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Authenticity is now more important than ever during the coronavirus

Review all your email communications through the lens of people who are stuck at home and use it to empower your empathy and inform your marketing.

My inbox has been flooded with compassionate messages from retailers, businesses and SaaS vendors expressing their concern about the effect COVID-19 is having, assuring customers or subscribers about what they’re doing to keep everyone safe.

Take time to talk with your executives and teams about extra things you might do with your marketing to help everyone get through the next weeks and months.

If you’re in management or a member of a team that’s going through radical changes, these steps can help you translate your concern to action.

1. Retool your communications to avoid “virtue signaling”

I encourage you all to read this article: “Beware of virtue signaling or outright greed in brand communications about COVID-19” by Augie Ray, a VP analyst for Gartner. Augie warns against sending messages that make you look like a jerk, no matter how good your intentions are. Pay attention to his warning when you talk about your brand’s values without showing how you act on them.

2. Support your employees who are now working from home instead of coming to the office

Some of your workers will be great at working from home. Some people should never work from home. Let me explain.

I have rotated between a corporate and home office for years. Working at home is full of distractions. Opportunities are lurking all through the house to get to those tasks that you never finished on the weekend, like the laundry, cleaning the kitchen or catching up on your latest TV binge-fest.

Working from home gives some people an advantage. I tell some of my high producers to work from home because they can focus and get more done. Others can’t resist the siren song of the TV or the nagging annoyance of a messy living room.

As we move the workday from the office to the home, we need to consider that not everybody will be used to working in this environment. Nor can they all discipline themselves, stay on task and ignore the world around them. Especially if kids are fighting in the next room, the dog constantly wants to go outside, or a spouse is also working from home.

When you have team meetings, be authentic. Connect with your remote employees in different ways. Ask them what they’re struggling with. Try to connect personally, not just as a boss with a to-do list.

Make sure your teams have what they need. Do they need more monitors? Do they have webcams, noise-canceling headphones? Being present for your teams shows how you support them.

We learn in Management 101 to keep employees at a distance. But it’s okay to be emotional during this stressful time. Be sure your people can still function as a team and feel empowered to express their frustrations and challenges without worrying about job security.

3. Require video conferencing for team meetings

As someone who has worked for years with remote teams and with companies in different countries, it is my practice to require that most meetings be done via video conferencing, not just by phone.

Remember that you are asking your entire team to go home and work in isolation. They’re used to being in the office to see each other. Now they don’t have that visual interaction. You have to solve for that isolation. 

Get up to speed on the video tools you use like Zoom, GoToMeeting or Skype. Then require that all meetings be done with these tools – and with cameras on.

One byproduct of video conferencing is that people have to be presentable. Asking employees not to show up in a ratty T-shirt or PJs helps them stick to their daily routines. Even when they aren’t on camera, this comfortable feeling can sap their productivity.

Remember to have fun, too. Ask people to stick to a routine during the week, but then relax the standards on Friday. Make it “shorts and a T-shirt” day, then go back to regular operations on Monday.

4. Think outside your own box

From marketing to operations to executives, we’re all going to have to think about things differently. How do we engage employees? How do we motivate them? How do we have to change the way we talk to our customers or subscribers?

Then, look at your product mix. What could you change to help your customer base? Do you have a paid or premium service that you could offer for free to help them get through the next couple of months?

For example, videoconferencing services are extending their enhancing their free services to help companies and schools transition to remote work.

More ideas:

  • We usually focus on the financial and material benefits of marketing messages. But now is the right to look for authenticity. When we get it right, our customers and subscribers will respond with greater loyalty.

  • Think about your processes. How can you adapt and change them? Can you bring in third-party companies to help out for the short term?

  • Are you hosting webinars or moving your training sessions online?  Turn on the camera for your hosts. That connection is what teams working from home will appreciate.

  • Look at the things you do in the office to motivate people with promotions and incentives. Now you have to be creative in a time of crisis.

  • To be creative, you must give people around you permission to think differently about work. Open the virtual suggestion box, and encourage employees to come up with ideas to help teams adapt to the new normal.

  • Also, break up the depressive mindset. Post a funny video on your company Slack channel to break up the monotony. Find other ways to recreate the water-cooler atmosphere without sacrificing productivity.

5. Rethink your email communications and campaigns

Email is the one vehicle that enters the same inbox where your subscribers also get messages from their moms, bad jokes from their dads, mortgage payment reminders and other notifications.

Now more than ever, that inbox is their lifeline to the outside. Social media is a connector, but email is the first thing most people check when they wake up.

Review all your email communications through the lens of people who are stuck at home. Does your latest email offer something that a person can’t use, like free tailoring at a department store?

Consider the cohort of your customers who are used to shopping in stores and don’t browse or buy online. What are you doing to help these people adapt to the online experience? Can you identify them in your database? Maybe you could relax your return policy or encourage them to call your customer support service.

Consider differentiating your communications between those who shop in-store and online. That difference could be the bridge to helping those customers not fall out of touch with your brand equity and loyalty.

Finally, check all your communications to revise “visit in-store” messaging if you close stores or limit access. Check automated messages to ensure they align with any policy changes.

Wrapping up

In all my years in marketing, I’ve always said this to the companies I work with that “you are not the customer.” Well, things are different now. We are the customer, the recipients of those communications.

Many of your customers, subscribers and employees – maybe even you  – are working at the kitchen table. Get in touch with your feeling of isolation.  Use it to empower your empathy and inform your marketing. Focus on other people’s needs. Don’t stop being a marketer, but also let yourself be human.

When this is all over, take your teams out for a drink, a party, lunch or dinner. Show them how much you appreciated their dedication through this troubling time.

Stay safe out there, friends.  Together, we will get through this.

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