Did someone say Déjà vu? It feels like we’ve been here before.
So, as of Thursday 5 November, the UK was placed under lockdown for a second time this year. For a lot of businesses up and down the country, the first time – back in the spring – was hard enough. This will feel like a body blow, especially with Christmas just on the horizon.
COVID-19 has ripped apart the physical shopping experience and with conflicting information, it is impossible to say when things will return to pre-COVID normality.
However, what this pandemic has done is to accelerate the growth of the digital market. As my colleague, Julio Taylor, wrote just a couple of months ago in The Drum, adopting a digital-first mindset is now essential and can’t just be considered as a business option.
Certainly, over the next month, businesses that are closed down will only have their digital presence to turn to. Your customers may not be able to come to you right now, but you can make sure you’re going to them, and here we have pulled together some top communications tips that will give you the tools to keep your business front of mind during lockdown 2. These are:
- How to use your digital assets to establish clear communication
- The art of being helpful online
- Making sure your voice isn’t locked down, even if your business is
- Being wary of customer sentiments
So, without further ado, let’s make a start!
1) Using digital to establish clear communication
If you have found yourself needing to close down, your first port of call is your website and ensuring it is fully updated with your latest on COVID-19.
If you still have a dedicated COVID-19 page, clearly signpost it. Make sure it is easy to find by sharing it across your social media assets, your email marketing, or even by making sure it is easily found by placing a link to it in a prominent location on your web page.
The top-four information points that should be on this page:
- When your store will reopen
- Operational changes
- Order timeframes customers can expect
- Stock alterations/limitations
Beyond your website, be mindful that your business’ information can be located elsewhere. Double and triple-check that all your important details on websites such as Google My Business are adapted accordingly to avoid causing any unnecessary confusion.
If your business utilises Facebook Messenger for customer interaction, set an automatic reply that outlines your expected response time or provides helpful bite-size snippets.
Consistency is key with your communications. Make it easy for your loyal customer base to find out what is happening with your business and their orders
Case Study: GAME
In the lead-up to this lockdown, GAME was faced with a significant issue in the form of the launch of the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5.
For anyone into gaming, November was set to be a huge month with the release of both next-gen consoles, but while even I am into gaming, I’m not biased enough to suggest that GAME is considered an essential store – meaning they too would need to close down.
The business knew it had eyes on it and they knew their audience would likely be signed up to be notified instantly by their social posts. That comes with a great deal of pressure to make sure external messaging is key. Attracting such attention means one wrong move can result in a huge public backlash.
Over a hectic couple of days, GAME used its primary social media accounts to communicate daily to thousands of customers who had placed pre-orders in-store, while they also effectively used email marketing to ensure their customers received up to date information straight to their phone.
On Monday 2 November, after consulting the guidelines, they used both assets to communicate their action plan in a timely and effective manner, ensuring customers that despite the imposed lockdown, they would still be able to get their hands on a product they have been eagerly anticipating for months.
2) Your customers still need you, so show them you’re there
What we saw during the original lockdown was that actions – good and bad – are remembered.
There were many saints and sinners during the spring lockdown: Ryanair informed customers they would only get a refund once the COVID crisis was over, Currys received two-thirds of bad or poor TrustPilot reviews and over 7,000 negative comments about missing orders, PayPal was not ready for lockdown and directed customers to their online service after closing down its call centres.
These are just three examples that received online backlash for how they dealt with the initial lockdown.
However, for every negative story like this, there was an individual, business, and brand being hailed for the good they were doing. Below are just a few examples:
- We’re all aware of the terrific work Marcus Rashford is doing with FareShare as part of the End Child Poverty campaign.
- Spotify launched COVID-19 Music Relief – a fundraising campaign to support musicians struggling with halted revenue streams.
- Netflix introduced Party, allowing people to binge-watch movies and boxsets together virtually.
- Multiple businesses, including Dyson, New Balance, and Jaguar Land Rover have pivoted their business models to support the NHS.
- Several more institutions across the UK launched mental health initiatives to support colleagues, customers, and their community during Mental Health Awareness Week towards the end of May.
You don’t have to entirely pivot your business model, or launch a new campaign to stay front of mind.
Doing the simple things right consistently is just as effective and going above and beyond to be helpful when dealing with customer queries and communications will only end with one result – a customer walking away with a positive perception of you and your business.
The current situation is difficult enough already. Don’t make things harder for yourself and your business by letting a customer down.
3) Your business might be in lockdown, but it doesn’t mean its (or your) voice needs to be
People buy people. It’s an old cliché, but it will never change – even despite how important digital becomes in our day-to-day life and interactions.
For local, independent, businesses this is a key time for you to ensure your voice is still heard.
Take me for example. There is a local men’s clothing store that I regularly go to. The owner is very personable, engaging, relatable, and likeable. His store should not be successful for the location that it is in, but due to the quality of his product and the man behind it, his business has been a thriving success.
However, that is far harder to achieve when you cannot open your doors because of the lockdown restrictions.
It’s time to take that wicked personality and not be afraid to show it online!
A great way to do this is to create a two-way dialogue. Seek out your audience and actually talk to them. Nurture relationships, open up discussions and get your voice heard. If you spend time with your audience, they will remember it for years to come.
Now is also a really good time to try some different content. What other brands do you want to endorse? What do you want people to think about you? Take the focus away from lead generation, and take it back to nurturing your audience’s and your own voice.
You can even look at sharing your users’ content. UGC (User Generated content) should make up a third of the content you share on organic social anyway – and you won’t get this unless you get your voice heard and get involved in conversations online.
Case story: Burger King
This could have, quite easily, slipped into the ‘going above and beyond’ section.
Prior to COVID-19, it would have been unheard of to hear about a competitor brand urging customers to go to another.
Well, that’s exactly what Burger King did ahead of the latest lockdown. Like many of our top food brands, they ooze personality and revered for how they show it online.
And on this occasion, being seen to support another brand – even one as big McDonald’s – went down a treat, or as well as a Whopper, whichever takes your fancy. The move also, naturally, garnered a whole lot of positive coverage from the press.
You might not be able to achieve this to the same size, but think about how you can possibly support other businesses like yours – competitor or not. We’re all in this together.
4) And finally, be wary of your customers’ sentiment and match them
So, you’ve got your clear lines of communication, you’re being super helpful, and you’re showing your personality. You’re doing great! The last thing to consider is this: what is important to your audience?
Right now, drop the short-term hard selling tactic and think about how your business can connect with your audience in a different way
As I have mentioned repeatedly, times are hard for local businesses. They’re also hard for your customer base. Listen to them. Take the time to find out what they’re talking about, and discover how you can get your business involved.
That’s going to be tough to hear as you have finances and bottom line to take care of. But it’s true. You’re far more likely to be remembered by how you act and communicate than the product you sell over this next month.
If your business has the capabilities, use your influence and community to throw weight behind a notable cause that is important to your audience and build a wave of positive momentum.
In short, be human. Your customers will appreciate it far more than they have before.
There was a lot of information to take there, so to recap below is a checklist of best communications practices for you and your business to consider during this lockdown:
- Get your website up to speed with your latest COVID-19 information and ensure it can be easily found in a prominent location
- Make sure all your information points are consistent with each other e.g. Google My Business and social media bios resemble what is on your website
- Ensure messaging is simple and easily digestible – avoid information overload (ironic, considering the length of this article…)
- Use social media and email marketing to remain connected with your audience
- Go above and beyond to be helpful
- Humanise your brand and show personality
- Share and endorse User-Generated content
- Drop the hard sell – there is a time and a place
- Listen to your customers, find out what their sentiments are, and adapt your messaging accordingly
- Be positive
Businesses right across the UK will find themselves in one of two boats. Some are considered essential and will remain open. Others will not and will close. Regardless, though, it’s those that use digital communications effectively that will stand out during lockdown 2.
If you feel the team at Hallam can help support you on your communications strategies, feel free to drop us a message. We would be more than happy to hear from you!
In the meantime, stay safe!