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12 totally relevant ways to communicate during a crisis, without knee-jerking

By Communications, Views

Don’t sell, don’t copy, don’t pretend to help unless you mean it – marketers have many pitfalls to avoid under the present Covid-19 crisis. But what should you do instead? Here’s our ultimate guide on how communications during a crisis over the next three months. Add your own grain of salt.

 

We’ve spent the past three weeks watching brands’ response to the global coronavirus pandemic, and found ourselves cringing and sympathising in equal doses.

Cringing because even the first round of corporate messages have been so cheesy, with their familiar formats of ‘we hope you are safe in these unprecedented times’ plus ‘we’re here for you’ and finally a sales offer.

And sympathising, because frankly who isn’t scared witless that their entire market is going to fall apart, irreparably.

There’s so much uncertainty around the climate, businesses can neither carry on with their old communications as if nothing happened, nor can they plan for the long term.

A recent article by Moz founder Rand Fishkin, urging businesses to ‘read the room,’ says it best: don’t stop marketing but don’t be tone-deaf either. The best crisis communications around the world right now involve helping, not selling – giving away 15,000 free medical gowns, delivering food to the needy, offering free financial advice. All without expecting a single sale at the end.

But let’s say, hypothetically, you’re not a multinational with the capacity to do that.

So we’ll fast-forward to the medium-term, a world three months down the track. The crisis has started to abate, but life as we know it has changed – as suggested by this infographic on the emerging low-touch economy, by the Board of Innovation. If you’re listening to the chatter all around right now, you’ll have an idea on where everyone’s heads will be: craving meaningful connections, grateful for good health, newly in touch with their communities, and ready to shake off months of inactivity.

So let’s get your business geared up for that not-too-distant future, and focus on some very plausible communications during a crisis, by tapping into the following sentiments that people are experiencing.

1. Loving everything local

Being restricted in our movements, we’re rediscovering local service providers like never before. Many of your customers will stick with their local, after this subsides. What photos, faces and colourful stats can you share about your local connections?

2. Craving the tactile

If you sell any kind of sensory experience, just imagine how much your customers are missing them. The smell of fresh-cut flowers; the relief of massage therapy; the joy of an expert cocktail. Can you recreate that for your customers, with short videos, illustrated guides, beauty tips, sighting competitions or subscription deliveries?

3. Ready for boot camp

With people devouring more snacks out of boredom, and jocks everywhere locked out of their natural habitat (the gym), the kilos should start piling on soon. Demand has already surged for anything fitness or health-related, from home fitness stations to immunity-boosting vitamins, better walking shoes and apps that encourage competitive workouts. All could use interesting, enlightening communications materials. And that’s just for the self-motivated. Just imagine how many others are desperately missing your drill-sergeant’s voice, pushing them to go harder, faster, longer…

4. In need of a laugh

According to Google, comedies and feelgood films are outstripping horror and dramas as audiences turn away from the depressing daily news. Add some visual fun to your crisis marketing. This Geico insurance ad might be five years old, but it’s exactly the kind of sentiment your materials need right now.

5. More mindful

Without the daily grind of rushing between appointments, many are enjoying the new inward focus. Just look at the rush on items like gardening products, home tutorials, art supplies and pet care. What lists, kits, videos or daily pep talks can you give your customers, to tap into that slower, more self-happy pace, and stretch it out well into 2021?

6. A little fearful

To grapple with mental health issues such as depression, insomnia, anxiety and distress, your business can share encouraging graphics that explain in simple terms what customers can do to alleviate their worries. This applies to most businesses, from financial planners to insurance brokers, HR consultants and any entrepreneur.

7. Feeling a tad spiritual

As we collectively puzzle why this pandemic is happening, and how no one saw it coming (apart from Bill Gates and Nostradamus), it’s easy to predict that spirituality will experience a resurgence. Can you send your customers some pictures, poems, prayers or giving-back experiences, to put earth’s troubles into context?

8. Looking for love

We all tut-tutted disapprovingly about those naughty Bondi backpackers who refused to stop partying. But it’s tough being young, single and hot for love. Even if your business isn’t a dating app, your communications can make romance relevant to customers: whether you’re selling apartments to first-home buyers, cooking kits to singletons, guitar lessons to the heartbroken, and more besides.

9. Grateful for the planet

As we’re forced to avoid crowds and much of the built environment, nature is our source of healing. No matter what business you’re in, you can probably afford to talk for oh, maybe the next millennia or so, about your care efforts for the planet.

10. Ready for adventure

This is a tough one, given how hard-hit the travel sector is and how many operators may go under permanently. But anyone with wanderlust is dreaming of escape beyond their own boring four walls. Campers will want to know about new gear, trails and gadgets. Jetsetters will be ready to browse new itineraries to far-flung locales. And everyone will be ready to inhale fresh flavours, scents and sounds – even if it has to be the suburb down the road for a little longer.

11. Bolstered by technology

Stable, secure technology has kept us sane these past few weeks, and powered more businesses more effectively than we’d thought possible. But the unprecedented reliance on technology has also released a wave of cyberattacks. Even if your business isn’t in IT, your daily emails, social media graphics, icons and banners can put customers at ease, by showing what measures you’re taking to create a safe online environment.

12. Humbled by medicine

This story ends (deliberately) on a bow to the greatness of modern medicine. We’ve watched in horror as different healthcare regimes have either crumbled or prevailed through the pressure. No matter the current state of your customers’ hearts, lungs, immune systems or other body parts, their future wellbeing might depend on your health product or service. And don’t we know it.

Branding is a door-opener in business development

The rebrand or refresh: A door-opener for business

By Branding, ViewsNo Comments

The decision to rebrand or refresh is a big one. And it seems that every few months, some major business does this in a way that is either massively odd or totally right.

Think of the outrage provoked in 2017, when the NSW Government proposed ditching the distinctive brand identities for cultural icons such as the Opera House, Taronga Zoo or Australian Museum. All were to be replaced by the NSW Waratah (which thankfully hasn’t happened).

Contrast that with the welcome and highly successful 2014 Airbnb rebrand, which dropped the 70s surfboard-font wordmark. The sophisticated set of brand elements they ushered in – from photography style to written voice – all support a very deliberate brand promise.

 

Companies should rebrand when they actually want to be known for something new.

Perhaps your revised brand platform reveals that you’re still tracking towards the same goals, and keeping the same customers happy. But 10 years have slipped past and now your website doesn’t have a lead-capture function, your promotions still have QR codes (gasp) and your social media posts consist of recycled motivational quotes.

Or maybe some competitors have jumped into the space that you initially dominated. Think how Burgerlicious, Huxtaburger and even McDonalds Gourmet Creations have edged into the gourmet space that made Grill’d so unique for so long. Suddenly, customers seem more interested in those cheeky newcomers. Even the media is giving you less attention. This is where some enhancements to the brand identity can spark entire new conversations.

So, when should you keep the original brand elements and when should you turf them completely? It’s a question we take seriously, and which we make our clients work hard to clarify at the start of any such project.

 

Option #1: The brand refresh

Much of our business comes from the question on whether to rebrand or refresh. In more established businesses, what’s happened is that the brand grew dated over time and management didn’t notice. Now they need it all to change – the website, business materials, content strategy and in fact a surprisingly long list of other pieces.

And so begins the discussion on how to refresh customer perceptions around this brand. Often, there’s no need for a complete change. If your brand has a good strategy it may just need a stylistic update. Think of the meaningful and subtle tweaks made to multinationals such as Mastercard, Citi or Lufthansa. Clutter was reduced, colour palettes modernised and messaging made more compelling.

In younger brands, the focus is more about enriching the brand perceptions rather than changing them. For example, when we first helped our clients Pat and Stick launch, we created a single set of graphics to accompany the wordmark and logo. Over the years, we’ve added a rich palette, graphics, fonts, voice and photography style. For NorthConnex, we again introduced brand elements that add depth and relevance to their government-made wordmark.

Sometimes, though, a brand didn’t stand the test of time. Gumtree’s original brand projected poor customer experience at every turn, from its unappealing fonts to the actual dodgy website security. The old AGL brand just screamed 1960s, from its corporate voice to the clear reliance on fossil fuels.

When there’s a serious need to shift customer perceptions, rebranding starts to look like a good idea. The new Gumtree brand identity now suggests a seamless and user-friendly experience; the new AGL brand implies a modern company with diverse energy sources.

 

Option #2: The rebrand 

As the word might suggest, rebranding is a more intensive exercise. That’s not just because of the work involved in redefining basics, such as the customer promise or market position. Rebranding can also mean a lengthy update of physical assets, from digital footprints to legacy signage and staff uniforms. Including the old ones that peek out of your favourite company photos.

Companies should rebrand when they actually want to be known for something new. Think the Woolworths rebrand of a few years back, when it moved from ‘supermarket’ to ‘fresh food people.’ Or most telcos, now positioned as entertainment or data powerhouses rather than suppliers of sturdy cabling.

Our rebrand for rentals firm Orana came about because the business wanted to tell customers about its industry-leading customer service. Their prices are still low, so the branding had to remain super-simple across exterior touchpoints such as signage and vehicle decals. But close up, we wanted customers to experience the Orana brand of hospitality. To convey this, we used a richer set of graphics across their lounge-inspired reception areas, inspirational messaging and more.

A final point to know is that the time and cost you’ll need for both exercises are quite similar in scope. For more guidance on pricing, see our related article on what to invest in your new brand.

Both require your key people to agree on the initial rebrand or refresh strategy and final outputs. Both require you to produce new materials, including new-generation ones that didn’t exist five years ago.

But most importantly, both the rebrand and refresh require you to craft strong messages to tell your entire team and business networks, once you’re ready to launch. That will give you a nice steady stream of news to pump out to the world after that.

 

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