Managing Brand Communication During Covid-19

Grad Conn

March 12, 20204 min read

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Your brand is your lifeblood, the promise to your customers. It’s safe to say that every marketer recognizes the value of their brand, and of brand communication.

During a crisis, brand communication becomes even more important—so important that it is, quite possibly, a matter of life and death. Since the recent COVID-19 outbreak, the world now finds itself in just such a crisis.

The impact of COVID-19 is so widespread that it’s difficult to imagine an organization or industry that will escape its impact. Certain industries (travel, hospitality) are particularly hard hit. But any organization that depends on a supply chain or face-to-face interactions will feel the brunt of the crisis. Let’s face it, unless you’re Netflix or Purell you’re experiencing some level of business anxiety (not to mention health anxiety). These are challenging times, indeed.

Sprinklr found that there were more than 19 million mentions across social media, blogs, and news sites related to COVID-19 in only the past 24 hours around the world.

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It’s clear that coronavirus is the first global pandemic that is unfolding on social media with unprecedented volumes of conversations happening every second.

Global social media usage rates have grown by about 50 percent since 2014 when the Ebola epidemic was happening worldwide. And recent major news stories – including climate change, sporting and political events – have not had the same global impact as coronavirus on individuals, businesses and governments. For context, mentions of climate change were under 200,000 on March 11th and mentions of Trump were about 4 million on March 11th.

In the best of times, managing your brand is difficult enough. During a crisis it becomes significantly more challenging, and significantly more important. As we work collectively to minimize the impact of COVID-19, all brand owners have a responsibility to use their brand voice for the greater good. The question is, how best to approach this?

At Sprinklr, we frequently talk about how providing great customer experiences requires you to listen, learn, and love. During a crisis, I believe this approach is imperative. Here’s what it could look like:

1. Listen

A wise person (Epictetus) once said that we have two ears, and one mouth, and should use them proportionately. I trust you’re always listening to your customers, partners, and employees. But during a crisis this becomes paramount. A couple of decades ago, gathering real-time feedback was difficult and expensive. Today, modern channels and social media give us instant insight into the concerns, fears, and desires of our constituents so there’s no excuse for not paying attention. People are using modern channels to talk about your brand—and some of those conversations are specific to the current crisis. We absolutely must be listening to those around us.

2. Learn

Listening is a start, but listening without action is just, well, listening. The next step is to take what you’ve heard and use the insights to create a response plan. I wish I could provide more guidance here, but the plan will be different for every organization and every industry. If you’ve listened well (see step 1), the appropriate steps are probably obvious (though not necessarily easy). If you need some inspiration this blog post from Twitter is full of examples of how technology, travel, and hospitality companies are listening and responding to their customers and employees during these trying times. It’s also a great example of using data to formulate an appropriate crisis response.

3. Love

In other words, put experiences into place that show you truly care about your customers and employees. The experiences will come out of what you’ve heard and learned, and could range from a straightforward communication strategy, to a significant shift in your overall business operations. But the bottom line is that you must create experiences that demonstrate to your employees and customers that you hear them and appreciate the challenges caused by this crisis. Then, coming full circle, use modern channels to keep the lines of communication going.

It’s difficult to forecast the precise impact of a crisis like COVID-19, but by working together to listen to, learn about, and love their customers, brands can play a central role in helping to flatten the curve.

Yet for every brand that’s responding to the crisis, I’ve noticed dozens more who seem to be ignoring it altogether. This tendency to stick their collective heads in the sand and wait for it to blow over is understandable but, ultimately, counterproductive—both to the brand and to society as a whole. John F. Kennedy once said that the “…costs and risks to a program of action… are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”

These are times that call for discomfort.

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