Marketing Communications in a Pandemic

During a crisis, there are three essential components to effective communication on which to focus: Ideas, tactics, and tone.

“The goal as a communicator is not only to not make [the problem] worse, but also do something to help,” said Melissa Harris, MBA 16’, CEO and founder of M.Harris & Co., during her virtual presentation discussing crisis management communication.

Ideas: How can you help?

Having an idea is very different than having a sound business idea. In order to be successful put the customers first and empathize with them and their needs. Think: What do people really need right now?

Some examples: facemasks, ventilators, yeast, toilet paper… but also laughs, movie recommendations, board games, and alcohol.

Think of what you can best offer given your resources that’s useful and helpful to people right now, said Harris. One example is restaurants offering recipes and ingredient pickup. Other companies have shifted to producing and making face shields.

As Harris explained, the best way to communicate through a crisis is through actions, not words. In doing so, you will become a brand that people remember, trust, and most importantly, have loyalty to now and in the future.

Tactics: How do ideas spread?

  1. Social currency. People share things because it makes them look good, so you need to figure out how to make your customers look really good. This can mean many things, but Harris said two of the most common are feeling and seeming like an insider (knowing the hottest new thing) or feeling philanthropic and have those efforts be seen. This could be through a creative hand washing video contest on social, as one example, said Harrris.
  2. Triggers. Triggers can take a number of forms, such as emails, advertisements, and social media. However, triggers also work in hidden and less overt ways. For example, in 1997 sales of Mars bars surged because NASA launched its pathfinder mission to Mars that year. Another example, researchers played French music in grocery stores and more people bought French wine. However, when German music was played more people bought German wine. As Harris explained, ideate ways in which you can capitalize on triggers to further entice consumers to your product or service.
  3. Emotions. So often when we communicate we focus on features and facts. Alternatively, Harris said we need to focus on the feelings and underlying emotions that motivate people to action.
  4. Public. Ensure that the ways in which people find out about your product is built into your distribution or the product itself. For example, Livestrong bracelets support cancer research and demonstrate this support through the simple act of wearing them. Apple’s logo found on Macs and iPhones serve as a walking advertisement. These examples not only serve as triggers themselves but also convert a normally private decision into a public one.
  5. Practical value and utility. Right now, especially, people want information and facts. However, the way that you share this information matters: Elevate the information you need to convey into something that provokes emotion and therefore something that is more likely to be shared.
  6. Stories. Many people are skeptical of traditional advertising. One way to have information shared organically is to have a story that carries your message. An example provided by Harris was an advertisement made by Ogilvy for Dove: The advertisement started with a woman staring in the mirror. She then gets transformed with lighting, makeup, and hair, and has a photoshoot that produces edited photos. The person’s photo is put on a billboard that says, “No wonder beauty is distorted.” As Harris noted, this is an example of a well-executed story that showed instead of telling.

Tone: Setting the right tone to spread the word

  1. Know your objective. Don’t over send emails or send without reason. Always have a clear objective. If the objective is unclear to you, it will likely be unclear to others.
  2. Make your message clear and consistent. Make sure subject lines and text are 100% clear. Explain what you want quickly. A tip form Harris: Include the reasons behind your decisions with consumers to promote transparency and relationships.
  3. Be empathetic. According to Harris, it is incredibly important to be empathetic to consumers. Her pro tip: Have an empathetic outsider that you also trust review communications before sending.

The Polsky Center’s virtual Small Business Bootcamp was made possible through a partnership with the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago, on behalf of a larger coalition of University groups and partners.

// We will be recapping the Bootcamp all week, but all the sessions were recorded and can be found online, here.

Interested in seeking more coaching and support? Apply for the Small Business Circle. Applications are due Thursday, April 28 at 5:00 p.m. CST. Learn more and apply. >>

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