10 Things For Businesses to Do Now In Response to COVID-19
It’s been a fortnight like no other. By now, all of us fall into one of three groups: furloughed and anxious about long-term job security; working from home and anxious about all the challenges it entails; or out on the frontline and anxious about the health risks of simply going to work. With the situation evolving so fast, and a veil of uncertainty blurring any responses to unanswerable questions like ‘how long will it last?’ and ‘what will the impact be?’, that general mood of anxiety won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
In business, our instinct is to avoid uncertainty and stick within firm parameters of what we know and what our customers expect. But this has been a fortnight like no other and normal rules do not apply. Right now, anyone that offers any hard and fast reassurance rooted in defined timeframes and outcomes appears at best deluded and at worst dishonest. But that doesn’t mean we should all retreat into the shadows and wait for the sun to come out once COVID-19 has retreated. On the contrary, we simply need to accept that everything is uncertain, embrace that fact as a starting point, and plan how we’re going to deal with it.
Now for the Good News
The good news is – and I use the phrase ‘good news’ with caution – life, business, and what happens tomorrow is equally uncertain for everyone. No-one expects anyone else to have all the answers. But your customers, your supply chain partners and your employees do expect you to be asking the right questions, understanding their anxiety and doing what you can to address their concerns.
In these most extraordinary of times, we can neither maintain the myth of business as usual, nor cling on to the pretence that we can just step away from the situation and pick up where we left off later, as though the world is taking a nap. Those caught napping now will miss the opportunities the recovery brings when it finally arrives.
Most companies already understand all of this. What many are struggling with is what to do about it. That’s why we’ve put together a guide of what your business should be doing now to respond effectively and plan for the future.
Ten Things to Do Now
1. Take stock – The biggest obstacle to effective communication is panic. When we panic, we lose clarity and without clarity our messages become confused and insincere. Understand as much as you can about how COVID-19 is affecting your business, your customers and your supply chain. Those insights are a vital element in planning your response.
2. Review and revise – This is an evolving situation so it’s not acceptable to send out a single round robin email to all your contacts and consider the communications job done. What was true a week ago is no longer true now, and things are likely to change again before we lose the likelihood of more surprises up ahead. Communication in a crisis – and this is a humdinger of a crisis – is never static and should never be treated as job done.
3. Check your tone – ‘we’re all in it together’ – it’s a true and powerful message, but said in the wrong way by the wrong person it can sound trite. Patronising even. Finding the right tone of voice is much harder than simply knowing what to say because it involves understanding how your words will make people feel. As a rule of thumb, make sure you only make statements that you, yourself can believe and substantiate.
4. Prioritise clarity – the reason the Peak District was overrun with visitors during the first weekend of lockdown was that the Government hadn’t made it clear that permitted daily exercise was local to home. As a result, lots of people with the same good idea of social distancing in the great outdoors congregated in the same, small, rural communities. Clarity is not easy in an environment where everything is so unclear but it is the companies that communicate with clarity that demonstrate a decisive approach and a reassuring level of control of the situation.
5. Take your staff with you – there is already a list circulating the internet of companies that have treated their staff well and businesses that have let their people down. What you do to look after your team and communicate with them now will not only affect how motivated they are when you need them most – during the recovery – it will also affect your reputation in the marketplace. Talented and committed people are an important strength for any business so make communicating with them a priority and try to retain a sense of cohesion and community for staff while they are furloughed or working from home.
6. Adapt your plans, don’t cancel them – because everything has changed, for now at least, your marketing plans may no longer be the right choices; they were choices made in a completely different market context. That doesn’t mean you should scrap everything and hold tight for the recovery. Consider what activity is still valuable and where your planned marketing spend is no longer viable or relevant, think wisely about how you can adapt the spend. For example, if you were due to launch a product at an event, how about a webcast…you will never have a more captive audience.
7. Choose your channels wisely – one of the noticeable impacts of social distancing has been the increased use of digital technologies to connect people and communicate. It’s likely to be a permanent shift, even when the COVID-19 situation is over, with new habits formed while so any of us are working from home. It’s important to choose the right channels for your business, however, and this may mean different content for different platforms. For example, if your company sells electrical products, you’ll find a huge community of electricians on Facebook, but you’ll need LinkedIn to connect with electrical engineers. Whichever channels you use, make sure your profiles are up-to-date and your content is interesting, relevant and regular.
8. Upskill your team – some companies are busier than ever during the lockdown but, for many, there is time available now to breath a little and consider what skills you need in the business. There’s an extraordinary scope for online learning and lots of courses are being offered for free during this challenging time. If your team doesn’t currently feel confident using LinkedIn, an online LinkedIn workshop would be a good place to start because it’s a tool that will be invaluable to your business during the COVID-19 crisis and after it.
9. Plan ahead – with no end date fixed for this challenging period, it’s not easy to plan what happens next, but a flexible plan is much better than no plan at all. Recovery will happen and, when it does, we need to be ready. Now is the time to plan your marketing activity and consider how you can retain your brand’s profile over the coming weeks to help you drive sales in the months that follow.
10. Stay connected – silence is not golden and no news is bad news if you want to stay front of mind with your customers. Alongside the need to keep stakeholders up-to-date with what’s happening now, there is also a need to keep reminding them what you do and why they should choose you. It’s important to maintain a presence and we’re all looking for a break from the COVID-19 talk once in a while. You can stay connected with customers by continuing with marketing activity and reaching out to them with content online and interaction on social media. Investing in those relationships now will be much easier to kickstart your recovery.
The anxiety we’re all feeling with the world tipped upside down is a collective stress that we need to navigate our way through. The key is to focus on what can be achieved within the parameters of what’s happening now, and ensure we don’t lose sight of what needs to be achieved beyond COVID-19. At TWA, we’re already advising clients on communicating now and planning for the recovery, helping them to leverage online channels, craft great content and keep their teams and customers engaged. If you need marketing support, or just a little ad hoc advice, give us a ring.