To help you do that, let's look at nine pointers to help you tweak your marketing and communication strategy during this crisis.
1. Keep Yourself Safe Informed & Indoors
Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the WHO website and through your national and local public health authority.
2. Stay In touch With Your Customers
For businesses everywhere it is time to gameplan to address the long-term implications of the novel coronavirus, and that is most certainly true for B2B companies where digital commerce channels will be critical moving forward.
3. Assemble Your Crisis Management Team
While it's impossible to anticipate when a crisis will hit your business, you can ensure to take the right measures so that you can swiftly manage it when it occurs. That means you need to have a crisis management team in place that will be responsible for the communication that goes out in public. The team should ideally consist of a few executive members and in-house PR or marketing people. It helps to work with a PR agency in case the in-house personnel doesn't have this kind of experience.
You should also have in-house spokespersons in case you have to interact with media or publications. Also, conducting training sessions for spokespersons ensures that they can appropriately answer any queries that might be asked.
4. Protect Your People
During the early outbreak, it's difficult to communicate the correct information because new data and events might make the present practices obsolete. Also, the scare might create room for misinformation. Therefore, it's mandatory to protect your employees. This can be done in the following ways:
- Make commute optional, if possible. Many tech companies have adopted the route of remote working. To conduct meetings, they largely rely on communication apps like Slack or Skype and Zoom for video conferencing.
- If you are a brand where you have to interact with consumers such as retail or hospitality, reduce the daily working hours. For instance, many luxury malls in China reduced their operating hours after the Coronavirus started to spread.
- Create a wiki page where employees can find essential information regarding the crisis, updated work policies during the crisis, and so on. It's highly likely that since conflicting information and rumors would be doing the rounds during such periods, an official wiki becomes a trusted resource for employees to get the information they need.
5. Evaluate Various Possibilities and Create Communication Plans
As an organization, you also need to communicate with your stakeholders, such as investors, suppliers, and vendors.
Assess and evaluate various possibilities that may happen due to the crisis (COVID-19 in the present scenario), and how they may impact the organization and its stakeholders. Develop holding statements or response modules for every possible situation so that you can communicate with your stakeholders on-time.
Holding statements should cover the crisis/scenario and the steps your brand is taking to tackle/manage the situation. It should be empathetic, action-oriented, and should steer away from speculations and unverified updates.
6. Pick the Right Communication Channels
You need to choose the right communication channels to deliver information. Similar to an internal wiki, you can dedicate a webpage on your website to post updates regarding the crisis and how you plan to manage it. Let your stakeholders know if someone from your organization is infected with COVID-19 and what precautions you're taking to prevent it from spreading.
The crisis management team should connect with media houses and publications to address any potential rumors. Along with your official website, emphasize on social media and email newsletters to consistently communicate information. Up your social listening game and proactively respond and reach out to customers to reply to their queries, complaints, and seek feedback. Ask them what they need and want, be open to online shopping and home deliveries, now more than ever.
7. Develop Marketing Contingency Plans
It's not enough to simply have a well-defined communication policy. In times of a crisis, the market is volatile, consumer behavior is unexpected, and the business, in general, will face sudden fluctuations. Therefore, evaluate the current market scenario and predict short and long-term market behavior and plan your marketing activities accordingly. For example, Puma has taken a serious hit in China due to COVID-19 and had to close more than 50% of its stores, but they are working under the assumption that the situation will normalize in the short term, and the company will be able to reach its annual revenue goals.
Simultaneously, you may also need to identify and work with other vendors and suppliers to balance your supply chain. This would also mean the reallocation of certain budgets to other essential marketing activities in the short run.
8. Find Alternatives to Deliver on Your Promises
The primary industries that are adversely impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak are events, retail, hospitality, and SMBs.
To prevent the spread of the virus, many event organizers have decided to either cancel or reschedule their events. Another alternative to this is to make it a virtual event. There are a plethora of applications available that can help you run the event digitally. You can optimize this by introducing online discussion tools before and after the event to enable the participants to continue the dialogue, for example, by informing and engaging users on Twitter or LinkedIn. Retailers can even double up on e-commerce efforts, but be mindful when communicating about it.
Marketing leaders must be in tune with the issues their business and industry face. The key to managing through a crisis is being nimble and prepared. Take, for example, the rolling list of major conferences canceled due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, from the Adobe Summit to SXSW. Savvy marketers and would-be exhibitors aren't sitting back – they are proactively looking for ways to salvage the investments they've made in these conferences, like shifting their events or meetings to digital, video-based formats. This requires the right infrastructure to host, manage and share live, and archived video content.
Learn More: Connecting with Customers in 2020
9. Prevent the Spread of Misinformation
There's naturally fear among people when a crisis strikes, which paves the way for misinformation. In the early stages of the crisis, news, many times, may not be most reliable due to the lack of facts available. Therefore, organizations should evaluate their news sources and news itself before communicating with customers and making decisions.
A great example of this is how Google is cracking down on unreliable sources. Google has been working to curb phishing attempts, conspiracy theories, malware, and misinformation and removing YouTube videos and ads.
There's still not enough clarity on COVID-19, and organizations need to be on their toes to ensure that employees, stakeholders, and customers are adequately informed. Even though the intensity of the crisis may lessen in the future, organizations should revisit how they addressed the crisis management challenge and improve and update the strategy to remain prepared.