Corona – only a few short months ago, that meant a beer brand, or maybe a new strain of the flu virus. It has now come to signify a gigantic, global problem. Among countless other things, it also affects corporate and brand communication. For how can we communicate during this time of economic upheaval, with its unpredictable moods and a prognosis where nothing is certain except more uncertainty? Many enterprises have reacted with helplessness. They remain invisible and silent while waiting out the crisis. Without a doubt, communication is fraught with risks right now. We would like to elaborate on these risks, while at the same time pointing out the opportunities. Because in most cases, communication is not just possible, it is important – now especially.
Many brands and companies have currently reduced their communication to the absolute minimum. Behind this is the reasonable fear of sending the wrong message and achieving the opposite of what was intended: Causing a shitstorm instead of becoming a love brand. There are quite a number of examples: There is the billion-dollar corporation announcing a moratorium on rent payments for its stores and completely underestimating customers’ reaction to this news. There is the international airline boldly approaching the treasury department for a bailout package and seeing itself criticised harshly in the press. And what of all those influencers posting pictures from self-isolation to find they now reap ridicule rather than likes – swimming pools, staff to cater to every whim and a lifestyle that celebrates conspicuous consumption have suddenly become irrelevant.
All these examples have one common theme: They highlight the sudden gap between the needs of companies and influencers and those of their target groups. Lifestyle-settings used to be seen as tempting, suggesting travel, luxury and consumption. The reality is now very different. This requires a delicate touch and fine ear to judge potential consequences. And there are many other issues that raise questions:
These are genuine pitfalls and communicative challenges. At present, many brands and companies probably cannot see their way to strengthening bonds with customers or stakeholders. But right now, there are approaches with great potential. Some firms have already identified them.
And that in itself offers an opportunity: People now pause for longer to study media offerings. Traditional media such as linear TV broadcasts and print are seeing a new boom, because people tend to use them where they now find themselves – at home, closer to family and children than ever before, or maybe isolated and emotionally challenged as rarely before. ad publica Managing Director Heiko Biesterfeldt has always made crisis communication the main focus of his work. His view is: ‘Taking this new reality of life seriously, with all its fears and hopes, is the first important step on the way to really effective communication. Many things in the future are hard to predict at the moment. But one thing is certain: The corona crisis will pass. If you can maintain the bonds between a brand, a company and its people right now, maybe even strengthen these bonds, you have gained a sustainable benefit of immeasurable value.’