This post was first published on Forbes Agency Council.
The corporate world is no stranger to crisis. When looking back at corporate communications over the past decades, there’s an obvious common theme: Brands and companies are not paying close enough attention and listening actively to what their consumers, customers or clients are saying. Now, as a potential recession looms and businesses prepare to make tough decisions, a proactive and thought-out communications strategy is key for keeping the trust of your stakeholders.
Brands often ask themselves lots of different questions when it comes to crises: Can we be part of this conversation? What should we be saying? What is the appropriate balance and kind of acknowledgment versus promotion? Should we maybe just stay silent?
The common denominator for successful brand communication during critical times is simple: Do something tangible to help people. People want to hear from you, but more importantly, they want to be heard and shown that you care about their feedback. Consumers tend to remember the brands that have helped them during tough times and stay loyal when the outlook becomes rosier.
I’ve endured more than one recession and have a few guidelines for managing crises that are applicable to companies of all sizes and specialties:
• Stay transparent and have an authentic voice. If it makes sense to do nothing, then do nothing. But it’s essential to understand that hollow statements can be worse than doing nothing. If you know your statement is generic marketing fluff, your audience will, too.
• Be sensitive. While brands have plenty at stake during a crisis, communicate with heart and sincerity rather than promotion. No one likes a brand acting in bad faith—or even worse, trying to take advantage of a situation to pad their bottom line.
• Understand the unique role that your brand can play in a consumer’s life. When drafting materials, ask yourself: Is this relevant to the issue at hand? and What is our audience experiencing? Put yourself in their shoes, understand their emotions and worries, and then think about how your brand or product can help improve their lives.
• Focus on being helpful over being promotional. Through good times and bad, it’s critical not to focus on what your product is but on what it does for the customer. Identify the problems you can solve, and explain to your audience all the direct and indirect benefits of a life without these problems.
This advice is evergreen but becomes more readily apparent during uncertain or unhappy periods. Consider what naysayers might say about your new campaign or marketing slogan, and plan responses accordingly. Be a devil’s advocate for your brand and you’ll be less surprised or hurt when the positive reaction you expected becomes vitriol.
You’re bound to have blind spots with four full generations of consumers. Seek insight from younger associates or ask more seasoned teammates for their two cents on campaigns aimed at teenagers or college students. Everyone is unique and reacts in their own way, but seeking a diversity of opinions will help identify red flags or areas of opportunity you might not have predicted.
If you’re not communicating, somebody else is communicating for you. So, as much as you think and know that your company cares, communicate this actively and widely. Consumers aren’t mind readers. It’s the ABCs of the modern marketers: Always Be Communicating.