Effective Messaging During COVID-19

Sara Thomas

closedYou’ve adjusted operations, you’ve re-worked your media plan, your Google My Business profile is updated and you’re ready to move into the next phase: promoting your new, social distancing-adapted business. 

But… what to say? How can you promote your business without seeming callous or tone-deaf? Tweaking your marketing messaging during COVID-19 is critical to your business’ success. Read on to learn how you can adjust your creative and content for today’s audience. 


Don’t remind people of what they can’t do.

This is a no-brainer, but your messaging should reflect new social distancing guidelines. No holding hands, no group settings, no parties, no concerts. If you don’t have visual assets that work, consider the use of animation, kinetic typography, still photography, or stock footage. A bonus is that using these work-arounds usually means reduced production costs compared to other types of production. 

The right marketing partner can help you utilize these elements so your message still feels on-brand without being insensitive to your customer’s current reality. 


Less transactional, more conversational.

We all crave a sense of comfort right now. Empathetic messaging has always been important, but now it is the singular note you must hit with your message. Approach each message by asking “how will this make my customer feel?” If you can’t offer empathy, it might be better to stay silent.

Economy beer brand Natural Light (Natty Light for those in the know) is hosting a virtual commencement for all the college students’ whose ceremonies were canceled. The event supports their core demo in a way that brings tasteful levity to an unpleasant reality.

Lowe’s #BuildThanks campaign encouraged DIY sign-making to support those on the front lines of the coronavirus response. This comes in conjunction with a $170 million donation to coronavirus relief. That brings up another point: customers are keen to see businesses put their money where their mouth is. Don’t just say you’re supporting the effort–take specific, meaningful action, or your words won’t matter. 


Budweiser’s “One Team” spot hits all the notes: heartfelt, supporting the community, emphasizing unity, and communicating exactly how they’re providing assistance to the cause without being garish.

You don’t need Lowe’s or Anheuser Busch’s budget to create an impactful message. Posting on your social channels and website, or creating a short video addressing your community can go a long way.


Stay on top of the news cycle.

With a situation that moves as fast as the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to have someone on your marketing team reading up on breaking news, and making adjustments to your creative as needed. Consider how your business may be able to provide value given recent news developments, then communicate to consumers. Be ready to move quickly as the situation evolves — but not so quickly that you fall victim to false information. Be confident in your sources and the information they’re providing before moving forward.


Don’t exploit the situation.

This should go without saying, but don’t try and capitalize on the global pandemic, people. 

Effectively reacting to the news cycle during a health crisis can be tricky. Make sure your message won’t be seen as self-serving. Don’t create fear, don’t stoke notions of product scarcity, and don’t try and shoehorn your product or service into the “necessity” category if it doesn’t belong there.

McDonald’s “socially distanced” arches struck a sour chord with some, as did Coca-Cola’s similar attempt.

In contrast, here’s an example of adapting without exploiting. This week, the CDC updated their guidelines to recommend that anyone going out in public should wear some sort of protective mask. A Portland-area sewing machine retailer used organic social media messaging to communicate their “takeout” service: curbside pick up of sewing machines, notions, and fabric ordered via phone, so that their community of sewists could continue to create masks. This is a great example of a small retailer with a fraction of McDonald’s or Coca-Cola’s budget pivoting operations and providing value, without seeming opportunistic. 


Think beyond the sell.

It’s counterintuitive to the way small business owners are wired, but right now your sole focus shouldn’t be on transactions. Yes, you still need to keep your business going, and finding ways to keep the cash register ringing is part of that. But you should also look for ways to support your customers and your community, and keep your employees safe. Building goodwill now will pay off in the long run. 

Think about the ways your business can provide value. Get creative, but don’t force it. Anything that requires too many mental backfilps to justify could be seen as exploitative. By pushing out meaningful content and building relationships with your customer now, you’ll be better positioned to “snap back” when this crisis has passed.


What happens next?

If you hit the emergency break on your marketing efforts when the pandemic started, it can be tough to think about ramping back up. That’s especially true if your sales have taken a hit. But thoughtful brand messaging can have a real impact right now, as consumers look for a path forward.

If you’re feeling a little lost at sea when it comes to messaging, your marketing plan, or both, reach out. The Charlton Marketing team is here and ready to help.