How does your communication strategy change during times of crisis, and are there methods you can put in place so your brand will be ready for the next one?

If your brand dabbles in content marketing even a little bit, this is a question you should be asking yourself. At the time of this writing, Covid-19 has gripped the world in an unprecedented way. Businesses have sent their employees to work from home, altered their hours, or closed entirely. The Coronavirus outbreak has upended the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. How does this affect our approach to marketing communication with our team and with our audience?

The strategists at Forma have mastered the art of effective marketing communication and content strategy over the years, and while there may be a glut of content on the internet about the effects of Covid-19, there’s surprisingly little content about how businesses should be adapting their communication strategy during this time. This applies to both internal communication as well as external messaging. Moreover, this content is typically hyper-focused on the pandemic of 2020. But what about other times of uncertainty? Once the current crisis subsides, will businesses go back to their old ways? To be precise, this blog will equip you with strategies that you can use during any crisis.

The Importance of Tone in Communication

In many cases, we find that what we say is almost less-important than how we say it. How you choose to articulate a message, whether it’s to a client or an employee, can make or break the conversation. Tone can be used to either augment your point, or undermine it. This is why it’s so important to decide on a tone that is both appropriate and consistent. 

During times of uncertainty, most people will respond positively to a more personable, empathetic tone. Your prospects will likely not want to be blatantly sold to, and your employees will not want to be treated like resources from which to extract value. No matter if you’re talking to the CEO of a massive corporation or an intern fresh out of school, everyone wants to be spoken to like a normal human being. This becomes even more important during times of crisis, when people’s livelihoods are threatened and futures are cast into doubt.

Now that you’re aware of the importance of tone, it’s time to look at your two primary channels of communication: external and internal.

External communication: How to talk to your community 

The simple truth about times of crisis is that fewer people are eager to open their wallets and sign new contracts before they know how the dust will settle. However, this doesn’t mean that you should pause all email campaigns and shutter your social media channels. The companies that emerge victorious after a period of uncertainty are the ones that are proactive and adaptable, not reactive and inflexible. Your business should always be playing offense instead of defense. But how do you play offense when your prospects are reluctant to spend money? The solution is simpler than you may think.

By cultivating a line of communication that focuses on education instead of promotion, you’re bolstering your brand’s reputation while also sowing the seeds for a possible client engagement once the crisis has passed.

Educate, don’t promote

During times of uncertainty, people don’t want to be sold to. Don’t hammer your prospects with campaigns about “increasing sales” while crowing about how great your services are. Even if they do have a problem you are equipped to solve, they’re unlikely to be receptive to blatant sales jargon and shameless promotion while the future is uncertain. But if yours is a small business, then buying likes for your social media pages and marketing your brand, with the help of, wouldn’t hurt.  

Instead, take a more altruistic approach. Take some time to develop educational content to nurture your community and prospects with knowledge. For example, craft an email campaign that explains how to create an effective content marketing strategy with lists and actionable steps for the user to follow. Then, slip a nuanced call-to-action at the bottom to encourage further engagement.

This approach has several benefits over a standard sales drip-campaign. For one, you’re able to flex your knowledge in a very public way, which increases your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Secondly, the user will respond positively to content that isn’t explicitly sales-centric. Finally, you’ll be nurturing your relationship with the user by respecting their reticence to buy, which may bloom into a fruitful client engagement further down the line.

By cultivating a line of communication that focuses on education instead of promotion, you’re bolstering your brand’s reputation while also sowing the seeds for a possible client engagement once the crisis has passed.

But what about your own coworkers? Your brand is only as strong as the people you work with, so how are you communicating with your internal team during times of crisis?

Internal Communication: How to Talk to Your Team

Whether you’re the boss, a marketing manager, a salesperson, a designer, or an account manager, you’re responsible for maintaining an effective cadence of communication during good times and bad times. Which is easy to say, but not-that-easy to actually do. During a normal day, you likely don’t give much thought to how you communicate with your coworkers. Meetings, calls, and requests are just part of our collective rhythmic subconscious in the workplace. But what happens when a crisis strikes and that collective rhythm is disrupted? What happens when your coworkers are reduced from living, breathing people to grainy, distorted pixels on a teleconferencing dashboard? How do you adapt to such a drastic change to the workplace dynamic? Staying connected via teleconferencing tools is a great idea, but we can dig a bit deeper than that. There are a few keys to remember here:

1) Be Patient

Working from home is weird. Many workers in America are used to the traditional trappings of employment: commutes, offices, parking, and interacting face-to-face with the people they work with. When those cornerstones are altered, or removed altogether, many people will struggle to adapt. Giving people the benefit of the doubt when you see them experiencing fatigue or anxiety will not only instill them with confidence, but will tighten the bond you have with your team. This is why patience is so important during times of uncertainty. 

2) Be Empathetic

Empathy is a virtue that seems to be in short supply in these modern times of heated discourse and hair-trigger judgements, which makes it even more important to practice empathy with your team members. In an office, when someone comes up to your desk and makes chitchat before asking for a favor, you’re likely not to mind the interaction. But when your team is remote, and those polite interactions are reduced to one-line Slack messages, it’s easy to lose the human element behind those requests. Be mindful of where the other person is coming from, and remind yourself that you’re all in the same boat together.

3) Be Honest

During a crisis, everyone gets a little bit jittery. Even if your business is largely unaffected by a crisis, your workforce might still be disrupted by the environment around them. If you’re higher up on the corporate ladder, your subordinates will be looking to you for guidance and transparency. It’s your responsibility to be honest with your coworkers about your expectations for their performance and the business at large. If everyone is remote, consider scheduling weekly one-on-one touchbases with your team members to make sure that you’re all on the same page mentally and professionally. It can be challenging to have honest conversations in a remote environment, but it’s absolutely crucial that you maintain healthy and productive dialogue no matter where your team is.

Hopefully this knowledge has you feeling better about how to effectively communicate with your audience and team during turbulent times. We’re always glad to have conversations about content strategy and branding, so if you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Whether there’s a crisis or not, Forma remains steadfast in our loyalty to the medical and life science community, and we’re dedicated to helping however we can. Stay safe, and don’t forget to wash your hands!