2112 Communications

Business Unusual | Insight

What the past year has taught me about communicating during a crisis

November 25, 2020

Luke Delport


Director of Digital Development

The Covid 19 pandemic has presented challenges to digital communications unlike any businesses have ever faced. Looking back, it made me consider how and even if we should have been adapting our communications to ensure we were effective but remained true to our brand.

Our marketing landscape has been drastically altered, perhaps forever, and the shift to even more digital activity than ever is obvious.

The last 8 months have seen an ever increasing use of digital communication and content output from brands. Whilst there are obvious reasons for this, what quickly became clear to me is that not all brands managed initially to find some level of continuity with their communications and in fact, I was left feeling on occasion that new brands had somehow found a way into my inbox even though I’d seen many emails from the same names before. At times, I even found myself becoming quite angry when brands tried to piggy-back on the crisis by suddenly becoming experts in so many different things.
My instinct told me that during a crisis, some principles of communication, and more specifically brand and digital communication, were more important than ever. The challenge is to navigate the crisis in a way that feels seamless and natural for your brand, all the while being mindful that there will be a shift back toward ‘normal’ and communications should be reflective of that. Long term success is entwined with brand reputation and perception in ways I think we’re starting to understand more clearly during this period.
I’ve put together a few insights from personal observations of the mass of communications I’ve received over the past few months, as well as some which I believe are fundamental considerations when creating brand communications during any time of crisis.
1. Don’t align your brand with the crisis
The first inclination for any brand would be to use the crisis as a vehicle to produce content. While the theory is sound as it’s based on the principle of being relevant, there is a real danger of not striking the right balance and finding the brand perception you’ve built with customers (perhaps over years) changed in ways that will have a lasting impact on your business.
Communications should be in response to the crisis, not about it, and offer real hope and support during the challenging and negative times. Constant reminders of how difficult things are or how much the crisis is affecting everyone, and everything are not helpful. Speak of the crisis only in terms of how you’re able to help it seem less difficult for your customers to endure. To a degree, this should be considered together with the next point.

2. Remember your brand’s place in the world

Your brand’s strengths and the perception of them have been developed over years. A time of crisis is not the moment for your brand to suddenly communicate as specialists in areas you’ve never spoken about before.
Whilst it’s tempting to see a crisis as a moment of opportunity to unlock new offerings or revenue streams, the reality is this only works if it’s because an existing strength has become more relevant or useful. Don’t try and manufacture the ability to support in areas you’ll soon be found out in. Again, even if you identify that an existing strength is suddenly more valuable, communicate it in a way that keeps you on the right side of the line between aligning to the negative situation and offering genuine support, inspiration and even hope.
3. Communicate with the future in mind

Importantly, we should be aware that the here and now is just a bend in the road and that sooner or later there will be an inevitable realignment towards the way things were before. Communications now should be laying a platform to maximise the opportunities once the turn to something more permanent comes.

Position your brand as the brand worth listening to in the future, because during the crisis you had a voice, a voice of credibility and support. The opportunity this offers you to one day be able to stand out in a sea of digital communications is rare.
4. Are reports and metrics useful right now?
Okay so here’s the problem with campaign tracking and its usefulness during these periods of uncertainty. Campaign reporting only really provides rich insight and intelligence by using bench marking or other comparisons to gauge success and shifting trends over time. The problem is, we’re no longer on a level playing field. The framework you’re communicating in is so unique that looking at, for example, opening rates for email campaigns now would probably only give you cause to scratch your head.
A good subject line a year ago may be insulting and ineffective today. People may be more inclined to open emails now than they were before. A whitepaper on the feasibility of remote working may get more click throughs today. These examples and many more should illustrate the difficulty in finding much use in campaign reporting right now. Statistics are irrelevant if they’re unable to be placed into the right context or have like for like comparison examples to be used.
There is probably going to be much valuable insight to be found once the pandemic is over by comparing this period to before as a whole or even for a benchmark for future communications, but for now, energy should be focused on generating content and communicating effectively.
Some of these insights will seem obvious to seasoned marketeers but as I said, for me, they’ve had so much more relevance in the last year. I’m constantly reminding myself that the perceptions created by anything we put out today or how we talk to our clients and potential clients as a business will linger for a very long time.
Even though it seems the landscape of communications has improved during the course of the year, there are still many brands falling short on some of these points. The best advice to take from this piece is this: resist the temptation to align with the negativity of this or any other crisis as a source of content, remember your brand’s strengths and perceptions and shout about them in way that offers genuine support and a beacon of positivity.
Whatever you do, stay safe & connected.

Luke Delport
Head of Digital Development

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