don’t hibernate! communication strategies for coronavirus times

By James C. Sulecki

The time to buy stocks, it’s long been said, is when the market is down. “Be greedy when others are fearful” and all that.

Well, the same might be said for your customers’ attention—especially during this (hopefully fleeting) time of coronavirus. As office buildings across the country empty out, now is decidedly not the time to go into communication hibernation. In fact:

I will argue that this is the very time we need to double-down on our efforts to reach our customers using digital means.

Which at this moment is the most reliable communications platform we have at our disposal.

Why? Because digital is the very quintessence of social distancing.

By contrast:

  • Travel and most in-person gatherings are clearly are out of bounds, at least for a while

  • Phone lines may be jammed or of poor quality—Verizon, for instance, just the other day had a fairly major outage on the East and West Coasts. And web conferencing may be limited within many organizations due to a paucity of individual licenses requisitioned for a more office-bound era.

  • Mail delivery could be compromised if the outbreak worsens
  • Print has far too long of a lag time in this particularly fast-moving time. (Also: see mail delivery, immediately above.)

And yet—people long for interaction and community. Freed from office distractions, blocked from friendly time at the company water cooler, many—especially those without stay-at-home kids to care for— may have more of an open ear than usual. Even people with kids may be looking for a break from double duty.

While it’s true that we’re living through an unfortunate moment in history . . .

We can make the best of it by investing now—as we do in the stock market—in our customers now, to gain share-of-mind with them so we’re a bit further ahead once markets rebound.

Here are some suggestions.

Be positive. Everyone’s already had the bejeebers scared out of them. Without being too nonchalant about the present, be sure to reference a more positive and stable future.

Get personal. Now is not the time to hide behind the officiousness of day-to-day business. A good example: Cleveland Clinic could have used a standard, anonymous, third-person means to communicate its latest efforts to contain COVID-19. Instead, the organization’s president and CEO took on this duty via video.

Use email. Cleveland Clinic pushed out its message via email, and no surprise: It’s still the best way to reach people in a business context. Don’t believe me? Read “The B2B Comfort Zone: Email Is Still Best For Sending Content.” Everyone curses email, but that’s because it’s too often misused and overused. Use sparingly. Keep it short. Make it jaunty and entertaining but also full of content value. Leverage it to drive traffic to your website.

Social media. It almost goes without saying: Keep pushing posts through your social media channels. For many of us these are lifelines right now to much of the outside world.

Produce webinars, video, and audio. These can be great stand-ins for in-person events, though note: Can we please make them more fun? The perfunctory “housekeeping” checklists that open most B2B webinars can be about as exciting and instructive as airplane safety announcements. Contrast garden-variety-webinars with the energy good conference speakers have when they seize the stage—one begins with a whimper, the other with a bang. Why don’t we bring more of what we know works for in-person presentations to digital presentations

And by the way …

PowerPoints—why do so many people hate on these? As with email, it’s not the vehicle itself that’s a problem, it’s misuse thereof. How many presentations have you seen that consisted one big image per slide? This is great for in-the-moment experiences but not so much if you want to pass that wonderful presentation around to colleagues. And at the other extreme are PowerPoints with one-hundred words on a slide and no images—why not just use Word? (Or email for that matter?)

Soft Sell. Finally, to go with a hard-sell approach in these uncertain times is to come across as a little tone-deaf, especially with coronavirus striking at the very pillars of many businesses. But as I say: Quarantine, but don’t hibernate. Use this time to build thought leadership and trust among your current and prospective customers using an effective digital communications effort.

You’ll be better off when things finally do improve.