Communication in the time of corona: Pros and cons

How to identify risks and make use of opportunities


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.


What content is suitable for this new reality?

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:

  • How to communicate a brand externally when internally, we are operating on reduced hours? Will staff members still understand and accept the need for advertising budgets?
  • In the current situation, how can we continue to be seen as a quality provider and driver for innovation, rather than just as a company struggling with economic difficulties?
  • If sales stagnate and customers stay away, why bother to communicate any longer?
  • We are now anticipating the greatest global recession in decades – isn’t it tasteless and inappropriate to still try and present brands as desirable? Wouldn’t it show us as being out of touch with reality?
  • Next to system-relevant products and services, everything palls into insignificance – doesn’t it?

The ‘we are all in this together’ moment

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.

  • It is possible to successfully strengthen and emphasize employee loyalty. Supermarket chain EDEKA has publicly thanked its (system-relevant) suppliers and employees. People are applauding doctors, nurses and carers. And there are many others still standing in the shadows, doing outstanding work that can and should be communicated.
  • T-Online has rescheduled the usual Christmas marketing approach to spring, highlighting how its internet and telecommunications services allow people to stay connected, even while staying socially distant. This is another area with many products and services that now allow us private moments of sociability and staying connected in isolation. There is sharing a glass of wine via Skype, a gift to brighten your day, a pizza being delivered contact-less but cordially, the gadget that suddenly becomes a lifeline to the outside world.
  • DIY-stores, chemists and pharmacies, food retailers as well as delivery services are now seen as a crucially valuable support. Certain types of jobs and products are experiencing a well-deserved image boost.
  • Consumer behaviour is changing, as is shopping behaviour. Mandatory two-meter distance and use of shopping carts, cash-free payment and online shopping – the many little jigsaw-pieces of everyday consumption suddenly form a new picture. Companies can now help to shape this picture.

Homeoffices mean a greater attention span

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.’

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