It seems like every other email I receive is related to Coronavirus. Then there are the ones that are completely unrelated, for example, business as usual. In both cases, there are potential issues. For staters, it’s not business as usual. Brands that have taken up automated processes are particularly at risk at this point. I’d like to provide a couple of good and a couple of bad ideas to inspire us to communicate better during this crisis.

Bad ideas

Don’t call your customers a community if it ain’t

I literally laughed out loud when I received a couple of emails from companies on whose mailing list I have remained, more or less quietly over the years. They started off the message: “Dear XYZ Community.” For example, from Thom Browne (received Mar 18 2020). I’ve bought two pairs of their glasses. Love them. However, I feel in no way connected to the company. This is the first non commercial message I’ve ever received from them.

This Thom Browne message isn’t the only “community” outreach I have received. The issue is that you think (or wish) you’ve got a community, but you’ve done nothing to foster it in the past. It might exist inside the company, but in the case of Thom Browne, definitely not out here. You can’t just start up cold turkey.

Watch out for tone deafness

Some of you will have heard that countries are on lockdown. Others seemingly have not heard the news. That means, if you are referring to travel, you ought to be rather mindful. If you’ve buffered your email message and programmed out your monthly communications, now would be a good time to urgently review them. Take Shu Uemura’s unwise commercial blast sent on Mar 18 2020 at 1pm: “complimentary travel dry shampoo“.

If you’ve been using marketing automation tools, you’d better check on what you’ve got in the buffer. Make sure that the automated messages you’ve set in place aren’t tone deaf. It’s worth reviewing them to make sure that every communication is relevant.

Good ideas

Choose the right medium

How many emails have you received from a company saying “we care about our customers and employees” and “please wash your hands.” Dry, institutional and patently impersonal. The vast majority of these messages aren’t ‘wrong,’ but at best they’re a missed opportunity. At worst, they are a waste of time and resources. I’d highlight this message from American Airlines that has two things going for it: (a) it’s in video format; (b) it is from a real human being, expressing himself (albeit somewhat drily and clearly using a teleprompter). To his credit, it appears to be done in one take. And he’s got a very reassuring voice. Click on the image to go to the page with the video.

Be valuable

I’m a big fan of Jay Baer’s book, Youtility. In it, Jay talks about the different ways a brand can orchestrate content by bringing utility to and being valuable for your customers. In these trying times where sales are dropping, there’s always a temptation to slide in a sales pitch. Among other YOUSEFUL initiatives, I salute the efforts by LVMH CEO, Bernard Arnault, who quickly organized its Christian Dior factory to convert to hand sanitizer production within 72 hours. They are set to donate 12 tonnes of the LVMH branded hand sanitizing gel to 39 Parisian hospitals … by the end of this week. Love the CD pump! Read more in the FT.

Another good example is from the Business of Fashion. I’ve been a subscriber of theirs for several years. They sent out a request to hear my thoughts, which is directly in line with its mission to open, inform and connect the global fashion community. It’s particularly appropriate when you know how badly the fashion industry has been affected, given the density of producers in northern Italy and China. Now to see what they do with that information!

Encourage others & reach out

As a speaker and consultant whose work has all but dried up, I’ve been impressed with certain individuals and small organizations who’ve stepped to create support groups and/or help sessions to deal with this situation. I highlight Alan Stevens, a brilliant media coach, who set up a Facebook group on Remote Speaking and my friend Katz Kiely, founder of WeAreBeep, on setting up a “Little Less Talk A Little More Action” brainstorm (that I wasn’t able to attend). I imagine how some bigger brands could think and act the same way. How can brands encourage others, reach out and tangibly help their customers and community?

In the realm of sending out the WRONG message, here’s one last poor example. I tag BLOW Ltd that has seen fit on March 19th 2020 (today!) to encourage people in London to beat the system, inciting their customers to get their toes and nails polished before the whole city goes on total lockdown. Really? Aside from anything, it smacks of desperation. Now is a great time to evaluate your true ethical backbone.

4 unordinary tips for communicating in times of crisis

Here are four unordinary tips to communicate effectively in a time of crisis. Would love to have your thoughts and comments!

  1. The headline. Pay particular attention to the headline or title of your message. With messages intended for a wider circulation, I suggest having your title reviewed by a fairly diverse group of people who have license to push back if there are insensitivities.
  2. What’s in it for the receiver? Make sure you’re plugged in to your community and think through the benefits for the receiver. Bring utility, value or even appropriate entertainment providing it’s in touch with your de facto brand values and community.
  3. Bear in mind your employees, first. As much as you need to keep the business going, when you communicate externally (e.g. to clients and other stakeholders), your employees will be looking at those messages with an eagle eye. Be careful not to conflate generosity and kindness with discount offers. It’s a good opportunity to make your employees feel proud.
  4. Flex your empathic muscle. Make sure that you are stepping out of your small echo chamber to engage with others outside your regular circle. Ask them questions. Be prepared to listen deeply. Permit emotions, including your own. Show genuine vulnerability. Know that because you see things one way, doesn’t mean everyone else does, too!

A special bonus tip

In this new world order that has been with us well before the Coronavirus, one of the big challenges is and will continue to be cutting through the noise. A recent infographic on the amount of media coverage and mentions of this Covid-19 #Coronavirus shows just how gargantuan this crisis feels compared to past pandemics. If you want to contribute to the ocean of messages, make sure you’re saying something useful and valuable. Tap into your real mission. Make it personal and meaningful. I’d invite you to ask yourself before you hit the SEND button: how will this message make its receivers feel better?

Please give me your thoughts and comments. I’d be very keen to hear about other examples of brands doing good communications during this time of crisis!

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