E-commerce Outreach in the Age of Coronavirus

How Should Brands Communicate During a Crisis?

For so many brands, communication in the age of coronavirus can present massive tonal challenges. A light touch can come across as tone deaf, and a heavy hand can turn people off, especially if they’ve been reading about the virus all day.

Small Planet works with retailers who are figuring out this new landscape one day at a time, and we’ve discovered some valuable do’s and don’ts.

Acknowledge what’s happening.

We’ve all seen emails over the last few days that feel like they were created in another universe. Cheerful subject lines touting spring renewal or limited-time savings. You don’t want to be a downer, and you don’t want every message tethered to the pandemic. But ... not acknowledging reality makes traditional messaging feel false. Softer subject lines, easing up on the frequency of communication, and content that’s informed by the moment would all help.

Lead with empathy.

There’s a lot of competition for attention, and branded content is down a few rungs on the ladder of what people want to be reading about. Your outreach can easily be an overreach in a time of crisis, or as part of the noise. Brands often define their customers as a community, and now’s the time to practice what’s preached.

You could commission or partner with creatives in your network to develop meaningful content, something that goes deeper than a marketing email. People have time to read and engage with “slow” content. Ask your customers what they would like to hear about?

Or use this time to engage and support your employees. Put your team at the forefront of your brand — those who are working from home will have more time but will probably be feeling isolated. Could it be an opportunity for those employees not typically involved in the brand to share their experiences, collaborate on new projects, and create content?

Make the deal real.

If you’re offering incentives to boost online sales, no more 15% for email signups. Make the discount or sale offer something that will really get attention, and possibly be a loss leader just to get traffic. Nike and Adidas immediately went to 25% and 30% overall site discounts (separate from their standard email signup offers).

Customers who are supporting your brand during these extreme times deserve a reward to help them get through and get by. So, go deeper on the discount %, broader on the sales items, higher on the rewards points. Discount items that are relevant to the shift in lifestyle — home office, sleepwear. Be mindful that a 10% discount on a luxury item may be construed as insensitive.

Give back.

Now more than ever, charity is essential to help those most affected by the crisis. Find causes that resonate with your business and your customers, and if you are able, assign a percentage of profits on every purchase or on selected lines. Or provide a channel through which your customers can find causes and donate themselves. 

Consider personal delivery (later).

Curbside pickup has already been widely adopted, but it’s been interesting to see so many indie bookstores implement the “pizza delivery” model

Local delivery is a nice offering, and customers really do see it as valuable service. But between a safe delivery set-up for your workers, a process that’s “dropoff-friendly” (no personal contact), and respect for shelter-in-place protocols … the variables right now make it so iffy.

Personal delivery might be more appropriate as a way to transition out of the social distancing period. Once things drift back towards normal (ha!), it could be a way to reconnect with customers and still respect the need for some degree of isolation.

Now’s the time for maintenance and cleanup.

At some point things will normalize. Hopefully there will be a boom in traffic and orders. In the downtime, your team could work on a wish list of web and mobile features such as:

  • Giving your shopping experience a UX pass
  • Refreshing the design
  • Upgrading your product customization capabilities
  • Adding shoppable Instagram
  • Looking at customer touchpoints — from cart to post-sale
  • Reviewing your backend — survey employees, and try to make workflows more efficient

We know you're facing a myriad of challenges. If you find you have the bandwidth to address your mobile or web experience, please feel free to ask us anything. Be well and stay safe in the meantime.

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