We all have them currently sitting unread in our inboxes. It started trickling in early on and then the deluge suddenly came, one after the other — random brands, that we may or may not have patronized before, flooding our inboxes with their “official” COVID-19 emails.
While we don’t criticize any brand for reaching out, we question whether or not these communications appropriately addressed the concerns of their followers in a compelling and thoughtful way. This was the challenge when first tasked with engaging consumers in this new pandemic normal. How do we respectfully keep the conversation going? How do we make sure that what we are communicating matters? Having asked ourselves those questions recently on behalf of clients, we wanted to share three ways we found to be successful in ensuring these conversations mattered, not cluttered.
Keep it real; keep it simple.
We’re all human first and foremost. While we are all experiencing variances of the new normal at different levels, respect for our audiences and media friends is key. In this first example, one of our clients’ desire to reach out to the public during this time called for sensitivity that naturally required an element of thoughtfulness from initial assessment, to final creative execution.
Client: Utility company
Assessment: The temperature at the onset of COVID-19 was a bit panicked. People were clearing the grocery shelves of water and toilet paper. There was a sense that everyone might have to fend for themselves. Our client came to us wanting to communicate a level of calm assurance to address some of the public’s concerns.
Action: Since quality and reliability were already a huge part of the brand’s identity, we didn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. We wanted to acknowledge the current climate and respect the spectrum of emotions being felt. Working in partnership with the client, we amplified the client’s brand identity of service and reliability by shining a light on the people, roles, and places where the brand promise was living in action. Even without a strong call to action, taking an authentic and approachable perspective through messaging and execution resulted in a sincere message that resonated with viewers and resulted in strong customer engagement and response.
Helpful tips: Use language associated with serving instead of asking. The last thing your brand needs is to come across as trying to take advantage of the situation. And avoid imagery that unintentionally conflicts with the current social distancing guidelines, i.e., photos with large groups of people together. It can be easy to forget this when repurposing current assets for campaigns during this time.
Mind the gaps.
From a public relations perspective, it’s important to continue to stay informed and keep ahead of the news cycle, looking for gaps in coverage or unanswered questions. If you’re left wondering about something, chances are readers and your customers might be too. This can be an earned media opportunity to help fill those gaps with relevant pitches or when creating your own news stories, positioning your brand as a credible voice in even the noisiest environments. Subject matter experts are always welcomed by the media during times when people crave insight from trusted sources.
Client: Local mixed-use development
Gaps: The clutter of COVID-19 news and information saturation wasn’t addressing the needs of niche populations. Where mass media was (by design) addressing the concerns of the larger city, what was missing was a more bespoke, niche community message.
Fill: To help our client provide guidance to its followers about issues that mattered most right now, we created a video mini-series to air within its owned networks. We assessed what larger questions were not being answered by the general media, then hosted interviews that addressed them. These videos allowed our client to ask community leaders about issues its audience cared about, and gave the brand a reason to insert themselves in the conversation. As the conduit for information, the brand was able to cut through the clutter with real value, all while demonstrating its dedication to its surrounding community.
Helpful tips: Carefully consider the trend to go “live” with your content. Live video, even in a thoroughly tested video chat format like Zoom, can be rife with technical difficulties. Not everyone has the same internet capabilities. Live feeds are sometimes prone to visual and sound disruptions. Pre-recording can still lend “live” aesthetics but with more control over the technical aspects, as well as opportunities for post-production graphics and cutaways to text, sprucing up and enhancing the content for your viewers.
Limitations can be opportunities.
Amidst uncertainty and unknowns, people are getting back to basics. The urge to connect with others is stronger than ever. Responsible storytelling plays a big role in connecting brands to constituents and the community. And while the health and safety of others are critical to adhere to and share in the current environment, there’s always a place for creativity and opportunity to supplant limitations and challenges.
Client: Issue-based campaigns
Limitations: In a new normal of social distancing, planned events and gatherings suddenly became verboten. Previously-planned in-person grassroots activations, and even election dates, have been rescheduled, while the idea of local politics itself has moved to the backburner as the public focuses more on the current pandemic.
Opportunities: Clients are seeing firsthand the value of content marketing on social. Social media has not only been spared by the pandemic, it has seen increased activity across all channels as a result. As an agency, we have embraced every opportunity to pivot traditional or in-person activations into social/virtual ones. By having a in-house digital and video production team in place that understood content best practices, we were able to quickly leap into action for our issue-based clients to provide solutions.
Helpful tips: Take advantage of postponed deadlines to educate constituents on the issues, and re-evaluate budgets to meet audiences where they are online.
Marketing practitioners are storytellers at their core. Now is the time to continue telling brand stories, through the lens of what’s meaningful, what’s mindful, and nimble. Limitations can transform into opportunities, gaps can be filled, and straightforward solutions can help even in the most complicated of times.