The World cinema marquee with sign stating "The World Is Temporarily Closed"
PHOTO: Edwin Hooper

Marketing leaders everywhere have spent the last few weeks taking stock of our "new normal” and what this global pandemic means for their brands. As events are canceled, campaigns get postponed, and much of communication goes digital, we are all reevaluating how to best care for customers and maintain our reputations in a climate where every action feels strange and unfamiliar. Marketing depends on building trust and having conversations with your audience. Yet in a moment of global crisis, it can feel incredibly difficult to send any message at all.

This moment presents an opportunity for brands to create new digital experiences that nurture relationships and instill trust and human connection. Of course, it’s not as simple as it might seem.

Listen to Your Customers

Instead of a focus on prospecting and converting new customers, companies must prioritize nurturing existing customers. That requires a solid sales enablement strategy to make sure both marketers and sellers communicate a simple, value-driven story that resonates. Clear, consistent messaging is absolutely critical. No brand wants to bring more chaos and confusion to this situation by posting incorrect information about services or changing their customer response strategy once they’ve already released a statement.

Your instinct in times of uncertainty might be to totally mute all channels to avoid any risk of appearing insensitive. However, that can confuse customers or damage brand trust, particularly in industries without access to physical stores or events and an audience relying on digital channels as their main source of connection. If you go dark and try to return only once the crisis has passed, you risk disappearing entirely from the public mindset. Instead, it’s time to get creative and think about the value you can still offer customers in other ways.

I love to see companies like Lululemon offer “online sweat sessions” for yoga, meditation, dance and more, getting over 170,000 guests to join live sessions on Instagram during the first week of North America store closures, or luxury travel company Inspirato offer virtual cooking classes, wine tasting and calligraphy lessons while its customers are grounded. I’ve also seen many local restaurants not only start to offer takeout and curbside options, but also post recipes of their most popular dishes online for customers to make at home.

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Think Twice About Your Coronavirus-Related Emails

It’s more important than ever to listen to customers and offer meaningful solutions. Marketing has always been about anticipating and understanding the needs of your customer and that promise hasn’t changed even though those needs may now look different. At the same time, corporate response right now is a very tricky thing to balance because companies don’t want to look as though they’re profiting from a public crisis; yet by doing nothing, they risk appearing unsure, or worse, indifferent.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of brands that have emailed with coronavirus in the subject line. It’s one thing for a brand to offer updates on real matters that affect me (possible outages, delays, etc.), but it feels off when it’s clear they’re just jumping on the bandwagon. The brands that have been getting it right over the past few weeks are those whose actions feel authentic and in touch with their overall brand purpose. You need to ask yourself, “Does this message demonstrate empathy for my audience? Does it make sense coming from us? Are we the right people to be entering this conversation?”

Related Article: What Does Great Customer Experience Look Like Today? Giving Customers Peace of Mind

Keep Them Learning

Whether it’s in a professional or personal context, people want to keep learning. As we step away from sales pitches and product-focused messaging, there is an opportunity to provide content and resources that allow people to focus on bettering themselves or working toward a future goal. Now is when brands should offer valuable top-of-funnel “how-to” content and thought leadership, whether through webinars or certification programs or informational blog series. King Arthur Flour, a leader amidst the at-home baking craze, has developed many new blogs to address common questions (including one on how to bake if you run out of ingredients) and highlighted older content still very relevant to this audience (including a post on how to substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour) — and is seeing record-breaking traffic and sales as a result.

While many people may not be actively buying new tools, they’re still doing the research so they’re ready to make the right decisions when the time comes. Relevant educational content offers your audience a way to feel in control of their own path in a situation where not much else can be controlled. Educational content shows customers you’re there to help them with their concerns and builds a trusted relationship with your audience.

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Deliver Real Value

Above all else, organizations need to deliver real solutions and clear value. Particularly in the world of digital experience, where we’re responsible to provide the technology that enables companies to communicate with customers and the public, it’s imperative that customers can rely on their vendors to help them cope with the consequences of the pandemic.

That looks different for all companies. But at the end of the day, it’s about demonstrating clear compassion for core customers and the very real pain many are experiencing right now — and a strong enthusiasm to see them through.