Multimedia Reporter

As the population continues to stay indoors in the hopes of flattening the COVID-19 curve, they are becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet for information and connectivity. Usage has shot up to 70% since the pandemic started, creating a huge opportunity for marketers to raise awareness on their brand.

But with heightened usage, comes higher scrutiny as well—with consumers paying more attention to what brands are saying, and doing, more than ever before.

Through the lockdown, consumers are becoming hyper-aware of corporate reactions towards the crisis, and are quick to drop their thoughts and criticisms online.

With such delicate conditions to consider, how can marketers ensure that they are communicating helpfully and respectfully?

Experts weighed in on the matter during “Staying Sensitive: How to Communicate during COVID-19”, a webinar organized by media production agency Near Creative, held last May 8.

Here are some of the insights they shared:

1. Fill yourself in on what’s going on around you—and respond sensitively.

We’ve seen the likes of KFC receiving backlash for some ill-timed messaging in the face of the pandemic. And when local influencer Cat Arambulo-Antonio went on a tirade against minimum wage workers stranded during the lockdown, netizens quickly demanded accountability from the brands she was endorsing, prompting some of them to clarify that her thoughts did not reflect theirs.

With millions of people struggling through real crises, marketers and their partners should keep updated with current events and the sentiments of consumers across all segments. For example, you may want to avoid sales-driven content considering the financial troubles experienced by many.

“Companies should… focus on building that brand, that relationship… on content that helps the community,” said Roxi Biribicchi, co-founder of Near Creative. “In that sense you don’t concretely promote your product, but at the same time, you still deepen that relationship by providing relevant content.”

Camille Co, content creator and entrepreneur, also advises to double-check the timing of your material. “Sometimes, it’s not really offensive to say a certain thing at a certain point in time, but because of something that happened, it could be misconstrued or people might get hurt.”

2. Engage with your consumers so that you know what they need.

Of course, this practice of listening and keeping informed also extends to your customer communications. “So much has changed about the way that we interact with the world, with each other, and with brands,” said Aika Lim, managing director at Bridges PR. “And we’ve been so accustomed to a set kind of communications blueprint [which] is not going to apply in the future.”

To keep your finger on the pulse, regularly ask your customers about their needs and experiences with your product using a tool that best suits your capacity. Lim says it can be as simple as a social media poll, while Samuel Jeanblanc, market lead at Google Philippines, suggests using CRM platforms such as Salesforce and HubSpot.

“Make sure that you have this database of clients that you can interact with and re-engage, reach out to, and delight,” he said.

3. Support the community in your own, genuine way.

This pandemic has seen every able hand doing their part to help—and companies aren’t exempted from this expectation. 

Brands like Ligo were lauded for their huge efforts in helping frontliners. But even if your brand can’t match these large-scale relief efforts, it’s enough to simply invest in a better communication strategy, one fit for the times.

“If you can directly help, then the messaging should be around ‘Talk to me’, meaning [it]… has to be around, ‘How can my brand help you as someone struggling with the crisis?’” said Jeanblanc. Angkas exemplified this when they launched Angkas Food to support their riders.

On the other end of the spectrum, your messaging can also revolve around “Talk to we”, meaning the community. Lots of brands have been doing this through social media posts reminding people to practice good hygiene and social distancing.

You can also explore other ways—and even specific communities— to provide help to those in need. “For instance, a lot of beauty professionals are struggling. So some [beauty] brands have been using their platform to support those professionals, like stylists, and giving them a platform to share their expertise,” said Lim.