In times of crisis, we look to government officials, scientists, and industry leaders to provide clarity. Since COVID-19 has emerged, the world is experiencing overwhelming uncertainty. Creating a solid corporate crisis communication strategy is key to keeping your business top of mind.
It can be difficult to determine the best way to communicate with consumers during a global pandemic. Many brands fear their marketing efforts will offend their audience by taking advantage of a global crisis for financial gain.
Nearly 25% of brands have stopped their paid marketing efforts completely for the first half of the year. The dead silence coming from commercial entities has resulted in more confusion and uncertainty in the market.
A study from Edelman Global Communications surveyed 12,000 consumers from 12 countries to understand how consumers are receiving brand marketing and what they expect to see from brands during COVID-19.
What Consumers Expect from Your Crisis Communication Strategy
The results of the Edelman survey tell us that consumers do want to hear from you, but only if your company is saying the right thing. Consumers expect your crisis communication strategy to be helpful and understanding during times of turmoil.
They want to be consoled and assured by corporate leaders and brands they trust. People are also interested in knowing what brands are doing to weather the pandemic.
Twenty-first-century marketing positions brands as partners and allies to consumers. Many people feel emotionally connected to brands. They are concerned about how brands are adapting to the pandemic in day-to-day operations.
Consumers want to hear how employees are being affected and what this means for the products and services you provide. More importantly, consumers want to know if your products and services are available and how to get them.
How to Position your Crisis Communication Strategy as Helpful to Consumers
Your crisis communication strategy should position your brand as an ally to consumers. Avoid marketing that elicits anxiety around the pandemic without including a helpful resolution. Be uplifting and future-forward when discussing your pandemic tactics. Become a voice of reason in the chaos by providing consistent, factual information about COVID-19.
One example of a helpful brand initiative is KFC’s CEO, David Gibbs. He funneled his salary into employee bonuses and a COVID-19 Relief Fund. KFC has donated over $400,000 to provide meals for children who are away from school.
The Ford Motor Company has also focused its efforts on COVID-19 relief. Putting competition aside, Ford has teamed up with GE Healthcare and 3M to produce high-demand healthcare equipment like respirators.
Both companies have shifted their focus away from sales to support their existing customers in this time of need. Many companies are now offering free and low-priced products and services to assist consumers – especially those directly impacted by the pandemic like healthcare workers and the unemployed.
Airbnb has offered free and subsidized housing for medical workers and first responders during the pandemic. They are also partnering with relief funds like the American Red Cross.
Dr. Sholes is donating over $1 million in insoles to medical professionals while Crocs has donated 10,000 pairs of shoes a day to front line healthcare workers. Companies like this have set the standard for what consumers expect from brands during a crisis.
In fact, the study conducted by Edelman suggests that 89% of consumers want to see brands offering free or discounted products and services to those directly affected by the pandemic.
The same percentage of consumers surveyed want to see companies producing goods that directly help with pandemic relief. 54% of consumers are only considering new products if the company has addressed COVID-19-related concerns.
Use Appropriate Storytelling
Many brands tackled the virus headfirst by announcing their plan for addressing the coronavirus. Some were outraged when the Adidas CEO sent out an email stating stores would remain open in order to pay employee salaries. Customers perceived this as Adidas neglecting front line employees while encouraging people to leave their homes.
Customers expect your crisis communication strategy to abide by COVID-19 best practices. They want to see that corporations are working to slow the spread of the virus.
Consumers are only interested in hearing brand stories that are helpful to the pandemic at hand. Marketing efforts that seem to benefit the brand more than the consumer are not being received well. On the other hand, marketing efforts that directly correlate to COVID-19 relief are being applauded.
Provide Factual Evidence
Consumers are becoming exponentially skeptical of fake news and incorrect reporting around the coronavirus. With misinformation spreading wildly, companies must carefully fact-check information before presenting it to the public. Check with a trusted organization such as the World Health Organization for COVID-19 updates to inform your company’s crisis communication strategy.
63% of consumers surveyed believed their country wouldn’t make it without brands critically assisting virus relief. 55% of consumers surveyed said they felt brands were responding more quickly to the outbreak than government entities. Finally, 86% of consumers felt that brands were a necessary buffer to help those missed by the federal response.
It’s fair to say consumers are placing a high value on brands and their ability to aid in this trying time. Make sure the information you provide is factual to solidify the trust of consumers.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, brands are expected to communicate and operate with trust and ethics in mind. If companies and organizations can illustrate their good intentions through their crisis communication strategy, consumers will see them as allies in the future.
The opinion of consumers is obvious. They expect brands to step up and assist not only their operations but the world. Brands have the opportunity to elicit trust and loyalty from consumers, but only if they respond with fact-driven, compassionate resolutions to the issue at hand.