Best Practices: Marketing and Communications in COVID-19

You’ve activated emergency plans and all non-essential workers are logged on from home. Any essential workers are socially distanced. You’re using email to update employees and customers what’s going on. What’s next?

If you are rolling out a new service in response to the slow-motion natural disaster, by all means, let people know. Start with your email marketing mailing list. You may also consider Facebook advertising, especially if this product can be delivered or sold as curbside pickup. Or, if you’re in the specialized deep cleaning business, communicate that.

Before sharing examples of good communications, please let me advise on some don’ts.

  • Don’t refer to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis as “craziness,” as someone I don’t know did in an email marketing blast. (Would you believe that was a cold call email from a salesperson at a major payroll processing company? Wow.) Confine your personal feelings to personal communications. You’re still a professional in a business, no matter what is happening. A crisis is no time to lose your cool. At least not in your marketing and other business communications.
  • Don’t include every email in every database you can lay your hands on to let customers know how much they mean to you. I am getting heartwarming messages of concern from companies with which I do not recall ever having had any contact or business. This will come off as phony. Just use a list with legitimate customers/clients.
  • Remain friendly, but avoid jokes in professional correspondence, unless you are sharing a moment with an individual you know well. No one wants to see gallows humor at work and certainly not in a marketing message.
  • If you are in the lifestyle business, please don’t share recipes for comfort food that require a lot of fresh milk and eggs. I even saw a social media post today suggesting people “run out” to get fresh shrimp and crusty baked bread for a recipe. The reality is most people are not running out to buy shrimp right now, even those of us lucky enough to live on the Gulf Coast. If shopping, they are likely more concerned with social distancing than obtaining seafood. My shopping list includes bread flour, not bread. Maybe that’s just me. I’d love recipes for all the dried beans I bought earlier this month in anticipation of being housebound. In other words, make your message relevant to current events.

And, now for the great examples of businesses staying on brand with their COVID-19 communications:

  • Tractor Supply’s latest email addresses its customers with “A Message to Our Neighbors.” If you live in a small town with a Tractor Supply, it’s where you go for everything from chicken feed to overalls, dog food to cookbooks and a bunch of around the farm and house stuff in between. It’s all about basic supplies for survival. And their branding is homey and comforting. The message is about easily ordering online for quick pickup and how they are treating their employees. All good stuff.
  • Team Beachbody wants you to know their on-demand exercise sessions are there for stress relief and exercise. The supply chain for their nutritional supplies is uninterrupted and ready to deliver wellness to you. The email reminds you how their products and services can make you feel healthy.
  • Next Level Urgent Care got right to the point in its message line: “Get Tested for COVID-19!” If ever there was an appropriate use of an exclamation point in a marketing email, this is it. The content of the email is straight to the point. If you are experiencing symptoms, it gives text directions to download the app for a virtual visit. “Once you complete your video visit and receive your test order, we can direct you to the nearest drive-through testing location.” This is the best COVID-19 marketing email I have seen. It immediately identifies the pain point and offers a remedy. Short and direct. Boom.
  • Who else is out in front on good COVID-19 communications? Big Brown, a.k.a., the people who bring goods right to your home. “Many people are asking the same question: is it safe to receive and handle a shipment? The WHO and CDC have stated that the likelihood of catching the COVID-19 virus by touching cardboard or other shipping containers is low.” Comforting, right? So, go ahead and get those things delivered by UPS.
  • Even Discount Tire is reassuring. If you need your vehicle to be able to roll on down the road, you can get your tires fixed… by making an appointment ahead of time, please. Usually, you can just park and walk in, but not so fast anymore. They include the link to book an appointment for “essential customer needs,” which include flat tire repairs and replacement of tires with unsafe tread. You can hold off on tire rotation and rebalancing. Discount Tire is.

All of the good COVID-19 communications share the same hallmarks:

Emphasize health, safety and well-being of customers and employees.

Explain what has and what has not changed with your product offerings or services.

Speak confidently about crisis management and warmly about a shared future in which we can all resume normal operations.

Stay well and keep communicating.

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