Crisis Marketing: The When, What and Where of External Communications in Trying Times
Volatility is not always a negative in markets. However, when we have levels of volatility that evoke the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘historic’, we know we are in challenging times. Volatility can be created by many factors. What might be a bit different about the current environment is the simultaneous and direct human risk to our own families and friends, neighbors and colleagues. This is not simply a market environment nor an event far, far away. The volatility is among us.
Coupled with the tumultuous markets we are seeing is a resource scarcity that we have not witnessed in decades, if ever for many citizens. Resources are scarce for medical professionals attempting to deal with this crisis at lightning speed. Resources are scarce on grocery shelves. Yet most of us can do little to help, other than to stay out of the way, quite literally. In its truest sense we are all focused on managing our own resources. Families are re prioritizing everything, sheltering in place. These are not simply volatile markets--these are volatile times. We worry about keeping our jobs, keeping our kids calm, and keeping ourselves sane.
What is the appropriate marketing response to this crisis? Should we be communicating with our clients? Our prospects? Our peers? As we move beyond the ‘transition’ from life as we knew it, to life as we now know it—primarily housebound and home-schooled—here are some thoughts for external communications:
1. Skip the Internal Protocol Update If It Wasn’t Sent Already
There is no percentage in replicating the same message sent by hundreds of other firms. In the early days of the crisis, some businesses were ahead of the curve in announcing externally their plans for work from home, store closures, etc. At this point, now a solid week into the most severe government warnings and requests for social distancing, your audience knows the standard protocol because they have complied themselves. There is no need to reiterate the obvious in any depth, other than to affirm you are ‘accessible’ via modern technology at any time. Announcing now that you are stopping travel and sending workers home seems quite ‘late’ to the game, in fact. Exceptions, of course, are local businesses providing necessary health services, supplies and food. For most of us, this does not apply.
2. Minimize the General Market Commentary
With modern technology, we are all quite aware of what the market is serving up. With little to do but catch up on the news, and a compelling need to track the hour to hour progress of our world’s response and the progression of COVID-19, we all know what is happening. Millennials know their student loans will be interest free for the foreseeable future and families are discussing refinancing even of relatively new dwellings—these are not normal times. This is telling as it speaks to market awareness, even among non-investment professionals, regarding quickly changing policies with direct economic impact. Keep this in mind when you provide your next update; there is no need to spend lots of time on the general market, we are watching it real time along with you. A few poignant sentences are all that is needed. Save your ink for what you can tell us that is different from the mass communications well covered by the media.
3. Focus on Your Own Looking Glass to Add Value
Here is where firms CAN add something to the conversation, and this is where organizations should lead. If you feel compelled to cover items 1 and 2 above in any depth, relegate them to the end of your update, not the beginning of your communications. Lead with what differentiates you now, and always. This is what you do. This is where you can shine. This is how you can help. Tell us what short term impacts your business is experiencing. Then, tell us what opportunities this market may create for your firm longer term. We all want to have something to look forward to, and we want to understand something new. Give us your best thinking and some nuanced examples that help to reinforce not only your ideas, but your expertise in the market. Now is the time to educate, to inform and to engage.
4. Format Matters
Email communications are the ‘norm’ among businesses these days for quick communications, regardless of whether they are direct to consumer or business to business. This format is efficient, cost effective and permits multiple touch points that are timely and focused. However, this also means that we are bombarded by such updates in our inboxes. Where can firms differentiate and more importantly, avoid the ‘delete’ button? The subject line is your first opportunity. Avoid replicating the same key words that the rest of the market us using. The second key to an effective email is to avoid a letter format filled with lengthy paragraphs. Consider utilizing headings for sections that permit the reader to determine what and where they want to spend time. A good set of headings can be the core messages your firm needs to deliver, maximizing readability and efficiency for all.