Covid-19 has thrown us all for a loop. I've been bumped to the basement while my son tunes into online classes from my office, but I'm busier than ever helping my clients stay nimble in this uncharted territory. Some are dealing with the fallout of closing physical locations or canceling events planned months ago. Others are responding with new content, fine-tuned messaging, and new ways to help their customers.
Here's a quick plan for keeping your brand and content in tune with the changing times.
1. Immediately revisit any scheduled posts and outreach.
If you schedule anything ahead of time, you need to make changes. Revisit your editorial calendar ASAP. Cancel any planned posts, ads, or emails that feel out of touch and consider reducing frequency overall, given that we're all trying to absorb a huge amount of rapidly changing information. And as you're looking ahead to the next few weeks or even months, of course you don't need to be all coronavirus all the time, but you do need to make adjustments.
For example, one of my nonprofit clients, Block by Block, empowers people to design shared community spaces using Minecraft. This week we revisited the editorial calendar and decided to turn the dial up on how Minecraft is being used worldwide for remote learning. For the upcoming UN International Day of Sport, we'll still showcase a project that includes a community soccer field, but we're shifting the focus to highlight how we all can't wait to get back out there to play, watch, and enjoy sports.
And we're evolving how we talk about public space in general, since this experience is giving us all a newfound appreciation for our shared parks and gathering places. It's an opportunity to raise awareness around the fact that many people in crowded cities don't enjoy the same access, and Block by Block is using innovative methods to address that inequity worldwide.
2. Adjust your tone.
I've seen many brand guidelines that talk about brand "tone of voice," but voice and tone are two distinct things. Your brand voice is how you communicate, authentically and consistently. Your tone is how you adapt that brand voice to a particular situation. There's a time and place to be a little extra, and we all look forward to that time returning, but right now it's important to dial things back with heightened sensitivity and care.
3. Consider what your customers need from you right now as you craft your communication.
Yes, your inbox is absolutely flooded with the Covid-19 response plan for every company you've ever purchased from. It's a lot. I've been reflexively deleting nearly all of these, but a few stand out as stellar examples of brand values and customer empathy. Before you take a quick boilerplate approach about shifting to remote work and keeping surfaces clean, think carefully about your customers most need to hear from you right now.
My awesome hair stylist, Carter Renee, communicated clearly that her salon is closed for the next few weeks, explained why she's shut down online booking for the time being, and recommended a super helpful product for root touch-ups until she can take appointments again. She invited those who wished to help to purchase an online gift card to be redeemed later, with a link to make it super easy. She did all of this in a way that felt completely genuine and heartfelt, not pushy.
In addition to assuring me about safe handling of my weekly grocery boxes, Imperfect Foods gave me a heads up that due to high demand, I might experience limited inventory and delayed deliveries as a result. Communicating this ahead of time builds trust and deepens empathy for what they're going through--we're all in this together! (They also made a quick tweak to their UI to highlight "Pantry Essentials" more prominently. Smart move!)
I've worked on a number of these "crisis communications" for my clients over the past week. On the fly, we've navigated things like how to lead with values, whether to mention the fact that websites are still open for online payments (my advice: not now!), clearly communicating added value to solidify existing monthly service clients, and the best way to position a $1 shipping special for sparkling wine (tricky, but possible).
4. Act quickly to create (or adapt) timely, relevant content.
If you have an idea for new content that would be especially helpful to your audience right now, get on it. But don't forget to take a spin through your content catalog to look for previously published pieces that you can quickly adapt and circulate. For Vitamin C client Resourceful, who helps impact-focused organizations and their people thrive through flexible remote HR services, we moved quickly to revamp two articles we'd planned to update later in the year that are suddenly perfect for now (see Three Strategies for Keeping Remote Teams Engaged and Supporting Your Team Through a Difficult Downsizing).
For Center, we're collaborating on an integrated campaign to showcase how companies can use the company's newly launched expense management solution to get a quick handle on real-time spending, drive accountability for changing budget targets, and immediately save thousands of dollars compared to traditional expense software. We're sharing tips for keeping business on track during economic uncertainty, and we're combing through our content catalog to speed the creation of new content on adjusting expense policies for remote work.
5. Change your offering if you need to.
It's always important to be in tune with what your customers really need, but now more than ever. One of the quickest, most on-point responses I've seen is from Seattle's premier special-occasion restaurant, Canlis. They recognized early on that what their customers need now is not fine dining. To keep their staff employed and truly serve their community, they turned on a dime from swanky steaks and impeccable tableside service to breakfast bagels, lunchtime burgers, and family meals available via drive-through in their parking lot. Will such a radical shift damage their brand? Absolutely not--they'll earn local loyalty and goodwill many times over.
Similarly, when Pacific Science Center had to close its physical doors, the team quickly rolled out Curiosity at Home, an incredible collection of live-streamed science shows, DIY experiments, and other great resources for remote STEM learning, building on their enduring Be Curious campaign with the new hashtag #CuriosityNeverCloses. They're live-streaming a Science in the City expert panel discussion--Understanding Covid-19. They've done an incredible job of responding quickly while staying true to their guiding principles, including serving as "a community laboratory and living room."
PacSci also reached out to donors with an urgent ask for support to keep these innovative online resources up and running, now that they've had to cancel their annual fundraising breakfast. Here's a powerful line from that outreach: "One of the next generation's great virologists is a child in Puget Sound, now. Our future as a society depends upon investing in her, now." (Please consider supporting this amazing (nonprofit) organization that works so hard to expand access to science if you can. Disclaimer: Vitamin C helped PacSci develop "Be Curious," but did not assist with the quick-response efforts described here. I'm a proud member and supporter.)
A strong (but flexible) brand framework, clear voice and tone guidelines, and a robust content catalog and editorial calendar make it far easier to stay nimble while staying on brand. If you don't have these time-saving tools in place, it's a great time to get caught up! Please reach out if we can help.