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Humane Communications for Small Businesses During a Crisis

By Jessica Larson,

All the way back in early April — nearly a lifetime ago — the first coronavirus infections were followed by a wave of ads created in response to the crisis. Those early ads showed us what to do and what not to do, and as a result, you’ve got plenty of material to guide you in marketing your business during the pandemic.

Here are several ways to stay in the conversation — and stay compassionate and mindful while doing so.

Be Helpful, Not Promotive

Some early surveys revealed how consumers felt about ads during the pandemic. A Kantar survey found that 75% of customers didn’t want the crisis exploited, while 8% wanted companies to stop ads altogether. The message is clear: Customers don’t want businesses to use the pandemic as an excuse to showcase their brand. On the other hand, a business that has something useful to say will find a ready ear. Share on X

If you tell your audience how your company is adapting to support the community, you’ll be far better off than a company that relies on logos and empty slogans.

Communicate from the Top

It’s not just the message that’s changed, it’s also the messenger. An RBB Communications study of pandemic-related ads showed that nearly 43% of all messages were sent by senior executives, rather than by a marketing director or copywriters toiling away to come up with new slogans.

This confirms what we’ve always known: The most senior leaders are capable of building the highest levels of trust in times of confusion and uncertainty. Important messages about your company should come from the highest possible level, including the CEO, COO, or board members.

Whatever you do, don’t send out faceless messages, since nobody is reassured by logos.

Emphasize the Change

A customer who receives a marketing email isn’t going to spend a lot of time reading it in the middle of a pandemic. Recipients who open your email at all (and a lot of them won’t, so be sure to include a strong tagline) will skim it to find the most important material: What’s changing? Why and how? And how does it affect them?

Four out of five customers say they want to know how businesses plan to protect customers and employees from the physical and financial risks of the pandemic. So it’s not enough to say you’re working on changes; you need to keep the public in the loop as things change.

Your company needs to lay out what changes you’re making and how they will affect the user experience. Depending on your industry and your operations, you may want to take a deep dive: Cover topics like legal reporting, financial aid opportunities, or disaster preparation advice to help readers cover all their bases.

Make the Internal External

Certain businesses jealously guard information on their day-to-day operations. They may require employees to sign nondisclosure agreements, and employ a small army of lawyers to attack any journalists who leak the smallest detail.

This policy might have worked at some point, but in an era when customers want to know “we’re all in it together,” more transparency is better. Businesses now should consider being as candid as possible, opening up their operations to show that everything is functional, clean, and prepared with safety in mind.

Sharing how your business complies with health guidelines — even with details are as small as making PPE available to employees and customers — can boost your reputation among customers who’ve grown tired of glossy images and news releases filled with nothing but jargon.

Reference Health Authorities

People are looking for guidance and competence during the pandemic. Nearly two in three brand messages surveyed by RBB Communications included information about CDC guidelines, while about one in five referenced WHO guidelines.

This shows that although general distrust of authorities is high right now, not all customers are skeptical of the leading doctors and researchers. You shouldn’t assume they are.

Including health authorities’ guidelines in your messaging can help, especially if you show how you’re complying to help make your community and the country safer. Trust in political authorities is far lower than trust in health authorities, so sticking to the CDC message is far more effective than quoting political leaders.

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk Money

Economic anxiety is the highest we’ve seen in generations. In three months, the virus wiped out more jobs than the Great Recession did in two years. Even those who didn’t lose their jobs are worried about their savings, spending, retirement, and how much they may need to support their families.

Some companies have begun to speak to their customers strictly in financial terms, focusing on lower prices and economic aid opportunities. Many are offering financial advice such as guides to bolstering credit or emergency savings plans to provide relief for people who have lost jobs or are draining savings.

If you choose to talk about your company in terms of money, you may find many more customers sitting up to listen to the details than ever before.

When it’s your responsibility to speak for your company, these are just some of the many ways you can tailor your marketing to fit our strange new world. Some strategies will feel familiar, while others will require yet more adjustment. But as you explore new ways of thinking, you’ll find that one thing hasn’t changed: The customer and the community come first.


About the Author: Jessica Larson is a married mom in the Midwest, and a solopreneur with a goal of earning a decent income for her family without sacrificing the scheduling flexibility that lets her actually spend time with them. She’s become a sort of a “serial entrepreneur,” starting and running several successful businesses through the years. Currently, she creates online courses for students, which are either taught live by her or accessed later at her students’ convenience. It’s especially important for her to act as a role model for her two young daughters, to show them how to dream big, realize their ambitions, and “be the boss” in whatever ways they want. Visit

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