Caitlin Robertson, SEO Account Manager at Reprise, IPG Mediabrands’ end-to-end digital first agency, explains that messaging needs to acknowledge the situation we’re in – and how to keep it in line with your brand.

While we’ve all been affected by coronavirus on a personal level, the outbreak leaves businesses and industries that have no direct correlation with the virus in a difficult position with their communications. Should they carry on with a BAU content strategy, or shift their approach to acknowledge COVID-19?

If they do decide to address it, how do companies avoid a massive PR disaster if they say the wrong thing?

Let’s be clear; consumers are not expecting the majority of brands to have all of the answers – this is the role of the likes of the NHS or BBC News. In fact, search engines are taking action to ensure content from authoritative sources is prioritised – with Google limiting availability of keyword data related to coronavirus and YouTube banning all conspiracy theory videos linking coronavirus with 5G.

A recent study by the Mail/Metro Media shows that 70% of people surveyed agree that ‘brands can play an important role at this time’, providing they ‘keep things relevant and celebrate our heroes’. So how do you do this in a way that aligns with your brand positioning and values?

Ensure you have content on your website which covers the basics

Consumers’ lives are turbulent enough during this period, so people want to know where they stand with brands. If you have a consumer-facing business, for example a takeaway or food delivery service, ensure you have updated your website and Google My Business profiles with reduced opening hours, customer service information and new delivery times.

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From a brand reputation point of view, honesty is the best policy, as consumers would prefer straightforward communication, even if you can’t meet your usual SLAs. Remember, consistency is key, so service levels and changes stated on your website, social media, in-store and Google My Business profiles must be aligned.

Pay attention to the type of content your audience is asking for

Feedback from customers always provides invaluable insight into consumer needs, so analyse the questions being asked on social media channels, live chat and other customer service outlets.

Collate common themes and ensure you are addressing these in your communications, whether that be your newsletters, social media channels or owned website content.

The FAQ section of your website is also a really good way of showing that you are reacting to your audience’s concerns and responding to them in an appropriate manner.

Maintain a dialogue with your customers but don’t bombard them

Since the outbreak, Statista has reported that 77% of those surveyed in the UK are using TV, and 58% are using news websites to keep them updated with developments.

This indicates that people are looking for reputable sources when finding information about COVID-19 (which is definitely a good thing).

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Therefore, you don’t need to keep your audience updated with the latest developments, as they are not looking to brands to have all of the answers on how this situation is progressing.

A weekly newsletter or content hub updated every three days, or a specific social media time of update, will work well with your audience.

Don’t try to oversell your product in your communications

According to figures from IMRG, figures for retail are currently a mixed bag, with electrical item sales increasing 42.4% YoY, while clothing has dropped 26.7%.

If your business sits in the latter category, this data indicates that your transactions and revenue are likely to be on the decline or potentially showing a YoY decrease.

While big discounts may be needed to stay afloat, it’s important not to affiliate this with coronavirus in your communications as it may come across as insensitive at best and profiting from a deadly situation at worst.

Use your platform for good (if you can)

Exercise and fitness brands like Psycle and The Body Coach have done a great job of being reactive to social distancing measures by using their Instagram stories and YouTube channels to provide free online fitness classes.

Major food outlets have also done their bit, with LEON converting their outlets into pantries where local businesses can sell produce and Pret-a- Manger offering 50% off coffee to NHS staff.

If your company has any links to charities or are able to offer NHS discounts, it’s a great way of showing your customers how you are doing your bit to support society.

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Don’t be rigid with your content calendar

Show that you’ve adapted to the new normal. As a retail brand, you may have had a solid content plan in place for the summer travel season; for example, curating swimwear collections, evening holiday outfits, what to wear to the airport, etc. Unfortunately, the non-essential travel ban means that this type of content is no longer relevant.

Instead, this is a good opportunity to show consumers that you are attuned to these sudden changes and have adapted to their needs, with edits such as:

  • Comfy Outfits for working from home
  • What to wear on a video conference call
  • Easy cocktails for Zoom happy hour
  • Coronavirus does not need to be the elephant in the room in your communications – nor do you need to adapt your content strategy to be centred around it.

Simply giving your audience the information they are asking for, keeping them up to date with COVID-19 business changes relating to your business and using your platform for positive means, such as amplifying charities and NHS initiatives, strikes the right balance between audience relevancy and brand authenticity.

It is very important to remember that a lifetime relationship with your consumers trumps a period of slow sales and how brands have behaved during this difficult period will mark their legacy.