Covid-19 Communications Playbook

No business or brand is immune to the effects of Covid-19. We’ve seen some powerful responses from unlikely brands, and we’ve witnessed big businesses making mistakes. This is uncharted territory. Now is the time to take a leading role in shaping your brand’s response to this once-in-a-lifetime moment in your brand’s history.

In this guide, we lay down some simple principles on how to revisit, repurpose or create new content to support your audiences. From guidelines on how to communicate a sales message in the appropriate way, to knowing when and how to nurture your audiences when the time is right, we take a look at the do’s and don’ts of communication during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Be sensitive and responsible 

This is an unprecedented global humanitarian situation. This crisis is not a marketing opportunity to capitalise on. In many markets, brands and individuals have been warned against profiteering. In this context, brands must be sensitive, responsive and sensible to avoid reputational damage. Your customers will remember how you responded and interacted with them during this period, so your actions will decide whether their lasting memories and sentiments are negative or positive. 

Firstly, recognise there is a new reality for your customers that requires thoughtful navigation. Content should reflect the changing reality and consumer sentiment. Secondly, these are unchartered waters for all businesses large or small, and there’s no established industry standard of how to respond. It’s up to you, and you alone, to make decisions that you think are right.  

– Financial situations are uncertain for many right now, and for the near future. Avoid placing an emphasis on the high-value of luxury goods. There are other aspects of your brand that can take the lead. Smaller, more affordable ‘everyday’ luxury items could be prioritised in terms of product

– Do not be conversion-driven, avoid sales-driven CTAs on all channels

– Avoid encouraging the consumption of alcohol, even in jest, as it may be construed as reliance on alcohol at a difficult time

– It is difficult for consumers to access their usual food groups, remember to appreciate restrictions

– Avoid the topic of travel, which is not an option for many people currently. If you do mention it, we’d encourage a disclaimer alongside, indicating that you are posting travel-related content for inspiration only, that you support social distancing efforts and that customers should follow local travel advice  

– Embrace a personal message in your communication, whether in a small or large way. The world is facing a deeply and uniquely human issue, and this requires an empathetic response that connects you and your brand to what your customer is experiencing 

Don’t be scared to communicate

Winning a share of voice at this difficult time will support your brand in the long-term recovery plan and can allow for deeper connections with your audience. Don’t push your network away, this is a vital time to show your brand values and strengthen brand sentiment. People are feeling isolated and are craving connection.  You have a part to play in this. 

– Be open to ways of connecting. This could mean exploring a new channel like TikTok, looking at different styles of content you haven’t tried before such as Instagram Live or sending out a new, more personal or unique styles of message over email

– Don’t be afraid to ask your audience what kind of content they would like from you. Provide space for a two-way conversation, and listen to what your customers are asking for

– Content calendars may be scaled back, but take every effort to ensure they do not dry up. Content is king right now

– If you have been in a position to adjust your supply chain or activate a charitable arm of your business to assist with the crisis in some way, this is a powerful message to communicate

– There may be ways to support your wider audience at this time that allow you to communicate in an authentic way 

Examples: 

– LVMH repurposing three of their perfume sites to produce hand sanitiser for French hospitals 

– Burberry are utilising their supply chain to assist delivering surgical masks and their Yorkshire factory to make non surgical gowns and masks, and additionally funding medical research into a vaccine and their charitable arm are donating to food charities – these three key messages have been posted to their Instagram feed. 

Be clear on sales and operational messages

Businesses are undoubtedly concerned with sales. Be very clear about your brand capabilities during this time. Many companies are not making it clear enough whether they’re still able to deliver or not, and reminding customers of any changes in services.  

This is a critical sales moment as ecommerce becomes a singular channel to market. Keep selling, but in a respectful way; always retaining a situational understanding and sensitivity. Each business needs to make its own decisions – what is appropriate for one brand may not be for another. Don’t lose sight of how important revenue is during this period, and CRM is one of the most valuable tools in your armoury.

– Don’t promise what you cannot deliver. Be honest and transparent, and communicate only what you know to be true at the time

 – Consider spinning inbound queries back into content to keep users up to date, and to reduce the workload on customer service departments

– Make sure all channels are updated eg. update your opening hours on Google, add a banner onto your website if you’re facing disruptions 

– Consumers understand that things are changing daily. Keep people informed and updated on major changes, but don’t spam them with unnecessary updates

– If your logistics and warehouses remain open, consider offering free delivery which will be warmly received instead of going into a sale period, which could be seen negatively

– Be strategic in your on-site merchandising and product selection. Highlight ‘at home’ products or those pertinent in the current climate. Hero products will be those with an immediate benefit, such as wellbeing or personal care.  Try to use a respectful content and commerce blend to achieve this

Examples:

– John Lewis have created extensive content on physical and emotional wellbeing, sensitively allowing product recommendations to enhance editorial style articles without the being driven by sales messaging, this is supported through their CRM emails on online content 

– Many companies have added a Corona banner – Made.com ensure ‘business as usual during corona’ messaging is front and centre, clearly articulated and does not require clicking off to read a long ‘corona policy’ housed elsewhere on the website

– Third space have a banner with click through for more information including FAQs

Get growth planning and know when to nurture 

Use your family as a lens to judge a sales opportunity – ask yourself: ‘Would I be happy with my family doing this right now?’. If the answer is yes, communicate your sales message following guidelines on sensitivity and responsibility. If the answer is no, this means the service or product is an ideal candidate for nurturing. Nurturing means you’re using communication as a tool to prepare a customer to purchase in the future, and that you’re building a strong foundation of interest, trust and value along the way. During this time your brand can remain front of mind, ready to nurture them onto the point of sale. 

– Ensure your staff understand the value of nurturing customers. It might be a pivot from their usual sales-driven efforts for certain teams, so it’s important for everyone to understand the process and long-term value of growth planning. Not only will this help now, but it’s an invaluable tool for the future, too 

– Allow wishlist functionality on your website or app. Maybe customers cannot purchase now, but you can work on building their interest and drive to purchase in the future

– China seems to be ahead of the curve, and is in a different phase than Europe, the Middle East or North America. Consider launching in China to capitalise in this market and diversify your customer base

Examples:

– Mr Porter have clear messaging that customers cannot purchase, but can add wishlists and engage in content from the Mr Porter journal 

– Sephora set a challenge on TikTok for users to share their favourite skincare products 

– Bang & Olufsen have been featuring their AR app in instagram stories, which can visualise their products in your home 

Be authentic and demonstrate your values 

Respond authentically based on your brand values, purpose and positioning. Avoid ‘virtue signalling’, which is to conspicuously express your values without demonstrating actions from them. It should go without saying that brands want to keep their employees safe. There have been swathes of emails reassuring customers on safety and it is difficult to create meaningful communications in this landscape. Instead of joining the bandwagon, you could show your dedication to your staff’s safety in creative ways, with a clear focus on action. 

– Communicate a practical message on physical site closures, impact on customers and staff safety only once (with updates only as and when needed). This should not be the basis of your communication strategy. Afterwards, focus on creating authentic content that can support and engage your customers

– Retain your tone of voice but consider evolving it in these circumstances allowing for heightened empathy and some types of (tasteful) humour  

– In crisis communication, it is often helpful for audiences to hear the voice of a leader. For example, they might appreciate a message from your CEO. Lots of brands are doing this, so ensure your CEO’s message is clear and be sure to demonstrate your unique value so you do not get lost in the influx of messages

It’s all about context. For example, hospitality companies may consider resharing top content from the year to inspire audiences, but this should be contextualised within the current climate with thoughtful disclaimers to avoid angry responses or negative sentiments

– Avoid distasteful references such as ‘CORONA19’ discount codes 

Brand examples:

– Sephora’s TikTok videos have mild topical humour that resonates with the dark humour that TikTok’s Gen Z audience are known for

Focus on helping customers through the virus 

What is the unique role your brand plays in people’s lives? Be cognisant of your customer’s needs at this time, so that you can stay customer-centric. If your customer service team is working, what information have they gathered that can help you to be more empathetic? What can you gather from social listening? Offer valuable content that can help customers navigate their way through this new reality, which often includes isolation and boredom. Some people will be ‘in feed’ more than ever before: what content can you use to meet them where they are at? Fitness, wellness and the arts industries in particular are innovating as physical spaces are closed.  

– Remember to test your content and communications against WIIFM – ‘What’s in it for me?’ 

– Consider giving away free content that would previously be gated or paid for content, during this time users will feel the need for entertainment

Reframe all planned content to the home environment and its limitations. Take a look through your archive and consider resurfacing older content that fits this framework 

– Recognise ‘at-home’ behaviour which may pivot between the desire for bite-sized content and longer form content

Examples:

– MET Opera NY run nightly Opera streams for free and Paris Opera is broadcasting a schedule of free performances online featured in Vogue 

– Within fitness exercise coach Joe Wicks is offering free exercise classes on YouTube Live and Pelaton are offering new users a 90-day trial on its app, Soulcycle instructors are offering free workouts on their IG accounts using live and video posts 

– LuluLemon offering exercise class through workouts on IG Live using influencers eg. @kat.john)

– Third space have home appropriate workouts such as ‘body weight workout’ with no weights required on their website 

Use your expertise and your experts 

Anchoring on your current expertise is an authentic way to give value to your customer. Customers have more time on their hands, and are looking for educational and practical content to replace what they used to get from the outside world. This is an ideal time to educate your audience on your product or service, and other complimentary content that resonates in your brand universe.  

– Do an internal exercise to see what talent or expertise exists within your team. Once you’ve discovered the possibilities, you can plan a content calendar around them 

– Use your brand experts or ambassadors front and centre in your content. Putting a face to your content can help people feel more connected, especially during this time of social distancing or isolation

– Q&As with experts can be a powerful tool – these can be live on social channels or gathered

– Hospitality or food companies can use chefs to demonstrate recipes to try at home/ plating techniques

– Fashion brands can host styling sessions/ advice 

– Brands can create online ‘academies’ or spaces to educate with category expertise that people will have time to try at this time

Examples: 

– Bremont watches hosting Q&As on Instagram Stories with their watchmaker 

– TAG HEUER and Vacheron Constantin often use Instagram Stories tools to engage customers in brand and product education 

– Garcon Jon hosting Q&As on Instagram Stories

– Masterclass is ramping up its offering during this time as their audience will have more time to engage – Anna Wintour, chef Gordon Ramsey and interior designer Kelly Wearstler are three examples of expertise brought to the fore. 

Be personal – go live and build engagement 

Offering new services or opportunities for engagement such as live streaming will add value to customers and help to deepen relationships, creating a two-way dialogue to connect at a time where they may feel isolated. Every brand aspires to one-to-one engagement and this may be the time to achieve it. 

– Use live Q&As eg. with experts

– Leverage Instagram live and IG TV 

– Utilise Instagram functionality, such as ‘quiz’ stickers to test audience engagement or ‘Poll’ stickers to gather opinions 

– YouTube Live sessions 

Bring your product or service into the home setting by reframing your usual message

– Deliver more direct-to-camera content 

Examples: 

Fashion stores can offer one-to-one video consultations for styling and advice or educational master-classes on aspects such as tailoring 

– Hospitality can offer recipes to try at home – follow video/ led by experts 

– Tiffany & Co have been offering engaging education ‘Guide to Diamonds’ content on Instagram stories, IG TV and infeed for a while but during this time could gamify it or encourage further engagement 

– Bobbi Brown offering beauty tutorials on Instagram Stories

– YSL Beauty are hosting tutorials, Q&A…Using stories and IGLive for the tutorials 

Estee Lauder: use Stories for tutorials including home based inspiration such as turning your home into a spa 

Be global

Be considerate that not all parts of the world are at the same stage of this pandemic or share the same context. Recognise that the situation varies in its severity and impact to audiences depending on their geography. Some areas of Asia are further along the curve and some may come out the other side in the near future. In the luxury industry, customers are likely to be well-travelled and globally sensitive messaging will reinforce luxury credentials.

– Adjust content and messaging according to the market to ensure your brand is sensitive and responsible in each market. This means more nuanced segmentation and audience targeting 

– If in doubt, use the most severely affected market to filter content responsibly. Be proactive to find out what is happening in your worst affected markets 

Be Timely 

On a macro level, brands must continuously monitor the situation to adapt to changing conditions. Your communication plan must be flexible, with topical and timely content. What may have felt like a good message yesterday may not be the right thing today. 

On a micro level users may be looking for more routine in their day and to compartmentalise if working from home. Consider when content is delivered and the timing of all of your cross-channel content is posted for maximum impact and engagement.

– Consider a daily or weekly briefing session with the content team to reevaluate content plans based on the most up-to-date information

– Ideate a few options or variations when planning content pieces. When it comes time to create the content, you can take stock of the current situation and choose the best variation

– Daily schedules have changed. Your audience may have once opened your marketing emails at 8am on their commute, but now they open emails at 10.45am, 1.45pm, and 3pm on a 10-minute coffee break while working at home. Do some research and testing to understand your audience’s new habits

 Examples:

– Fitness guru Jo Wicks is offering free YouTube Live ‘PE classes’ at 9am 

Consider new channels and be creative

As your customers spend their time at home, how can you support them in their new routines? Digital socialising is on the increase. Leverage this by funneling budgets onto channels and content that people are spending the most time on, such as social media, longer form content and paid to boost reach. Additionally, new channels and services give unique PR opportunities to reach new audiences.

– Ensure that assets are optimised for each devicevideos made for mobile, vertical, short-form video, etc. 

– Ensure content is easily shareable 

– Screen time is increasing. When your audience might have once read one article, or watched one video, now they may have the time, and appetite, to read or watch four. Ensure your content is aggregated into one place to ensure your audience has access to as much content as they wish to digest

– Music keeps people buoyant in difficult times, and can complement other content. Consider using Spotify or YouTube playlists to accompany your content, such as a recipe guide/at home wine tasting 

– This may be the time to start the podcast your company has been considering 

Utilise YouTube Live to allow users to join you for key moments and create a more personal connection

– TikTok continues to entertain even if while people and companies are stuck indoors – consider tasteful challenges/education/artistry 

Examples: 

– Gymshark staff continue to create home based workout challenges and to participate in challenges on TikTok

– Mr Porter focus on their existing at home offering of Mr Porter post and Spotify playlists 

Dior podcast is currently featured in the Instagram bio 

– MET Museum: Virtual tours and information

– Berlin Philharmoniker: Digital concert hall free for everyone

– New York art gallery Perrotin launched its new #Unlocked series of virtual exhibitions & artist interviews on YouTube and IGTV and artist takeovers on Instagram Live 

Be practical – content planning

We often plan 6-12 months ahead, but now a step-change is required. Laying down a new and adjusted 2-3 month content/editorial calendar is key. However, with things changing quickly, schedule weekly, or daily if you have the bandwidth, content check-ins to assess the current calendar and plans. Consider content ‘stand-ups’ to ensure the whole team is collaborating and constantly reassessing, and check-ins to touch-base.

– Create a content runway that is achievable, especially if you are now working remotely

–  Creating 3-4 pillars you can activate against helps your focus your efforts – check these are sensitive and responsible, authentic and demonstrate your values  

– Audit existing calendars for relevance and against the above pillars

A little flex in production standards 

You may consider a little flex in your production. Customers will forgive a slightly more ‘real’ approach to content as they are facing isolation and will not be expecting perfectly-curated feeds and content. Retaining a strong tone of voice and brand values throughout will help to smooth over any slight lowering of production standards. 

Some influencer agreements have specific requirements in place such as capturing street photography, which will need to be renegotiated at this time. 

– Consider creating videos on channels such as TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram Stories that don’t require big budgets or time investment

Examples: 

– Influencers are at home without makeup artists or videographers, the photos they take will have minimal backdrops and whatever they can work with at home 

– New York influencer Elizabeth Savetsky, who usually has a pristine Instagram feed in enviable outfits and with perfectly done hair and makeup. During this time her feed reflects her new reality and she’s dressing up for no one other than her family 

– Brand Alice & Olivia’s TikTok is being run by the CEO and Creative Director Stacey Bendet from her home often featuring the family in candid and fun videos 

Final thoughts…. 

Be human. Use empathy towards your audiences in every way you communicate. This, in turn, will open them up to look at your brand through empathetic, rather than critical, eyes. We’re all facing this challenge together.

Be respectful. Digital fatigue is a possibility as customers are overwhelmed by content and digital communications from friends, family and brands. Sometimes they’ll want to switch off, and that’s OK.

Be helpful. When the rapid fire of news updates and the uncertainty of the future overwhelms us, some light distractions, tasteful entertainment and helpful education can go a long way.

Be open. This is a novel chapter in your brand’s book, be open to different messaging, untapped channels and brand new strategies.  


We’re here to help. If you would like to speak to one of the Like Digital team for further advice please contact studio@like.digital