How should companies be changing their messaging strategies during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Should companies change their messaging and strategies during this Covid-19 crisis?  The answer to these questions are going to be different for every business.    

The recent Covid-19 global health pandemic has been dominating the news, as well as threatening most industries and businesses large and small. Since the beginning of March, many businesses across the country have been required to temporarily shut their doors, to flatten the curve, if they are not considered an “essential business.” As schools were ordered to close, the Silicon Valley VC firm Sequoia Capital, said the “Coronavirus is the black swan of 2020.” Major tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter started encouraging workers to work remotely from home. Soon after, the rest of the country and business followed suit. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and stay-at-home quarantine mandates have had a devastating financial impact on our economy, with the unemployment rate hitting 14.7 percent and 20.5 million jobs being lost in April. The shutdown has especially hit industries such as travel, film studios, automakers, hospitality, fitness, airlines, restaurants, retail, and live events the hardest. During this 3 & 1/2 month working from home shutdown period, there are some companies that have online business models that are seeing increased demand from this crisis, such as video conferencing apps, ecommerce, entertainment streaming, pharmacies, food delivery, grocery/liquor stores, and social media platforms. 

CNBC recently reported that Mary Meeker of Bond Capital published a 29-page CoronaVirus trends report on how the coronavirus is shaping economic activity, consumer behavior and technology. CNBC reporter Ari Levy noted that “businesses that are doing the best in the current crisis use cloud technologies, sell products that are always needed, can easily be found online, make other businesses more efficient and have a good social media presence.” Even with the Federal government passing a massive 2-Trillion dollar Coronavirus CARES Act stimulus package along with the SBA Paycheck Protection Program, which was meant to encourage companies to keep employees on their payrolls–even if their businesses have shuttered temporarily–is still not enough. Some companies are still faced with making tough choices such as laying off workers and cutting costs to offset the significantly less revenue coming in. 

Consumer demand and behaviors are changing. Even large companies are changing advertising spending. Recently CNBC, reported that Google is cutting its marketing budgets in half, over the next few quarters. The tech publication, The Information, had reported that the unicorn startup Airbnb is planning to halt $800 million in marketing spend. And, last week, Bloomberg stated that Airbnb is laying off 25% of its workforce, in efforts to blunt its cash flow losses due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions. Meanwhile, other companies are shifting their marketing messaging and resources to other channels.  

IAB ad report

(image credit:IAB)

Barrons reported on the media conglomerate, IAC, about their statement in a letter to shareholders that its “digital advertising rates are down by 30%.” According to a report published on March 27th, 2020 by Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), 400 advertising decision makers were surveyed, and it was noted that “in the near term, digital ad spend is down 33% and traditional media is down 39%.” 

While consumers are stuck at home, many brands are looking to partner with influencers. The Times reporter Sapna Maheshwari reported in an article that retailers and influencers are desperate to find the balance between promoting their products while also delivering comforting and relatable messaging of “optimism and self-care and varying levels of references to the grim state of the world.” 

Billboard recently reported that record labels are flocking to digital agencies to help market their music on social media, working with social media influencers to promote songs and artists on different platforms, since live concerts tours have been canceled during this pandemic. You may have heard of the viral hashtag #allinchallenge, started by Fanatics founder Michael Rubin. He’s used the #allinchallege campaign as a way to raise funds to help people who need food during the pandemic. The challenge includes asking famous celebrities, business owners, and athletes to auction off one of their prized possessions or offer an “enter to win sweepstakes” for one lucky contestant to win an in-person experience with them.

 In a Linkedin post, Anne Marie O’Neill posted an article documenting how some large consumer brands were launching marketing campaigns during this time. Campaigns such as “Procter & Gamble’s #DistanceDance collaboration with TikTok queen Charli D’Amelio has 8.7 billion+ views. Coke turned over its social channels to American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club and other charities to increase awareness of the Covid response.”

A recent article published in Entrepreneur by Simonetta lein posted, “whether you’re an individual, entrepreneur or brand, the need of the hour is to reassess, rethink and reinvent your approach. While influencers, billionaires and corporations are joining hands to aid those in need, brands need to sustain business activities and simultaneously make a positive contribution to those around them.” Now, no one knows how long this shelter in place will continue in NYC and other states, and even when the economy starts to reopen up, what that will exactly look like (curb-side pick-up only, etc)? 

So, as some companies are temporarily pivoting their businesses into making masks and other PPE equipment to help fight Covid-19, other businesses are changing their strategy and messaging to support and build trust with their audience. One thing I have noticed is that many companies are building out specific Covid-19 preparedness resource centers to help guide businesses during these difficult times. The big accounting and advisory firms such as PWC, Accenture, KPMG, and BakerTilly have all published dozens of thought leadership articles. Audi car dealerships are changing their messaging and communication processes with their customers. I recently brought car in New Country Audi of Greenwich, CT to get a repair and I noticed that their not only started sending mobile text updates, but they sent me a video from the technician showing my exactly what was the problem was with engine and battery. I was pleasantly surprised at seeing this kind transparent communication (when has car dealer ever shown a video of the repair issue to you?) that it made me confident to authorize them to go ahead with the repair. This was a positive change because of the Covid-19 crisis from a business. 

What should small to medium sized businesses be doing right now as far content and communication strategies? It will depend on the industry and brand strategy. Clearly, this social distancing crisis is accelerating the need for businesses to digitally transform, whether that is ecommerce, delivery services, online learning, telehealth, or having a website. Bloomberg recently reported in an article titled shopify sales surge shows businesses embrace the online reality. In Shopify’s Q1 Earnings Report, the switch to online selling appeared fairly painless for many. The company said “new stores created on our platform grew 62% between March 13 and April 24 versus the prior six weeks, driven by both first time and established sellers.” Beside brick and mortar retail, office coworking, yoga and spin cycle studios have all been closed for the past two months. If your company sells products, Google will now let any business list products on their Google Shopping platform for free, as reported by The Verge, in an effort to bring some relief to the retail and small business ecosystem.  According to recent reporting from NBCnews some restaurants are getting creative with their messaging to fight against the online delivery apps and their fees when customers order. By placing personal notes in peoples orders “Online apps such as GRUBHUB ARE CHARGING US 30% of each order and $9 or more on orders made using phone numbers on their app or website … please help save the restaurant industry by ordering directly with us.”  

(image credit: Jason Abbruzzese / NBC News)

I have seen some interesting strategies by certain companies, while waiting for things to reopen, that are focusing on their branding to connect with consumers whose lives have also come to a pause. One of the main channels they are using is email. We get bombarded with emails, but a coworking company called Assemblage sent out an email newsletter with the subject line “It’s Time to Assemble” as a way to engage their community. Writing “we are all interconnected, we are all one, and we will get through the transition into the highest version of ourselves.” They created a free daily contemplation program. The cult-like spin class company, Soulcycle, in a race to pivot to homelife workouts, and compete with Peloton, sends out daily newsletter emails ranging from virtual instructor workouts and their playlists with taglines like “SoulCycle is not a place, it’s a practice, family and feeling.”  To announcing their launching their own at-home spin bike, to communicating their new standard of safety process for when they reopen. But as the Wall Street Journal reported in an article titled Coronavirus Emails From Companies May Not Be Calming to Customers, it stated that “experts say that while companies are trying to inform and reassure their customers, there is a fine line between keeping them in the know and adding to the noise.” Some of my favorite clothing brands normally are Volcom and Vineyard Vines, but it can be a little nauseating when they email you more than once telling you “40% off everything”, or “Healthcare Heroes get 50% off.” Brands need to find the balance and not come off so desperate.  

heroes

Everything is changing, including what people are searching for online during this disrupted time. A respected SEO marketing consultant, AJ Kohn, explained in a tweet “what and why people are searching has changed and you may need to adapt as a result. While it might be a short-term (i.e. – 6 months) change, how you perform during this time could influence your future search performance.” 

  

Back in Mid March of this crisis, billionaire investor Mark Cuban, offered some advice to small businesses, CNBC Makeit reported, saying “rather than focusing on how bad it is, focus on how you can use this time to connect with your future customers,” Cuban also wrote, “this is also a good time to clean up all the little messes every small business has. Everyone has things they wish they could re-do.”  

That could mean a small business that has a strong referral network and never built a website for themselves, or a company that has a website which is slow, outdated, or not very secure. Older looking sites are simply not as trusted to have current and accurate information. The same thing goes for irrelevant or outdated content as well. Now is the perfect time, as business is slower, to improve your digital presence, update your site with a fresh look, add a mobile payment system, or showcase a recently completed project work. There is always something that can be improved.

Every company is pivoting in some way during this challenging time. As business has been slower for my company as well, we launched a video consultation strategy call service to help small businesses who are struggling with website updates, i.e. (fixing broken pages, etc.), and marketing tips for improving their online presence. Depending on how long this lasts, there is no guarantee that every small business will make it through this. Nevertheless, assuming the world keeps spinning for the next few months, and once the economy reactivates, having an updated & mobile friendly website or app ready to go will further improve your chances to capture business down the road.   

Let’s talk about what Vab Media Digital Agency can do for your business.

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