
This is what Morning Brew, a US-based daily business email newsletter company was facing. The company’s main source of revenue is the partnership with companies who sponsor the daily newsletters. As companies face decreasing revenue, the management at Morning Brew knew that it would translate to partners canceling partnership deals. And this might mean the media company will not be able to produce content it would have done previously.
So, Morning Brew took a proactive communications approach. It first discussed the uncertainties the company and its partners were facing. It then negotiated to find a middle ground that would be a win-win for both. The company also decided to lower partnership rates to help partners mitigate the situation. All of this was done while the media company constantly reiterated that without its revenue stream from partners, it will not be able to deliver content to its subscribers.
Thus, brands must take an approach that is considerate of their partners. But at the same time, brands must remember the importance of such a partnership for the existence of its operations. Such a communication approach results in the brand sustaining even during the time of crisis.
CASE FOR DOORDASH AND DELTA AIRLINES: COMMUNICATE TO CUSTOMERS TO ADDRESS THEIR CONCERNS
At moments of crisis such as that of the present, customers just do not only want to carry out financial transactions with you. They also want to know what you are doing and what actions you are taking. Especially, if your line of business is in the essential category (foods, pharmacies, and financial institutions), customers will want to know what actions you have taken for customers and employees alike. Keeping the concerns of customers is thus an important element for communicating with them.
This is what DoorDash, the US-based online food delivery brand has done. As demand for food delivery grows, DoorDash knows both customers and employees will be at stake of being affected by the virus. Thus, its CEO Tony Xu emailed to customers assuring them that delivery workers have hand gloves and sanitizers to ensure cleanliness. He also said DoorDash would roll out a “no-contact delivery” option so Dashers can drop food off without customers needing to interact with them.
Although not in the essential line of business, another brand that has been successfully dealing with the concerns of customers is Delta Airlines. New government regulations and the risk of transmission during travel have compelled many customers to cancel travel plans. The US airline giant anticipated such and thus communicated to customers ways the latter can cancel or reschedule flights. The company also created a dedicated online news hub about coronavirus to answer common questions and go into more detail on its new policies.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CHANNEL TO COMMUNICATE
Beyond the topic, it is also important to choose channels that will be used to communicate your brand’s message. With the requirement for staying indoors, customers are more likely to be glued on their screens more than ever before. Therefore, email messages and social media updates are effective tools for brands to communicate in this current situation.
CityMD, a healthcare company in New York, has successfully used social media to keep its customers updated on the latest information. Being a health company and that too, located in one of the world’s worst-hit regions, the company has found itself in a unique position to address its customers. And it proved itself worthy of the position. The company constantly posts information on its social media pages on how customers can keep themselves safe during the pandemic.
On the other hand, Lyft, the ride-sharing app rivaling Uber, utilized email messaging to communicate to its users. It emailed all customers to inform them of new policies designed to keep riders safe. The company said it will distribute 200,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies to drivers so cars can be kept germ-free. It also implemented the cleaning of high-contact surfaces on bikes and scooters in its fleet. If a rider or driver tests positive for COVID-19, the company said they will be suspended from Lyft until they are medically cleared.
In addition to social media updates and email messaging, brands can utilize their website to communicate with their customers. Having a separate section dedicated to the latest information on the company’s actions on COVID-19 or an FAQ section dealing with customers’ problems can be effective communication tools. CityMD and Capital One, a US financial service company, updated their companies’ FAQ sections to inform customers about what services can they avail during the crisis.
KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS ENTERTAINED WITH CONTENT, EVEN IF YOUR BUSINESS CANNOT RUN AT THE MOMENT
On the contrary, for non-essential businesses like travel or entertainment companies, operations are stagnant. The increased emphasis on social distancing and home quarantine means these brands, who rely on going outdoors and social gatherings, are in a death trap. But being silent on their part is something they cannot afford. Customers love them and they would love brands more if they remember them at the times of such crisis.
These non-essential companies can thus move to creative marketing efforts to communicate with their customers while the latter are at their homes. One sure-fire way of communicating with customers, who cannot enjoy the brand at the moment, is content marketing. Creating educational, inspiring, and entertaining content at this time when customers are stuck to their homes can brighten up their lives. It is also a way of making your customers know that you are with them. And customers will more likely reciprocate once the pandemic is over.
Consider Tripadvisor – the US travel website giant. As people across the globe are shunning traveling, this company has started creating content. Partnering with travel experts, the company is creating content on how to “Explore the World” by staying at the comfort of the couch. It is sharing these contents with its email subscribers. In this way, the company is engaging with its customers and continuing to be relevant to them.
It is hard to say when the current pandemic situation will end and brands can go on their traditional proven ways of activities. As long as people stay indoors and adopt a few interactions with companies, brands need to find innovative ways to engage with people. Honest, transparent, and consistent communications across stakeholders are the key for brands to keep themselves relevant in the minds of customers. Even brands in the travel business, whose operations are nearly in the brinks of collapse, can revive themselves through effective communication and marketing strategies.
Farhan Uddin Ahmed