Simple Guidelines for Advertisers in the Age of Coronavirus
The stream of COVID-19 email communications continues to spill over the transom with messaging that is marginally helpful in many cases, and often unnecessarily complicated, confusing, and unhelpful.
Below are five simple areas to focus on in your messaging to consumers during this most difficult time of social distancing and self-isolation. Keep them in mind and test your communications and messaging against them. They will hold you in good stead with your end consumer, whether they are a business buyer, industrial buyer, or everyday consumer.
Do your best not to stray from these simple principles, and consumers will remember you for being thoughtful and direct with them during one of the most confusing times of their lives.
Brevity — be brief. In times of crisis, people seek clarity and precision in the messages they receive. Buyers are in a state of some fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. Fortunately, most people have kept their cool: we have not seen widespread panic. However, the stress level is only going to grow as we move through April-May 2020. What people need most is clear and relevant messaging from you. They have neither the time nor interest in reading voluminous messages from companies with whom they may only have a glancing relationship. If you are sharing information about your hours, accessibility, call centers, ordering information, shipping times, or things that may interrupt the consumer's experience with your company, these are relevant. In all other cases, be pithy; a few key sentences will do.
Empathy — this period of quarantine and self-isolation is extraordinary. Most "non-essential" work has ceased. Convey genuine concern for your customers, because they are being held prisoners in their own homes. People are able to venture out for food and medicine, but they are not permitted to visit loved ones, attend events, or be present for life’s special moments. Fathers can't be with their wives during childbirth; visiting elderly relatives in nursing homes is prohibited; scheduling or attending a funeral is restricted. Personally, a family member cannot be admitted to the nation’s leading cancer center because it is not is not accepting new patients. These are real life and death disruptions. Your product or service is simply not at the top of your consumer's priority list.
Selflessness — set aside the need to make a sale. Sales will return (eventually) but right now your customer is in distress. Demonstrate compassion by extending your brand, product, or service in a way that puts the customer first. Sponsorships and branded efforts are fine, but don't let them get in the way of the greater goal. Perhaps you won't make a profit, or may even lose money. Think instead of the total cost vs. overall impact: it may not be measurable. If you have extended yourself selflessly to your customer, with no expectation of a reward, that still builds value. Ask yourself what is it that you are doing to help your fellow citizen. Are you part of the larger need to step outside of your business to help others in distress?
Consistency — Be consistent in the message you deliver in your communications to the customer across all assets (web site, email, addressable media, or broadcast). Do not vary the core elements of your messaging from day to day, and get it right the first time. Be on point with not only what you are saying, but also doing, as well as the tonality of your communications. For now, set aside brand, product, or performance messaging; this will eventually return. Traditional messaging is secondary to the more important aspect of shared sacrifice and being supportive of your consumer in a time of stress and uncertainty.
Reassurance — We look to government leaders for guidance and reassurance that things will get better, and that the shared sacrifice will be worth it. Consumers also need leadership from the companies that they do business with. This includes the brands they use and trust. A reassuring message from one brand may not (alone) be able to penetrate the swirl of confusing messages that consumers are receiving. However, brands collectively can break through and make the consuming public less anxious and agitated. We are, in every respect other than bullets, in a wartime footing against an invisible enemy. Stop thinking in the traditional way, and focus on the greater good, and on what matters to all citizens during a time of national (and global) crisis.
These five simple rules will hold you in good stead with your consumer. As David Ogilvy once quipped (and I take liberal license): the consumer is not an idiot — the consumer is your wife, husband, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, neighbor, and friend. Your job as a marketer is to use your vast skills and resources to make your end buyer understand that you are doing whatever you can to make their lives easier during this difficult time. They won't forget it.