Marketing with Empathy During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world, many marketing teams have been working overtime to pivot their brand’s messaging and communication tactics appropriately.

Though there have certainly been some tone-deaf attempts at responding to the crisis, here at the Sells Agency, we've also seen a lot of wonderful, inspiring examples of sensitive, empathetic messages from brands. We’ve also been working with our own clients to craft these types of messages for their audiences and wanted to share some tips for maintaining sensitivity in your marketing in the midst of COVID-19.

1. Don’t neglect your internal messaging.

Don’t forget your employees are likely feeling very anxious and uncertain during this time. First and foremost, make it clear you care about the well-being of your internal team. We know some businesses are having to make tough decisions. Being clear and transparent with your team from the start can give you a chance to maintain trust and help calm their fears of the unknown.

2. Regularly review and alter your plan.

In the midst of a global pandemic, flexibility in your marketing strategy is going to be key. After all, very few businesses were truly prepared for the impact COVID-19 has had on consumers. As we’ve all seen, things are changing on a daily basis. Government officials are providing daily updates and regular press briefings on the situation. In the same way, brands should continually review and pivot their plan when it comes to marketing. Be nimble when things do, inevitably, alter your plans.

3. Focus your customer communications.

Consumers are being overwhelmed with information about COVID-19. There’s an abundance of information out there, so it's smart for brands to focus their energy on developing a few solid messages as opposed to running with every ad, press release or social media post idea that comes to mind. Valid messages right now will depend on your industry and specific situation, but could include:

a. Addressing common questions your customers might have right now (i.e., a change in operating hours, delivery, etc.)
b. Ways you and your employees are supporting your local community
c. Identifying and offering solutions for your customers’ changing needs and concerns (i.e., curbside pickup, delivery, virtual shopping, etc.)
d. Positive, uplifting content and/or news

One recommendation we’ve seen is for brands to focus on community building as opposed to sales in the midst of this period of need.

4. Sometimes, silence is golden.

Many brands are able to find ways to effectively and empathetically communicate with their customers right now. But it is okay to be more quiet than usual. We’ve observed more backlash on social media for companies that have cringe-worthy, insensitive content than for companies that are simply not posting. Have an internal discussion about whether your brand has anything to offer customers right now and what that might be. That can be helpful content or hopeful content, like stories of resilience and perseverance. Lots of people are looking for happy content right now to lift their spirits and offer a distraction from the daunting 24-hour news cycle.

5. Remember, you’re talking to humans.

Now more than ever, it’s vital for brands to bring humanity into their marketing strategy. Your audience is made up of real people and each of them could have been personally impacted by this pandemic in any number of ways. Before you publish anything, think about how it would come across to someone who has been personally affected.

Marketing during a global crisis like COVID-19 can be tricky to navigate. If these tactics won’t work for your brand or industry, try using this time to do some “spring cleaning” for your brand. Look at the way you currently do things and see if there are more efficient, streamlined processes you can put in place. If anything, you can use this time to make improvements to your company that you can market later on. If you focus on being thoughtful and empathetic in your messages to consumers, you should be able to provide helpful content in a sensitive manner.