COVID-19 PLAYBOOK: Communicating with customers during the crisis


Have you reduced or even shut down marketing and customer communications during the crisis?

Are you saving your dollars to invest in when we are on the other side of this and you have more positive news?

Have you furloughed the team that normally manages marketing and customer communications?

That all makes sense and many brands have taken those steps.

However, there is an alternative point of view.

The counter argument is that this is the most important time for customers to hear from you.

So long as you understand what it is that they want to hear.

And there’s evidence to suggest that brands that do maintain visibility during hard times, recover faster on the other side of the crisis.

An example of a brand that has zigged as others zagged is the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. 

When it realized the pandemic had rendered useless its current marketing campaigns, it pivoted to produce a new advertising campaign, ‘Retail Heroes’, which featured the CEO, via Zoom from his home, thanking the retailer’s one million employees and calling them heroes.

That example is cited in a Harvard Business School (HBS) essay, published earlier this month, authored by Richard Edelman, CEO of the world’s largest PR agency, and Dr Jill Avery, an authority on customer relationship manager and a lecturer at HBS.

Edelman conducted a survey of 12,000 consumers in 12 countries battling the impact of the coronavirus, including the United States.

Based on that survey, the paper’s authors used the data to answer key questions about how to market during a major crisis:

 - Do consumers want to hear from brands during a crisis?  Yes, but only when the communication is comforting and provides specific information about what the brand is doing to respond to the pandemic.

 - What do consumers expect from brands in a crisis? They expect a lot – 63% believe their country will not make it through without brands playing a critical role and 55% perceived that brands were responding more quickly that their government.

 - How can brands help during the crisis?

  1. Educate the public
  2. Offer free or lower-priced goods & services
  3. Shift production to healthcare needs
  4. Bring people together through empathy & social support
 - Which types of stories should companies tell?
Stories that recognize the crisis and show understanding of how it is impacting people. And humor is risky!

Brands that get it right will enjoy huge rewards in the future.

The Edelman survey found that 65% of consumers said their likelihood of purchasing would subsequently be based on how well the brand responds to the crisis.

And 37% said they had started using a new brand as a result of their crisis-related marketing efforts.

It’s a tough choice – but it gives pause for thought before you close down customer communication until these difficult times come to an end.


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RockDove created our COVID-19 Playbook, available on mobile devices via In Case of Crisis, to help organizations share their trusted information with employees and stakeholders during this unprecedented public health crisis.



Learn how hundreds of organizations large and small are using our award-winning crisis management platform, In Case of Crisis, so you can be better prepared and respond faster to emerging threats like Coronavirus.