COVID Impact: Beneficiaries of the Crisis.
We have officially entered the second month of social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. And while countless businesses large and small have taken a major economic hit, there are a few companies benefitting from people staying at home. These companies face a difficult choice: do you play it safe, be grateful for the incoming profit bump, and say nothing? Or do you take this opportunity to expand your reach and squeeze as much out of this global pandemic as possible? The answer is neither: speak up, but use this opportunity to help your customer base rather than focusing on advancing your brand’s interests. This is an unprecedented time for everyone, and even when you see bumps in revenue, it is likely that at least some of your consumer base is hurting financially. While the world is still in a state of uncertainty, confusion, and anxiety, communications about all your company’s developments—especially financial—must be sensitive, concise, and timely. Here are some key tips for framing your communications to seize this moment while avoiding opportunism. Understand your value contribution. Before communicating anything, it is critical to understand your company’s value-add to the market. Is your sales bump a result of a change in consumers’ needs? Or does your product provide additional support to customers in a time of crisis? Understanding your contribution to the market will shape how you talk about your products. Take Campbell’s soup for example. Campbell’s saw a 366% increase in cases of soup, broths, sauces, and other items, compared to the week of March 16 in 2019. In response to this boom, Campbell’s leadership positioned the company as filling a need. The CEO stated he doesn’t see the virus as a business opportunity. And in their dedicated response to COVID-19 in their newsroom, the company focused specifically on their mission to serve: “The most important thing to know right now is that everything we do starts with the health and safety of our teams and their families. However, the mission can’t end there. We have an incredibly important role to play in this crisis and in our communities, providing food.” The company’s social media platforms followed suit, prioritizing consumer safety and needs over promoting their products. On the other hand, many companies are taking the position of providing support to consumers in a time of crisis. Headspace, now the 6th most downloaded app in the app store, has a COVID-19 landing page that does a great job of threading the needle: “Nearly every business in the world will be feeling the effects of COVID-19. Headspace wants you to know we’re here for you and your workplace. We know an app on your phone can’t solve what’s going on. What we do know is we can support and guide you and your business as best as we can.” Peloton has also successfully adjusted their messaging on social media platforms. Before the outbreak, their Twitter account focused heavily on physical accomplishment and health. They have since focused on mental health, specifically mindfulness, stress relief, and finding a supportive community. Instead of encouraging people to buy Pelotons or download the app because they will be at home with nothing else to do, they’re telling people how Peloton can help them. Put your consumers first. Though you may be seeing a major increase in profit, this is no time to boast. When asked about the financial future of the company after COVID-19, Campbell’s CEO emphasized the safety of employees and consumers and remarked that the future of the company is not his primary focus. But, if you fail to take your employees and, by extension, your customers’ safety into consideration, there could be consequences. Costco, which reported a 12% increase in February sales from last year, received bad coverage when they were evasive or downright restrictive toward their employees, forcing many to come into work despite feeling ill and making others use PTO rather than letting them work from home. The CEO then publicly encouraged workers to stay home, but the PR damage had already been done. At a time when consumers are increasingly aware of the health risks employees pose to their health, this was an easily avoidable mistake. Be prepared. A company benefiting from a global pandemic, no matter how tactful their messaging, is vulnerable to backlash. It is imperative to be prepared for hard questions and difficult situations. Employees could contract COVID-19 while on the job, workers could complain about having to continue working in the midst of the outbreak, and questions could arise regarding your company’s contributions to disease prevention efforts . A good communications team will strategize for these possibilities well before they occur and develop holding statements, responses to inquiries, and monitoring systems. Peloton and Headspace took their uptick in business as an opportunity to provide free services through their apps, positioning their brands as support systems for consumers. While this wasn’t necessary for them to do, it showed they are keeping their customers’ well-being front and center. Headspace’s COVID-19 landing page also illustrates their dedication to keeping their audiences informed and providing support. Meanwhile, companies botching difficult situations are receiving backlash on a national scale. Amazon has seen online shopping increase significantly, which led to the hiring an additional 100,000 employees to staff its warehouses and delivery network. Yet shortly after, a Staten Island Amazon warehouse organized a strike after Amazon confirmed one case of COVID-19. Workers claimed there were at least 10 cases and that the company failed to notify workers or properly clean the warehouse. Amazon promptly fired the organizer of the strike, leaving the impression that Amazon cared more about productivity than the health and safety of its employees. Just because you are profiting as a result of social distancing does not mean you can’t communicate with your consumers. On the contrary, the best approach is to show how you are prioritizing their safety and well-being. Remaining prepared to adjust your messaging to rapidly shifting circumstances keeps you agile amidst uncertainty. Be tactful, sensitive, and consistent with your consumers, and they will stick around.