Now is the time to be open, honest and thoughtful with your customers. Consumers are closely watching how brands behave in difficult times, how they connect with employees, and how they support their communities.
Right now is not about profit but about people, and showing support for one another. 67% of consumers think companies should donate supplies, while 54% expect monetary donations.1 Look for opportunities where your products and services can provide solutions and support to help operators without adding to the noise.
And most importantly, keep open contact and communication so operators know what to expect and how any changes in your business could affect theirs.
According to the CORONAVIRUS IMPACT ON THE FOODSERVICE INDUSTRY report created by IFMA in conjunction with Kinetic12 Consulting, brands must:2
Continue to engage operators with communications on potential disruptions to your supply chain and your organization’s contingency plan
Develop new ways to communicate and collaborate with customers and targets due to travel disruptions
Be proactive with operators about supply chain solutions and products that can help in-unit operations and/or reinforce food safety to consumers
Evaluate potential shifts in demand in your current customer base as well as assess potential new operator targets
As a content marketing best practice, brands shouldn’t create content that directly addresses a national emergency, tragedy or other crisis situation unless there’s a compelling business reason for the brand to do so—and the brand can contribute something new and valuable to the conversation. Things are moving so quickly with coronavirus news that brand marketers and non-news publishers will have a difficult time ensuring that what they’re producing is relevant and accurate. What’s more, the market is oversaturated with content on this subject because everyone feels compelled to say something, which, in turn, creates a lot of noise and prevents most messaging from reaching and influencing target audiences in a meaningful way.
In the wake of past crises, brand marketers and non-news publishers typically do one of three things:
- TEMPORARILY SUSPEND CONTENT PUBLISHING
- ADD CAVEAT LANGUAGE TO NEW CONTENT. Such language allows a brand to demonstrate its mindfulness of and sensitivity to the current situation while still allowing them to provide thought leadership content on relevant topics that have long been in the works—and remain valuable to target audiences during and beyond the crisis.
- BACKBURNER IN-PROGRESS PIECES IN FAVOR OF NEW PIECES THAT MORE DIRECTLY ADDRESS CURRENT EVENTS—either by referencing the crisis explicitly or by discussing evergreen topics that can help their target audiences manage through and beyond the crisis.
Given the significant impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on the hospitality industry (as well as the physical/mental health, safety and financial security of all people), The Food Group advises brand marketers to re-evaluate their content calendars and publishing schedules.
- If any in-the-works content addresses topics that would be considered insensitive in our current fast-moving, constantly changing environment, that content should be postponed until the crisis subsides.
- If any in-the-works content would help operators and other B2B audiences run their businesses through the crisis and rebound after it subsides, proceed with the content but consider tweaking the language to briefly address current events (or at least precede it with caveat language)—and avoid references to products/services and/or overt company pitches.
- If any in-the-works content would help consumers feel better about how to feed their families and stay healthy (physically and mentally) in the midst of this crisis, proceed with the content—but avoid references to products/services and/or overt company pitches.
- If any existing content in the brand’s content library would be relevant and/or helpful to target audiences in the midst of this crisis, consider re-promoting it via owned and paid media channels. Existing pieces may also be spun off into new, related pieces that can further deepen the content library on a particular topic over time.
In this day and age people instinctively turn to social media during times of crisis, making it an ideal platform for brands to share their message and to reassure their customers that they will support them through difficult times. Social media is also one of the only ways for people to socialize during this time so there is even more of an opportunity for brands to make an impact. However, having the right message is key. It’s vital to determine how a brand can help their customers and how they cannot. While it may not be the appropriate time to give customers advice about boosting their bottom line, improving margins, or driving foot traffic, advice about implementing delivery or ways to innovate their business with new technology provides them with actionable steps that can help distract them from the doom and gloom of the world.
With the right message, a brand can come out of this difficult time stronger than before. Brands should use this opportunity to support their community, not to sell products. By providing much needed resources and reliable information that will help customers get back to normal faster we can establish a deep sense of brand loyalty.
In the face of global crisis, the influence and power of PR is more important than ever before. At this time of uncertainty, brands must review and rethink their current PR strategy and release schedules. They also must firm up crisis communications plans and course of action for any unforeseen issues that may affect their business, customers and community. As we try to keep up with this ever-changing situation and media cycle, here are some PR tips and best practices to consider:
FIGURE OUT WHERE (OR IF) YOU FIT IN. When the news cycle is in overdrive, journalists are working harder than ever to find unique angles and resources that will add to the conversation and provide information not being covered elsewhere. Determine if your business or business leaders can contribute to the conversation in some way or offer valuable expertise. If so, share the story angle or resource with select journalists who cover the type of story you are offering.
PREPARE FOR A CRISIS. It’s never too early to ensure your crisis communications strategy and messaging. If you have a strategy in place, revisit it and confirm it works for this current climate and that all involved parties are in the know. If you do not have a strategy in place, now is the time to create one. Additionally, put together some generic messaging that can be tailored for a number of scenarios, like an outbreak within your organization or community or supply chain issues and delays.
Paid media schedules with traditional product or services messaging should be evaluated as soon as possible. People (both B2B and B2C) are looking for brands to help not sell during this crisis. More practically, dollars spent to drive product sales will not be effective as people are not making typical decisions about what to purchase. As the situation will continue to get worse before things normalize, we anticipate traditional product and service advertising will not be appropriate until this crisis has abated and society is in a rebuilding mode. However, paid media with messaging in support of people: helping them with advice, resources, donations and even humor, is an appropriate expense as it can instill a sense of normalcy and allow brands to illustrate their empathy. This messaging approach will instill confidence and therefore paid media with this type of messaging should be well received, and even appreciated.
A recent study from Mindshare indicates there has been a significant increase in those thinking companies in sectors including health care, food and utility services should stand up and offer aid. According to Alexis Fragale, director of consumer insights at Mindshare USA1, “Undeniably, there’s heightened emotion overall and a sense of living in uncertainty. Looking at what consumers believe, they want brands to step up and help our fellow humans; consumers want to see brands helping those in need, not just those who grow their business – whether that’s through donations or making sure a brand’s employees are being taken care of. There’s a strong sense of empathy as it’s something that’s affecting everyone, and if it can align to a brand’s purpose or values the action is even more amplified.
1McAteer, Oliver, “Americans want brands to step up and help amid coronavirus, study finds,” CampaignLive.com, March 20, 2020
2CORONAVIRUS IMPACT ON THE FOODSERVICE INDUSTRY Pulse Survey of Operators, Manufacturers and Consumers March 17, 2020 Published by IFMA in conjunction with Kinetic12 Consulting