3 Questions to Answer Before Addressing Your Customers ​During a Crisis

By: Elliot Glass, Content Marketing Manager 

We’re in the thick of it, but the wheels keep spinning. COVID-19 is spreading fast – not only to people but also to businesses. Businesses across the country are shutting their doors, rethinking strategies, and trying to figure out a way to get through this. We’re doing the same.  

Like it or not, the spotlight is on your brand right now. As anxieties rise, customers need to hear from you. 

Being tone-deaf with messaging is not an option. GameStop already showed us what happens when you put customers first – over the safety of employees – during a crisis. To weather this storm, brands will need to stay transparent and supportive to rapidly evolving customer needs.  

Communication is key, but context changes everything. When we’re on the other side of this, customers will crown winners and losers. Every winner will have one thing in common: their messaging was on point. 

Before rolling out any messaging, make sure you’re saying the right thing. We polled our organic media team to find out some of the most important questions that every brand needs to answer before speaking to their customers during a crisis. 

Two agency experts speak to a client to understand the crisis and communicate solutions.

1. Why do we need to speak to our customers? 

Before thinking about all the possible things to say, start with answering “Why?” It isn’t a trick question. For many industries, your company purpose is your answer. It’s more important than ever to rethink what you can do to fulfill that purpose and consider the ways in which you can deliver on your brand promise – even if that promise is taking on a new form.  

For example, Anheuser Busch’s purpose is to maintain an “unwavering commitment to being good community partners and stewards.” To keep true to their promise, the brewing company recently announced they’re beginning to produce bottles of hand sanitizer to meet supply needs caused by shortages. Not only are they supporting the community, they’re making a lasting difference that people will remember 

But you don’t need to repurpose your assets or restructure your business. You can simply provide updates about operations to your customers. Explain how the shutdown is affecting you and the steps you’re taking to prevent the spread of the virus. If your business is directly affected by shutdownskeep your customers in the loopespecially if their safety is at risk. 

In times like these when everyone’s future is uncertain, reducing ambiguity is essential. Avoid becoming a source of anxiety. That all starts with using your purpose as a compass. 

Aligning your messaging with your purpose means that what you’re saying is for the right reasons. Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll always say the right thing, but you’re on the right track. 

One hand passes a heart-shaped piece of paper to another hand.

2. What are our customers’ current needs? 

With new COVID-19 updates coming in by the minute, people’s needs are in a constant flux. Because of this, brands need to reassess customer needs before communicating to customersAsk yourself: what do our customers need from us right now? That’s what your messaging should include.  

For example, if you’re in the hospitality industry and affected by closures, guests need an easy way to find out the adjusted booking dates and/or refund policyAnd obviously, with people’s nerves at a high, it would be good to call out the cleaning routine and additional measures the hotel is taking.  

After identifying your customer’s immediate needs, put your solutions front and center – on your website via a notification barin your email newsletter, social media profiles; any public-facing profile needs to include it. Eliminate any barriers to entry and make it as easy as possible for customers to find out what they need to know. 

You can also use this question to get a better idea of what not to say. Trying to sell to your customers like business is usual can come across as extremely tone-deaf. If you planned to kick off a new promotion this month, it’s probably best to hold off unless it’s solving a pain point caused by the crisis. And if you’re considering ways to support COVID-19 relief efforts, make sure what you’re doing is genuine and not promotional. Anything else won’t stick its landing.  

You need to contextualize every message. Knowing your customers’ needs will help you stay relevant and continue adding value during this tough time. 

Two marketing colleagues smile and high-five while seated at a meeting table.

3. How can we use our expertise to add the most value? 

Months from now, people will either turn to your brand as a consistent source of value, or they’ll have forgotten you. If you hope to stay top of mind, you’ll need to rethink your value prop and add value in new ways. If you don’t, your customers will move on.  

To figure out how to maintain customer engagement, think about what’s unique to your brand and how you can use your expertise to educate your audience and add the most value. Demonstrate that expertise in new ways. Build a strategy around it. Any message that isn’t rooted in context and backed by expertise will reach deaf ears.

Your customers are online more than ever right nowScreen times are through the roof. Akami’s web traffic monitor reports 50% more traffic than average. While many customer journeys are on hold right now, your customers are still at home, on their computers and consuming content. The brands that get this and use their expertise to meet the changing needs of consumerwill come out on top. 

Working from home, self-distancing, anxiously checking the news. This is the New Normal, and we don’t know how long it will last. New habits are formed every day, and brands need to adapt their value prop to meet customers where it matters.  

Look at Orange Theory, which closed all their fitness studios mid-March. Determined to maintain engagement with customers, the boutique fitness studio franchise is offering free at-home exercises for its followers on social media. This is #OrangeTheoryatHome. The message is resonating with their brand following. It may even help Orange Theory acquire more new customers over time. 

Shine provides another example of how brands can use this time to help their customers and reach a wider audience. The self-care app partnered with US non-profit Mental Health America to create an online toolkit with resources for anxiety and wellbeing during this crisis. Backcountry, the online specialty retailer, made a landing page to show off The Flip Side. It’s a weekly roundup of adventures and stories so they can bring the outdoors to their indoors customers.  

This is how a brand stays top of mind right now. Show your human side, communicate your expertise through relevant content, and get creative.   

Think before you speak 

What you say next matters more than everYou don’t need to run to the press or shout obscurities off rooftops. But very soon, you’ll need to say something – if you haven’t already. Anything you can do to make your message resonate is an activity worth doing. Start with answering these three questions for yourself and you’ll gain a stronger understanding of what to say and how to say it. 

What are you waiting for? Your customers are listening. And if you have any questions along the way, let’s get in touch. 

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