A Temporary Change of Direction

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For only the second time in over five years, I did not publish a post here last week. Over the past few weeks, I have found it increasingly difficult to create posts that I truly believe are timely, relevant, and useful for my readers.

The reason for my difficulty is COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. One way that I keep myself on a regular writing and publishing schedule is to always have several topics lined up for future posts. So when February began, I had already identified what I thought at the time were several solid topics.

But over the past two months as we have been bombarded with negative COVID-19 news on a daily if not an hourly basis, the topics I was writing about began to feel, well, almost trivial in light of unfolding events.

When I work with clients to develop marketing content, I stress that the most important attributes of good content are relevance and usefulness. The core idea is that your content should be helpful to your customers and prospects.

My goal for this blog has always been to provide useful information and thought-provoking ideas, but the business and economic repercussions of COVID-19 have fundamentally changed what constitutes “useful” and “thought-provoking,” at least in the short term. Therefore, the content of this blog is going to be different for the next several weeks.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, marketers will need to rapidly adapt their strategies and tactics to meet changing business conditions. Time will become a precious commodity, and many marketers will find it difficult to keep up with all the information that could be vital for making sound business and marketing decisions.

Part of my work has always involved finding information and insights from sources that most marketers would not routinely encounter and making that information more accessible to the marketing community. This type of information will play a larger role in my posts for the next several weeks.

Some of my posts will address topics that don’t directly relate to the day-to-day practice of marketing. But during this period, it’s important for marketing leaders to play a central role in formulating their company’s strategic response to COVID-19. Therefore, one of my objectives will be to identify and communicate information that will help marketing leaders fulfill this critical role.

In this post, I want to provide a few basic common-sense guidelines for communicating with customers and prospects during the COVID-19 outbreak. These guidelines are not earth shattering, and they are far from exhaustive. But they do provide a good starting point.

Provide Relevant, Useful, Timely, and Concise Information

I’ve already alluded to this point, but its importance cannot be overstated. Every communication you send, and every content resource you publish should be measured by these essential attributes. During a difficult period, the most effective way to approach content development and communications is to constantly ask:  “What information do our customers need right now?” Relevance and usefulness are always essential for good content, but they have a shorter shelf life during a crisis period.

When stress and uncertainty are high and time and attention are limited, it’s also important to use clear and precise language and to make communications as concise as possible. Make your content easy to scan by using bullet points and headers to highlight the most critical information.

Avoid Promotional Content

For the next few weeks, customers and prospects will be especially sensitive to anything that smacks of brand opportunism. Therefore, avoid using any messages or content that is self-serving or promotional in tone or substance. Of course, there can be exceptions to this guideline. For example, I’ve already received at least a dozen emails from SaaS software companies offering free use of their apps for fairly significant periods of time. If your company has decided to provide customers and prospects with something that has substantial, out-of-the-ordinary value, it’s both necessary and appropriate to communicate that offer.

Stay Connected to Customers

The extent and contours of the COVID-19 epidemic are changing every day, and that will likely continue for the next several weeks. As the situation evolves, customer needs and attitudes will also change. So it’s vitally important for company leaders to listen closely to customers throughout this event. For most companies, the listening will necessarily be informal. Now is not the time to run a large survey, and in-person focus groups are an obvious no-no. But by continuing to talk with and listen to customers and prospects regularly, business and marketing leaders can get valuable insights on how to communicate effectively.

Illustration courtesy of William Allen via Flickr CC.

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