You don't have to be an expert economist to realize that COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is going to impact the economy on some level, and while we don't know the exact level of severity quite yet, these changes will inevitably trickle down to small businesses and local organizations. Perhaps you're already feeling the shift in the traffic of your brick and mortar location, pressure to postpone or cancel events, or changes in e-commerce; if you haven't felt these changes yet, they are likely on the horizon. The key to rising above the noise that is burying the message of your organization and overshadowing your product or service right now is found in creating a crisis communication plan, communicating clearly and preemptively, and offering value, clarity, and support in a time of uncertainty.
Get Infront of the Virus by Delivering Messaging Early
Handling crisis communications clearly and efficiently can mean the difference between losing a customer and creating a loyal brand advocate.
How do you "get out in front of" public concern for the Coronavirus?
Address the COVID-19 issue, as well as your audience's concerns early.
Based on conversations with clients, many are trapped in a dilemma of putting out a statement to get ahead of the issue, and remaining silent on it as to not add to public fear. From what I've experienced over the course of my marketing career, I have seen the high-value customers and clients place on transparency and precaution. If you've remained largely silent on the Coronavirus recently, I would highly recommend putting out a statement that addresses major concerns.
If you ship physical products, ensure your customers of the precautions you are taking to make sure they are created and/or stored in a sterile environment, as well as preparing them for any delays in shipping or production that may arise due to closures.
If you have a brick and mortar location, clearly layout the precautions you are taking to minimize the risk of spread in your location, as well as precautions for employees.
While your immediate statement covers concerns your audience already has, and the issues you are currently facing, how do you prepare for weeks to come?
Create a crisis communications plan.
Today, while on a call with a client, they made the difficult decision to postpone a large event. This decision wasn't made lightly- the venue had been booked for months, catering was set, sponsors were in place, and tickets and tables had already been sold. This event was scheduled for next week, and while the choice to postpone was a big one, the next step is just as, if not more important: communications. How we choose to communicate the change to the people who have already saved the date and purchased the tickets can make the difference between them coming to our next event (and supporting the organization beyond event sales in the future) and disenfranchising them to the brand altogether.
While we obviously had to put together messaging for the postponement of the event, we also knew that having messaging already prepared for other situations and responding to questions was essential. Carefully and thoughtfully, create a series of responses to possible scenarios that reflect your brand, high-quality customer service, and communicate information clearly, in a way that answers your most frequently asked questions.
A few examples:
How would you respond if a staff member were to contract the virus?
What would you say (and do) if a customer you had interacted with was suspected to be COVID-19 positive?
Offer Relevant Value
If your business isn't directly involved in the healthcare, news, or essential household items categories, it's likely that your content isn't getting seen or at the least passed over by the majority of your audience. This can be a killer for revenue as business owners and organizations depend on marketing and communications to drive sales and qualified leads.
If no one can see or will pay attention to your product, how are you going to sell it? If your events have to be canceled, how are you going to raise money or drive revenue? If everyone is so occupied with Coronavirus-centered content, how are you going to capture their attention again?
The answer: Offer RELEVANT value.
Even if you absolutely crush social media and email communications on the regular, you are going to have to adapt and adjust your strategy and content dramatically to serve your community during the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
This is hugely important, and we're going to dive right into how to come up with and produce relevant value in your content:
1. Learn what your audience is asking, concerned about, and searching for RIGHT NOW. You can do this two ways, and I recommend doing both.
Ask your community directly what they are concerned about during this time. You could do this through polls on Instagram stories, through an email survey, through Facebook groups, and so many other methods.
Utilize Google Analytics and learn what the most popular search terms are right now in your area, for your demographic. The key in this is to not give them what you think they need, but what they're actually asking for.
2. Ask yourself, "Based on what my audience is asking and concerned with, how can my business offer value and make their lives better?" The best way I can instruct you on how to do this with your specific audience is to give you several examples, with the hope they will spark ideas on how you can answer those specific needs with your business.
Let's say you sell handmade home decor on Etsy. What does that have to do with Coronavirus? Well if your audience is concerned about the hand sanitizer shortage, you could teach them how to make their own at home. With the likelihood that many will be staying in more than usual, you could do a few craft tutorials to occupy their time as they stay home.
Do you own a juice bar that is already seeing a sharp decrease in brick and mortar traffic? If your audience is concerned with staying well, you could put out a list of ingredients that fortify the immune system, and even a recipe for an at-home immuno-shot. Sure, your in-store traffic will probably still be impacted, but your traffic online will increase and when the fear subsides, you've successfully kept their attention and they will be dying for the juice from your juice bar.
The impact the COVID-19 outbreak will have on our businesses and the economy as a whole is still unknown, but as business owners, our responsibility to adjust to the market and not the other way around. This article, rather than concern, will hopefully give you some practical steps to take and put in place to keep your business and brand strong during a period of economic uncertainty.
Have questions? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.