6 Communication Guidelines for Engaging Customers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Eva Maria Schmidt
April 7, 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is impacting economies across the globe, and marketers need to map a way forward, ASAP. That’s not an easy task in a landscape that’s shifting and changing by the minute, as experts attempt to gauge the current and long-term effects of this unprecedented disruption to the world economy.

One thing is clear: with people around the world using digital channels to fulfill the human need to socialize, communicate, and connect, digital marketing is more critical than ever. And with so many eyeballs now focused on digital channels, expectations have shifted. Before the virus, humans would mass-consume information like “digital snacks”: swiped, clicked, and instantly forgotten. But things just got real; people are now watching and reading with a greater level of attention. 43 percent of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust in this pandemic, so it’s more important than ever for brands to respond with empathy and prove worthy of this trust.

Here’s one place to begin: six communication guidelines to help you keep your audience engaged during this pandemic:

1. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Remember that you are communicating in a new environment; one that is highly over-messaged right now. Game-changing developments are popping up one news item, email, and text message at a time. Consumers are overloaded with messages from their employers, doctors, mayors, governors, and children’s schools. They have to install new apps allowing them to work and study at home. So make sure your message really counts.

2. Don’t be tone deaf. Review every message drafted before the pandemic. Keep in mind the radically changed environment and don’t risk alienating consumers by hawking special spring sales like nothing happened. Everything’s changed. It’s sensitive out there. KFC pulled an ad campaign in the U.K. because its “finger-licking” chicken prompted more than 150 complaints citing hygiene violations to the Advertising Standards Authority. That’s how sensitive the environment is. Selligent’s head of Sales for North America, Kat Berman, shared an email she recently received from a local gym, during the height of the crisis, recognizing her son’s birthday. Ordinarily, nothing wrong with that, right? To help him celebrate, they offered to let him bring a friend with him to the gym for free during his birthday week. Except the gym, like almost all public outlets, is closed during the pandemic. Clearly, this was part of an automatic email journey that no one remembered to turn off. Bad mistake. (Not to mention that they got her son’s birthdate wrong – plus he’s under age and not even eligible to use the gym; but that’s a big mistake for a whole other blog post…) A good example of what not to do during a crisis.

3. Keep communication around the crisis high-value. Are you cancelling an event, product rollout, or service offering due to COVID-19? Do you have crucial information about product inventory or delivery times? A new policy to help COVID-19 relief? Of course a message to all affected consumers is in order. Otherwise, make sure your message is pertinent when it comes to addressing the pandemic directly via email – or even more invasive, via SMS or push message – amidst the crisis.

4. Watch your cadence management. The content of your messages is under the microscope, and so is the frequency. How much is too much? Perform a thorough audit to control the cadence of your entire marketing automation. Crossing the line may annoy customers who have to deal with massive disruptions at a fast pace, perhaps even souring your brand reputation for life. Let them come to you, by making sure consumers can find answers to their questions easily.

5. Re-orchestrate your channels. Amidst widespread shutdowns, make sure that marketing automation – including geo-fenced triggers – no longer nudges physical store visits (unless offering curbside pick-up or home delivery). Instead, formulate campaigns to reward online shopping. Do you have the data points to identify your most loyal offline customers? If so, how can you specifically convert them into online customers?

6. Sprinkle in personalization. As people wait at home for the situation to clear, a little personal acknowledgement goes a long way. Using consumer data from profiles in your customer data platforms (CDP), serve personalized experiences across channels and devices. While the actual shopping experience is hard to replicate online, individualized product recommendations – created with AI engines and delivered at scale – or special offers will make your message stand out from the rest.

As digital marketers, we can still reach our audiences as we collectively deal with this historic event. Using the full spectrum of data-driven marketing technologies, we can keep the conversation going and engage consumers with relevant, helpful and impactful content.

Selligent just produced a new eBook to help marketers keep in touch with consumers during the COVID-19 crisis. A New Communication Reality: Engagement Strategies for the Crisis offers actionable tips for digital marketers to move forward in a world disrupted by coronavirus, including:

Use the box below to download your free copy now.

We will continue to provide more content around coronavirus (COVID-19) and digital marketing, to help you respond in the days and weeks to come. Please continue to check our blog and our resource section for the latest. Also make sure to read our statement on how Marigold Engage is supporting efficient digital communications amidst the repercussions of COVID-19.