In the last few weeks, many marketers have struggled to pivot their strategies, revise their messaging, and figure out what content to create going forward (including us).
When your brand is facing a challenge, be it a global crisis or an internal restructuring, the natural instinct is to get “ahead” of it. But is that always the right move? Sometimes it’s important to speak up. Sometimes it’s more appropriate to stay silent. But it’s not always an either/or situation.
When you’re facing rough seas, what matters is knowing when to speak and what to say when you do. But that’s not always easy to figure out, especially in stressful times. Luckily, there is a way to gain more clarity.
To help you decipher what communication is worthwhile, and what might get you in hot water, we’ve found that a few simple questions can guide you in the right direction.
Whether you need to sanity-check your content strategy or know if it’s the right time to send that company-wide email, here are five helpful questions to decide if what you’re communicating is on-brand, worthwhile, and necessary.
1) Is there a reason to say something?
When something happens, your instinct is usually to say something, but every situation is different depending on the timing, climate, or message.
Sometimes responding too quickly may seem reactionary, while responding too slow can seem out of touch. Sometimes saying nothing can seem avoidant or suspect, but unnecessarily inserting yourself into a conversation can seem like bandwagoning. (Honestly, we’ve seen too many brands create the same pseudo inspirational COVID-19 response commercial. It feels cheesy and unoriginal at this point.)
What should you do?
Before you say something, here are 5 steps to take to mitigate a crisis in your marketing. But if you want to say something during a difficult time, think carefully about how it may be perceived, as sometimes good intentions can be overshadowed by a bad (or poorly worded) execution. Ideally, your communication should be proactive, showing that you’re not just “dealing” with a situation but truly leading people through it.
For example, months before Coronavirus made headlines, the Magic The Gathering card game designed a new card for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths named “Spacegodzilla, Death Corona.” Worse, it was set to hit stores in April 2020.
In light of the pandemic, the company made the responsible decision to issue a simple announcement to explain the situation, announce the card’s new name (“Spacegodzilla, Void Invader”), and detail how they would proceed going forward. By responding in a calm, proactive way, they were able to avoid fanning the flames and get back to business as usual.
2) Who are you speaking to?
In challenging times, everyone has their own unique feelings, fears, worries, etc. What you say can often help, hurt, or influence those feelings, so it’s important to be intentional about what you say, how you say it, and when you say it.
What should you do?
If you’re not sure what to say, this is the time to use your empathy. How are people affected right now? What are they experiencing? What do they want and need to know?
Before you speak to customers or vendors, think about your team, too. They are the face of your brand, so they need to be on the same page—and feel equally value. Whether it’s your employees or customers, sometimes it’s helpful to do the legwork to find out what people are feeling, and how your communication can best serve them.
For example, we polled our team to find out how they were feeling about our Coronavirus response. This helped us understand how we could support people, whether it was communicating more info on COVID-19 related policies or providing more transparency around how it’s affecting our business.
3) Are you providing value?
Oftentimes brands want to speak up just to feel like they’re “doing” something in times of crisis. But there’s a difference between stepping up and adding to the noise. Over-communication can be a nuisance when it’s clogging up your inbox. It can also be a sign of rocky leadership if you’re announcing policy changes every day.
What should you do?
Before you blast out that company-wide email or draft another tweet, ask yourself how this communication will contribute to the current climate. Will it provide much-needed information? Will it help people in some way? Will it confuse them, or make them ruminate on a problem they don’t need to worry about?
Respect people’s time and energy. Only communicate if you’re providing clarity or valuable information that is genuinely helpful, in both big and small ways. (Interestingly, a recent survey by GCI Health and The Harris Poll found that 93% of people are interested in non-COVID-related content right now.)
For example, to help people adapt to working remotely, Hubspot uses their Instagram to offer simple tips to make your workday more productive. This is a thoughtful way to provide value to people—even in a simple Instagram post.
View this post on Instagram What are some ways that you “change it up” when you’re working remotely? #GrowBetter #WorkFromHome #RemoteWork #HubSpot A post shared by HubSpot (@hubspot) on Mar 20, 2020 at 8:01am PDT
4) Is this in your lane?
There is nothing more risky (or unnecessary) than inserting yourself into conversation that you don’t belong in. Over and over, we’ve seen brands go through the wringer for trying to hop onto a trend or news story that they don’t need to. At best, these attempts are misaligned and off brand. At worst, they can become a PR disaster.
What should you do?
Only address something if it’s relevant to your brand and you think you can add value. If a newsworthy natural disaster will delay your production or shipping, it’s appropriate to give people a heads up about it. Or if your business is well suited to speak about a topical subject, it might make sense to share your perspective or expertise. But even then, only do it if you think it will assuage concerns or contribute something helpful.
For example, knowing that teachers nationwide are scrambling to figure out how to teach remotely, Trello created a useful guide to their product to help teachers stay organized. This was a helpful and authentic way to provide value within their area of expertise.
5) Does it align to your values?
Even positive communication can seem opportunistic if it doesn’t come from the right place. Are you donating masks and encouraging people to come together as a community, or are you trying to get a gold star for doing something charitable during a crisis? The type of content you create should be inline with your larger mission.
What should you do?
People have no tolerance for brands trying to pat themselves on the back, so anything you say needs to come from an authentic place. Your Brand Heart (purpose, vision, mission, values) can serve you well here, helping you clarify what words and actions truly align with your brand.
For example, Square’s mission is “to help sellers of all sizes start, run, and grow their business.” Now that many small businesses have to transition from brick-and-mortar to online, Square is helping their community by creating content about how to make the transition easier.
View this post on Instagram We put together information and resources to help you get started bringing your brick-and-mortar business online. Click the link in our bio or visit squ.re/resources for more. A post shared by Square (@square) on Apr 22, 2020 at 10:36am PDT
What if you make a mistake?
Even if you make a mistake, it’s still an opportunity to follow through on your brand values. Own up, be transparent, and take steps to make things right. The more honest and authentic you are, the more people will be willing to trust you in the future. (You may even be able to turn that mistake into valuable lessons that others can learn from.)
The good news is that challenging times can feel rocky, but they’re also an opportunity to show up for your community and strengthen your relationships. As you pivot your strategy, think of how you can provide value and focus on cultivating those connections.
This article originally appeared in Column Five.