As the coronavirus outbreak drives business online and disrupts the everyday lives of consumers worldwide, companies must reevaluate how they’re communicating with their global audiences. It’s important to find a balance between approaching audiences in a way that communicates understanding and empathy while still working toward strategic business goals.
The pandemic is already changing consumer behavior and attitudes. Businesses that connect with their audiences now are likely to build lasting relationships (while also protecting their financial health).
The challenge lies in communicating effectively and sensitively, both as a provider of products or services and as an employer. More than ever, the way companies handle themselves in this crisis will affect brand sentiment for a long time to come. Now is a good time to reevaluate the tenets underlying your content and comms strategies to ensure that they meet your consumers’ needs now, and will help you build a lasting relationship with them into the future.
1. REASSESS YOUR AUDIENCE
It’s hard to have a good conversation if you don’t know who you’re talking to. Is your audience the same as before the outbreak? The answer may be different in each market.
Categories like home fitness have gained a significant new audience in the UK. The average age of UK viewers following “the nation’s PE teacher” Joe Wicks has shot up in recent weeks, as parents adjust to new homeschooling schedules. His audience has also gone global, with people joining from Jamaica, India, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. Meanwhile, patriotism has emerged as a key source of support for some national airlines.
Tools like Google Analytics are a mine of information about your website visitors. But audience profiles are about more than demographics. Perceptions, interests, attitudes, and behaviors all matter. They’re influenced by culture and by the varying government decrees around coronavirus.
As the infection rate in some Asian countries slows, they also offer a useful preview for future spending patterns. For example, talk of “revenge spending” in China predicts that shopping-starved consumers will rush to the malls. Or will this outbreak lead to a rise in conscious consumption?
In this fast-changing situation, ongoing research and listening are essential. It might be time to reassess the buyer behavior in each market.
2. REFINE YOUR MESSAGING
It would be a mistake to believe now is the time to lie low and wait things out. Only 8% of global consumers think brands should stop advertising. The key is to listen to local voices and adapt your messaging to the mood in each market. It may be prudent to put more emphasis on some markets than others. Up-to-date market research will be vital to help you navigate the way forward.
In the UK, 86% of marketers are pausing or reviewing their campaigns. Even long-standing campaigns have been affected. This includes KFC’s “finger-lickin’ good” strapline (advice to stop touching your face) and Cadbury’s Easter egg hunt ads (grandparents shouldn’t be around children). Reconsider your long-standing messaging to stay relevant for your audiences.
Attitudes to face masks vary from country to country. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it’s compulsory to wear masks. In many Asian countries, it was common even before coronavirus (if you had a cough or cold), out of respect for people in close proximity to you. However, in the US, it’s still common to see people without one. The attitudes in your markets may well affect messaging and positioning for brands that choose to tackle this reality of living with coronavirus head-on.
3. ADJUST YOUR VOICE
Although there are still opportunities for brands, business-as-usual isn’t an option. 74% of consumers think companies shouldn’t exploit the current situation. Getting your tone right has rarely been so important.
It’s never a good idea to leave your tone of voice to chance. A global team, remote working, and an uncertain business climate make it even more important. Create a framework to guide your communication strategy, then adapt it for each market and channel. If you already have a tone of voice guide, adjust it for the current situation.
This includes internal comms. 80% of consumers worldwide believe employee health should be a priority. Doing the right thing by your people is important. Your customers are paying attention, and missteps could do long-term damage.
It’s worth considering what your competitors are doing, and how your brand can provide genuine value to your audience. In fact, Google has restricted ads around outbreak-related keywords to encourage this and prevent opportunism.
As this situation unfolds, it’s critical to be sensitive to client needs and adjust the way you communicate with both current and potential customers, both domestically and internationally. Never has the consumer been so open to trying new products and services – and new ways to experience them. The choices your company makes now could make all the difference and help you build relationships that last.