Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis continues to upend people’s lives as well as the global economy. Amid the austere economic outlook, companies are focused on three priorities: protecting lives, protecting jobs and protecting future viability. As business leaders navigate the health and safety aspects of this crisis, they are just now beginning to understand the full impact of the pandemic and how best to communicate through it.

Turn Up the Volume

In prolonged periods of uncertainty like this, it is natural to want to slash budgets to retain cash. After all, no one really knows how long this crisis will continue. History tells us, though, that companies and brands that take the opposite approach, choosing to invest in their business and reputation during a downturn, come out of the crisis sooner and gain market share when the crisis is over. In the 2008 financial crisis, for example, Kantar US Insights reported that brands that maintained a share of voice recovered 9X faster.

Keen marketers get this and are pivoting their communications strategies and messages to focus on the recovery. In fact, McKinsey & Company reported in its recent study of B2B marketers that about a quarter of companies surveyed are now redirecting their spend toward future opportunities. Whether you are a market leader or a new start-up, your recovery post-crisis will depend on your ability to look ahead to avoid being left behind.

Find the Right Mix

Dust off your tried and true content plans that worked so well before this crisis and assess them through the lens of today’s environment. Aspirational messages that resonated then will likely need tweaking, as consumer confidence in basic life needs has been shaken.

Take Apple’s new iPad Pro and MacBook Air campaign. At a time when unemployment is climbing at a rate not seen since the Great Depression, hyping a premium product struck the wrong chord as news headlines contrasted the product launch against exposed communities struggling to sustain livelihoods. Had Apple taken a different approach with its campaign, drawn from its purpose to focus on connecting communities through its products, the campaign likely would have had a very different effect.

At a time when every decision matters and public confidence in the future is waning, stakeholders are paying attention to how companies are communicating – to what they are saying and not saying. For example, as evidenced by G&S’s recent Consumer Intelligence Snap Poll, over half of Americans say they would have a more positive perception of companies that share their coronavirus policies with the public (71%). A strong COVID-19 content strategy must be based in the here and now, focusing on a mix of what I call the three Rs: Response, Recovery, and Reassurance.

The Here and Now: Continuity in Crisis

Across the board, companies are talking about COVID-19, sharing health and safety information and business continuity plans. However, as we pivot to discussions of re-opening for business, consumers want more than just evidence about health and safety. They seek information and hope.

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Opinium Research in a recent survey that consumers are seeking communications from brands that are informative (69%), serious (56%), and educational (54%), but also from those that are inspiring (49%). The weighting of this information differed by sector, however. Sectors offering essential services, such as healthcare, skewed heavily towards scientific and authoritative messaging the public seek reassurance in data. Traditionally conservative industries, such as financial services and manufacturing, over-indexed on the need to adopt an informative tone.

As your customers’ needs and desires inevitably change, it’s time to re-evaluate your customer journey and adapt your messaging to their new state of mind.

"Hear" for You: Strength in Recovery

As we move into phase 2 of this crisis, we must tell our stories in a manner that addresses top-of-mind issues to break through the clutter. For B2B marketers in the home and building industry, for example, it’s all about the supply chain. In a Meyers Research survey of 300+ homebuilding division presidents, 80 percent said they expect supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19. Builders and other construction industry stakeholders seek information about product lead times and data that can help them effectively manage their own recovery.

Focus your storytelling on the actions you are taking to ensure that no crisis of this magnitude will impact your business as significantly in the future. Communicate how you are mitigating risks by moving away from the traditional single-sourcing model; adapting digital means of production, distribution and sales; and automating your manufacturing operations.

We are all looking at remote work in a fresh way, too. Companies in every industry have made the forced transition to fully remote work, ushering in the emerging trend on a steeper curve. This will ultimately transform the workforce and the office of the future, with companies reconsidering their physical footprints.

Ground your storytelling in data using snap polls, customer surveys and secondary research, and then use those insights to shape your communications strategy based on what is most important to your audience. What are their biggest pain points, and how can you address them? Evidence-based approaches can go a long way to reassuring your stakeholders when fear and misinformation abound.

The Long-Term: Stronger than Ever

As we emerge from the crisis and regain our footing, the focus can return to your brand communications. For now, though, it is all about your people, your purpose, your pursuit of your vision. It is a time to rededicate yourself and your workforce to a shared sense of mission, vision and values, both as a company and a community, keeping people connected as they return to work. This is the core from which all communications should flow to inform your tone, positioning and perspective as we transition back to work – but hardly back to normal.

Double down on your business strengths and build safeguards against newly realized business risks to lead the industry out of crisis. And when you reach the other side, take the opportunity to tell your recovery story, celebrate your charitable efforts and recognize the collective perseverance of your workforce. Offer the voice of reassurance and hope that people need to hear – and use that to anchor your thought leadership as your company recovers. The companies that will emerge from this crisis stronger are the ones that can establish new reasons to believe in their brand and tailor their messaging to each phase of the recovery.

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