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COVID-19: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY

20 April 2020 Bec Derrington

Not since Donald Trump’s sleep-deprived ‘Covfefe’ tweet has a mix of seemingly garbled letters formed a word that’s so quickly become part of our vernacular.

COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus or SARS 2 (the woeful sequel) is now trending on every social media platform, in every single country, on any single day and it’s unlikely to stop any day soon.

So how do we, as storytellers, share our brand messages with an audience who’s frantically seeking escapism from an invisible threat in the form of home-baked bread, TikTok moves and Tiger King?

And more importantly, how do we continue to spruik our wares without seeming tone deaf and lacking all empathy? 

"And more importantly, how do we continue to spruik our wares without seeming tone deaf and lacking all empathy?"

Despite some businesses finding it a cinch to pivot in line with new social distancing demands, there are many more that  can’t, with their worlds collapsing faster than a new build on the set of Lego Masters.

So, I asked some experts their thoughts on the behaviours brands have shown which they think have demonstrated the right level of benevolence and restraint, and which deserve a stinging rebuke from a public with zero tolerance for hard-sell tactics.

Here’s what they said.


CLICKBAIT AND FALSE CLAIMS

It appears some businesses are using "clickbait content" on their websites and social media that infers their products could be a cure, despite outlining it’s not the case (but only in the fine print).

Bonita Ngonyani of HerCBD said that this "certainly left a bad taste in my mouth" and judging from the comments, it seems as though their attempts have backfired.

She said this is an obvious play to heightened numbers of clicks and views from browsers who are unlikely to "become long-time customers".

Ngonyani feels it’s important to maintain your brand integrity or risk permanently damaging your brand and losing the loyal customers you have worked so hard to maintain. 

"...it’s important to maintain your brand integrity or risk permanently damaging your brand and losing the loyal customers you have worked so hard to maintain." 

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING

Doyle Digital's Doyle Buehler believes the most important ingredient during this crisis is "the experience" and the digital experience is likely to save a lot of businesses by quickly committing to tactics like: 

  1. Creating livestreams of entertainment/education to 'show and tell' what you're doing, building, making.
  2. Combining 'live streaming' with an actual 'experience product'. Think Hello Fresh meets Jamie Oliver. For example, if you run a restaurant, cooking take home food (not just take away, but complete meals to prepare) or creating a livestream where people who've purchased a gift box of recipes/foods in advance can cook while the restauranteur is conducting the livestream. If it's a flower making workshop, shipping the customer a selection of flowers in advance so they can learn along. If it's an art class, shipping the materials they need in advance, so they're ready to watch the expert teach and play along.
  3. Quickly creating your own version of 'Click & Collect'.

"Just ensure that they are adding value - it's not just about the product or service, it's about how to create a moment worth remembering - a real digital experience." 

"Just ensure that they are adding value...it's about how to create a moment worth remembering - a real digital experience." 

DON'T BE IRRELEVANT

Exposure Ninja's Bethany Spence said it was a difficult time for marketers to strike the right balance between being promotional and empathetic at this time.

"Most forms of promotion will seem irrelevant to their audiences who are rightly concerned with their health, finances and overall wellbeing.

"However, brands that are promoting information – like free or heavily discounted resources, courses and consultancy services – are managing to effectively market during this time. 

"...brands that are promoting information...are managing to effectively market during this time."

"A few that come to mind:  

  • Joe Wicks from The Body Coach (offering daily live physical education classes)
  • The Royal Opera House (creating a free programme of content available online)
  • Headspace app (promoting free meditations for those in isolation)." 

HELP ME - DON’T SEND ME TO SLEEP!!  

Cat Morrissey's, Cat Morrissey, said she’s been inundated with BORING emails confirming it's business as usual, without offering resources to help people.

She said instead, people needed "real tips and solutions because they are in the midst of great change and a massive disruption in their lives". 

"...real tips and solutions because they are in the midst of great change and a massive disruption in their lives."

By way of example, her business re-worked their program by providing free resources to help people to "kick-start a new career OR add extra income to their existing business".

In other words, "coming up with creative solutions in your business" that help people "overcome their fears and create a better working environment or business that creates a lifestyle". 


YOUR COMPETITORS LOVE A VACUUM  

Sydney-based Digital Agency AdVisible’s founder, Ivan Teh, said many SME clients’ initial reaction was to panic and to want to pull the plug on marketing, without first analysing the situation and planning for mid-long term.

In his opinion, this is counterintuitive since if you create a vacuum, "the competition that continues to market will get all the attention". 

"...the competition that continues to market will get all the attention."

Despite the current economic pressures, Teh said studies have shown "a lot of industries are booming online with higher impressions, more clicks, more conversions and higher click through rates. He things it’s likely because more people working from home = more eyes on devices, mobile phones, tv sets, laptops/desktops etc.

"A good indicator of what's to come is to look at other countries that have experienced what we are currently and looking at how their government and economy is dealing with the issue…China is starting to head back to the norm.

"Business owners and organisations need to think rationally and prepare not only for the short term,  but think about the mid to long term, as the bounce back is likely to happen in 2-3 months.

"For businesses that have the budget, [now] is the best time to double down as most competition is likely to pull the plug or reduce their advertising. This means you will have more brand awareness, cheaper cost per clicks and more audience attention.

"For businesses with no/low budget. You need to get creative."


LESS 'MEH'. MORE 'HOW CAN YOU HELP ME?'

In stark contrast to everyone who suggests that the only reasonable thing to do is to communicate with clients and customers and keep them informed, Stan Tan from Selby's disagrees.

"I think sending generic COVID-19 emails on how your company is doing isn't cutting it."

He argues that not only is everyone doing it, so you’re really just jumping on the band wagon, more importantly, "that email doesn't apply to your clients".

"Your clients have their own issues amid this COVID-19 crisis. They couldn't care less about how your company is doing. The email should be about how your company can help them and solve their issues." 

"The email should be about how your company can help them and solve their issues." 

PIVOT SWIFTLY

Alicia Penhorwood of Harper Collective believes that the standout organisations are restaurants and cafes that have managed to adapt their offering swiftly.

Within 24 hours of the restrictions being imposed on restaurants and cafes, Penhorwood said she’d seen restaurants "take their menu on wheels by opening up takeaway vans at various locations to connect directly with their customer and I've also seen cafes creating bundles of their customers' favourite products to create the cafe experience at home".

In her opinion, the organisations she worries about are those that are "resisting the change and not getting creative with their offering".

Her tips?

"A few quick tips that businesses can implement now include showing up on their social media platforms to truly connect with their audience, adapting their offering to their customers’ current needs, growing their newsletter database in creative ways such as downloadable at-home recipes or giveaways for those who sign up." 

...standout organisations are restaurants and cafes that have managed to adapt their offering swiftly.  

JUGGLE BOTH SOCIETAL AND YOUR ORGANISATION'S NEEDS

Alexander Porter from SearchItLocal said that "only in hindsight will we be able to look back and pinpoint which brands made the correct decisions, and which did not".

"And even then, 'correct' may be very different when viewed through the lens of what was good for business and what was good for society.

"As a marketer, I am most impressed by brands able to do both." 

"As a marketer, I am most impressed by brands able to do both." 

In particular, Porter was impressed by Australian taxi business, 13Cabs, which responded to the dramatic drop of people looking to move from A to B by coming up with a "solution that was beneficial to them AND to society".

"They started offering parcel drop-offs so people could access the goods they needed, without leaving the home.

"And with contactless drop-off, they minimise the risk of infection, without keeping people trapped in their homes and away from the things they need.

"Time will tell how businesses *should* have reacted to the Corona Virus, but I think this is a pretty good way to start." 


STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE

Chanty CMO, Jane Kovalkova believes that global business Canva made an early misstep when it sent out an email to customers informing everyone on how to stay safe (by washing their hands, wearing masks etc.).

Kovalkova  believes that while the idea was generally great, it fell flat with many Canva customers who "subscribe to Canva to get updates about their product or from their blog - not health tips and advice".

She feels that brands should "stick to what relates to your business and leave the news, advice and discussions to the experts". 

"...stick to what relates to your business and leave the news, advice and discussions to the experts." 

OPPORTUNITY MISSED?

Channels app Marketing Specialist, Jakub Kliszczak, believes beer brand Corona missed an opportunity during the pandemic by sitting on their hands since "doing nothing is oftentimes equal to doing something wrong".

"Although Corona is not related to coronavirus, they share the same name, thus people get an obvious feeling of resemblance when they see a beer on store shelves.

"And that's why Corona should use this moment to improve its marketing and long-lasting benefits." 

"...beer brand Corona missed an opportunity during the pandemic by sitting on their hands..." 

Kliszczak suggested creative ideas like:

“This virus wants to be the most popular corona out there. We're not going to let it happen. From now on, X% from Corona Beer sales will go to fight the fake corona contender to make it disappear quicker than it takes to empty the out-of-the-fridge bottle of Corona Beer on a summer day in Mexico." 


DON'T TAKE - GIVE

Gregory Golinski, YourParkingSpace.co.uk indicated that those businesses that "genuinely want to help hospital workers by offering them a free service or at least a discount are doing the right thing". (Case in point, I noticed that Your Parking Space is offering 'Free parking at 900+ car parks for NHS staff'.)

But he cautioned, "Businesses that try to profit from the virus are shooting themselves in the foot. People will remember". 

"Businesses that try to profit from the virus are shooting themselves in the foot." 


ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION

For the Love of People Group’s Shania Khan said she feels the organisations that dealt with the pandemic well were airlines, credit card companies and gyms.

"The ones that did an awful job are airlines and hotels. They seem to be very silent during this time and we feel they are being irresponsible with the way they are dealing with this situation.

"At For the Love of People Group, we have been telling our clients to err on the side of caution and close their business early and pivot online as soon as possible, so they do not look irresponsible." 

"...err on the side of caution and close their business early and pivot online as soon as possible..."   

DOS AND DON'TS

Crocodile Marketing’s  David McMahon broke down his plan for disaster management into 5 action items (or dos and don'ts) in an effort to help client businesses concentrate on where they'll get the best return for effort, being: 

  1. Don’t arbitrarily cut your marketing budget
  2. Do a deep dive of your target audience’s disaster behaviour
  3. Analyze and track everything — NOW!
  4. Focus on existing customers
  5. Increase conversion rates by testing, tweaking, and repeating

McMahon also created a guide which he shared with clients with useful tips, like easy-to-use collaboration tools, group communication platforms and useful marketing channels to keep in touch with customers/clients. 


STAY SOCIAL DURING COVID-19

Like other commentators above, L&A Social Media founder Gina Lednyak urges businesses not to switch off their social media interaction. Instead, she encourages clients to focus on their customers' most pressing needs to ensure "you always add genuine value".

Lednyak's top tips: 

  1. Do not go quiet
    All eyes are on newsfeeds and our communities need us the most. Be careful though, as your content has to come from an authentic place, where you’re helping your community, not leveraging their vulnerability. Focus on what your audience may find useful or entertaining. This could be hacks, information on how your product could add value to them during this time, or thought leadership pieces to give your followers a chance to engage with your brand at a time where internet connection is the only thing bringing people together. 
  2. Check the plan, check it twice
    Checking content calendars has never been more crucial. Make sure your content is sensitive and tells a story that is relevant to both these times and your brand’s audience.
  3. Stay credible
    Your fans don’t need you to implement the Harvard Reference System into your copy, but if you’re sending out hacks or tips that directly relate to health or wellness, it is crucial that your content is sourced, credible and 100% accurate.
  4. Leverage social listening
    While it’s common practice for brands to be doing this already, taking the time out a few times each day to monitor your social community is crucial right now, especially if your brand-to-consumer relationship is being impacted by COVID-19 or other economic factors. Likewise, listen to your online community to gauge how your customers, audience and staff are feeling. It is also a critical time to be responding to your audience in a timely manner and ensuring you help them feel secure in any way you can.
  5. Be agile
    It’s a content jungle out there! News is shifting quickly and people are consuming social content at the quickest rate we’ve ever seen. News about the Kardashians has been replaced by social isolation memes and ongoing updates about shutdowns.
  6. Be proactive with content and keep your community front of mind, but if the tides turn, be sure to follow and remain in tune with what communication people require from your brand. Whether you are a restaurant, airline or beverage brand, if people are in your community it means they want to hear from you, and now is the time to be solidifying your relationship with them and showing that you’re there for them through the good and the turbulent. 

STEP IT UP!

Max Bluvband of AppsVillage firmly believes that capital and connection are the keys to survival for all SMEs amid the Corona crisis.

"As people adopt 'social distancing', businesses (e-commerce as well as bricks and mortar stores) need to step up their communication with customers - offering discounts and updates through social media marketing, thereby cementing customer loyalty and support." 

"...businesses need to step up their communication with customers - offering discounts and updates through social media marketing..."   

IT'S HERE TO STAY

Reload Media's MD, Craig Somerville, said he was seeing (and encouraging) many of his clients to respond in different ways, from "simple things like making sure websites and ads have 'up to date' info on 'We're open', to promotions designed to deal with out-of-stock items".

He also raised an important point.

"For products or services more affected by short-term drops or retail closures (tourism, big ticket purchases, automotive, etc), expect to see a big increase in people researching those purchases during the lockdown, ready for when it ends."

As a consequence, this places the onus on ensuring your online content marketing efforts are up to snuff.

And following China’s trend, Somerville urged clients to recognise the opportunity for "face-to-face salespeople" to quickly learn the ropes of "selling online instead".

And Somerville believes some of these changes are here to stay.

"In Australia, online commerce started 2020 at around 10-12% of total retail spend. After weeks or months at home, buying everything from groceries to home gyms from the comfort of home, it's likely that many won't return to the shops for many items. The early figures from the US suggests this, with not just online transactions up, but the number of people buying online also up by around 9% too." 

"After weeks or months at home, buying everything from groceries to home gyms from the comfort of home, it's likely that many won't return to the shops for many items."   

WHAT'S NEXT

In times like these, it's best to avoid assuming you know how it will all play out. 

Like baking a cake without key ingredients, we're forced to improvise by mixing what's at hand with a dash of hope and a sprinkle of luck.  

Wishing everyone the best in these trying times.

Bec x

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