When our collective worlds came to a grinding halt mid-March 2020, many companies were forced to quickly scramble and adapt to a vastly different working environment, consumer environment, and B2B environments. With the pandemic, some organizations simply moved their workforce home while maintaining their original course of business. On the other end of the spectrum, some businesses, such as those on the proverbial “main street,” were forced to shutter overnight for a yet to be determined length of time. Regardless of the nature of your business, whether you provide a service to the community or are a B2B company, our common experience is a world that has completely disrupted business-life as we know it.
We asked many of you to share your questions regarding how to communicate within the “new normal.” Most certainly your communication strategies need a reboot. As PR professionals, we are adjusting our strategies as well. As many of you share the same questions with regards to communications strategy in this new environment, we’ve answered a few below.
Q: What are the best ways of reaching people now? Has that changed since COVID-19?
A: This may be the one easy answer to all questions about communications during a pandemic. The best way to reach your audience during coronavirus times is the same way you reached them in normal times. People haven’t changed the way they consume media, they still look to their social channels, e-newsletters, and regular media sources for information. The one thing that probably has changed is the rate at which we all are consuming media. For most of us, this rate of consumption has increased significantly. As a business, it is imperative to take advantage of your captive audience and keep your communications consistent. At a minimum, maintain your level of communication from pre-COVID times. For some business sectors, the pandemic may be a time to increase communication.
Q: How are other organizations successfully communicating with their audience during quarantine? What are some ideas for unique approaches to marketing and selling to customers/prospects who are not buying at this time?
A: This answer to this question certainly depends on what you are marketing. The pandemic has hit certain individuals and industries much harder than others and it is important to be cognizant of how the pandemic may have affected your constituents and their ability to spend.
We are each in our own pandemic “bubbles.” For some of us, the virus has caused a change of pace, a different way of life, and much more time at home. For others of us, the pandemic is a real crisis and has greatly affected our finances.
Understanding your clients is the first way to understand how to market to them. If you know your consumer well, say you are a restaurant supply company, then you know your restaurant owners are some of the hardest hit by the current situation. But if you sell shoes, then your customer base is much more broad and nebulous. A good first step might be a consumer survey. Ask them what they need, what their pressure points are, are they suffering or is boredom their biggest complaint? Be a good listener first, ask questions, then you’ll know how to direct the tone of your communications. In some cases, you might learn of a consumer need that you hadn’t thought of before.
If your existing customers are feeling financial pressure and really aren’t able to make purchases, think of ways to remain engaged with them or provide value without cost. For example, a lawn service company may not be getting many calls at the moment as everyone is home and certainly has plenty of time to mow their own lawns. The lawn service company can remain engaged with their audience by providing lawn care tips, advice on fertilizing, watering, and weeding. In addition, the company can offer coupons and incentives for when folks are ready to sign up for services again, perhaps something along the lines of “refer a friend and earn a free mow.” Maintaining engagement and providing value are great marketing tips for times when customers and prospects have slowed their spending.
Finally, take a moment to brainstorm whether or not you may have the opportunity to market and sell to new potential audiences. True, coronavirus has really hurt certain businesses and thus affected spending ability. But this dramatic shift in the way we go about our daily lives has also created new opportunities. Are there new audiences who may need your service, or a variation thereof, that you can support?
Q: How do you engage an audience (clients, donors, etc), as well as the media when everything is focused and geared towards the pandemic?
A: The best way to engage with your existing audience is to be honest and forthcoming. We are all managing a drastically different way of life and it is OK to be real with your audience – in fact, it’s what they expect. Share what a “day-in-the-life” during the stay-at-home order means for your organization. Keep your audience updated on what you are doing as an organization today, and what you are planning for the future. We’re all at home in our sweatpants with animals and kiddos photo-bombing our Zoom calls, and that is OK to share. The shared experience helps people feel connected to you, so don’t be afraid to talk candidly about how the pandemic is affecting your business and life.
Talking to the media is a totally different can of worms. For the most part, the media is 100% focused on coronavirus and related coverage. But in addition to the doom and gloom, they are still looking for hopeful and positive stories. Did your company do something to support the community? Are you doing anything new or innovative with regard to what you do or how you do it? Are you finding creative ways to engage with your audience? These types of stories are receiving coverage, too. In almost all cases there is still some sort of tie-in to coronavirus, but you don’t necessarily have to be a medical supply company to make the news. Nearly every business has had to evolve in some way due to the pandemic, so now is a good time to talk with specific beat reporters for your industry about how your business is evolving.
We hope these answers provide useful advice for communicating during the pandemic. Be sure to reach out if you need support or help with brainstorming how to apply these ideas to your industry. We really are all in this together, and we wish you all the best for the road ahead. Stay well!
Rhiannon Hendrickson is the founder and CEO of Orapin Marketing + Public Relations, which helps purpose-driven businesses increase awareness and attract clients and partners. She has worked with organizations of all sizes across myriad sectors to develop memorable and effective communications programs that generate awareness, engagement, and, ultimately, support for those that are making a meaningful impact.