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Stacey Cohen: Six communication essentials during the coronavirus crisis

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As the coronavirus crisis unfolds at dizzying speeds, many businesses and nonprofits feel highly anxious and unprepared to tackle both internal and external communications. So, how should you communicate with clients and other stakeholders during this challenging moment? Here are some best practices for brand communications in difficult times.

Inside Out. Your internal workforce comes first in communication matters. Let your employees know that their safety and health is the highest priority, and clearly and consistently communicate internal policies related to working remotely, travel and other relevant matters.

Since many of us are working from home, it’s a must to ramp up the number of “virtual” meetings to stay connected with staff, many of whom are feeling socially isolated. For some, internal audiences may also include board members or volunteers. Equally important is maintaining a consistent drumbeat of communications with clients, customers and other stakeholders. This is not the time to completely stop marketing, but it is a time to be highly mindful of messaging and tone.

Build Mind Share, Not Market Share. Right now, focus on building brand equity instead of aggressive revenue-building activities. Do not prioritize profit or publicity during this time. Avoid “fire sale” marketing (e.g. discounts, sales) which may come off as insensitive. Instead, take time to understand and address your clients’ current concerns and needs. Communicate with empathy and clarity. Get inside the mindset of your target audience, ask “What’s in it for them?” and determine how you can be of value to them. If you do, I assure you that your brand will reap the benefits and you will find deeper customer engagement and connection after this crisis has passed.

Develop Content That’s Relevant, Concise and Consistent. Before hitting that “post” button, take a step back and ensure your email or post is relevant and relatable. Does it pass the Who Cares Test? Whether you develop articles, blog posts or videos, make certain the tone is empathetic, engaging and educational. Stick to your brand’s area of expertise; no need to share health advice – unless, of course, that’s what you do. With so much clutter out there, get to the point fast and make your communications concise.

I just received a great email from my close friend and business colleague Linda Fears, who is president at Goodfoodrx, a certified nutritionist and former editor in chief of Family Circle magazine. Her email is a great example of relevant and timely content: “What to Eat to Beat Stress” was the topic, and it shared anti-anxiety foods for this stress-eating time. Linda also started a Facebook group: goodfoodrx Healthy Eating Under Quarantine. It’s official: I’m trading in my recent Cannoli-a-day habit for almonds, which Linda says is a high-magnesium food that reduces stress hormones and relaxes muscles.

It’s all About Relationships. At the end of the day, people often make decisions based on their trusted relationship with individuals, not a business entity. In fact, think of your network as your net worth. It’s more important than ever to give before you get, to provide support and to be a strong support for your clients, staff and others. Relationships are built on trust, so make certain that you deliver on your promises. Be human and make sure to modify your tone of voice as the crisis evolves – people will remember how you made them feel long after this period.

Consider all touchpoints. The array of marketing channels is seemingly endless: websites, blogs, social media, print collateral, webinars, podcasts, email blasts. But consistent messaging and visuals that reinforce your brand are non-negotiable on any and all. When using these channels during the crisis, remember to keep all content fact-based; to know when to take the conversation to private channels; to deliver timely replies; and to monitor and manage in real-time.

Take events online. Events have been upended by coronavirus fears, and it is highly doubtful that live events will be back until the fall – if at all. In the case of an event cancellation, maintain connections with exhibitors, donors, reporters and sponsors. And consider taking it online: Ways of holding digital events include audio/video platforms such as Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Zoom.

Take your audience into consideration when deciding on format (e.g. webinars vs. live streaming) and determine if you want an interactive component (which I highly suggest). I recently caught up with David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc – an HR consulting firm – who just launched a series of free webinars/briefings on coronavirus. The number of attendees was 1,000, which exceeded David’s expectations. Still, he urges online event organizers to expect obstacles: “Be prepared for tech failures and underperformance as Zoom and other platforms are stressed,” he says. For Q & A formats, consider collecting questions in advance to help with the preparation and flow.  

In closing: The big takeaway from all this can fit on a Post-It note: Add value, not clutter. Wishing all good health and minimal business interruption.   

Stacey Cohen is the president and CEO of Co-Communications in White Plains. You can follow her on Twitter @staceyrosscohen.

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