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Time for the opposite of desperation marketing

By John Kananghinis

In last week’s special edition of Words + Insights we wrote about the need for businesses to stay calm and to communicate.

This week we explore how to communicate to customers, during times of crisis, in a way that will build trust by reassuring, offering value and being measured.

By now, almost everyone will have been deluged by notifications from a range of businesses advising of the measures they are taking to address the pandemic.

Too late, then, to discuss the initial salvo of communication. What of the ongoing?

As with all marketing it must be driven by addressing a customer need. Right now the customer does not need to know that you are desperate to shift product. They know. Bombarding them with desperation ‘offers’ and ‘opportunities’ will not help them cope with the unique circumstances. More than likely it will annoy.

Frankly, there are more important things to worry about than missing out on a ‘great deal’. And such an approach may also strike a particularly discordant note, as if not really recognising the situation.

Delivering customer value must orbit around the needs of the current circumstance. If a business offers an essential service, communication must be around reassurance. If not essential, there are still many ways businesses can demonstrate that they are aware of the situation and doing their bit to help.

We have already seen many stories of the repurposing of capabilities to assist in providing vital aid to the fight against coronavirus. Breweries and distilleries producing branded hand sanitiser, luxury goods brands manufacturing personal protective equipment, auto manufacturers building respirators. All positive reactions and all legitimate and appropriate topics to communicate to their customer base.

There are even tangential ways businesses can help customers meet current needs. Using connections and partners to provide practical assistance. For example, reading lists, YouTube channels or viewing lists, home cooking recipes, fitness at home ideas from linked sportspeople. The ideas are limited only by imagination.

The reality is that most businesses will face a significant fall in sales. But with the extra time customers have in front of computer screens there need not be the same drop in engagement.

For those providing discretionary products and services keeping communication going, with value-adding content, can also be an opportunity to keep building desire. Just allowing customers to view/build/configure their dream product or service is a soft sell that can be both enjoyable and diverting. Again, not trying to shove distressed product down their throats, but a distraction that may help get them through a difficult time.

In short, keep communicating, reassure, be imaginative, offer value, be relevant and don’t be a pest.

Businesses that stick to those principles will build recognition and loyalty that is sure to give them a head start when the crisis abates.

RMK+A has developed and implemented integrated communication and marketing plans for clients in sectors as varied as automotive, heavy equipment, transport and logistics, energy, tourism, waste, insurance, finance and professional services.

Keep Calm and Communicate

By John Kananghinis & Alexander Corne

If you’re not in your bunker expecting the worst and eying the corporate cyanide capsule, then you should be communicating clearly, calmly and with authority to the various stakeholders in your business.

Executives need to communicate in two directions at once, and largely with the same message; to their directors or owners above, and to their direct reports, below.

Ideally this downward communication should stretch further than just direct reports, all the way through the business. It needs to be personal, credible and straight-forward. Now is not the time for corporate-speak babble.

Every single person in the business is worried about how they will sustain life and lifestyle. Employees in constant fear for their jobs do not function optimally.

Then there are the external suppliers and customers to consider. They are equally confused and worried but need to be similarly calmed, consoled and corralled.

The key to successful communication in a crisis is firstly to avoid the panic of the talking-heads and media tarts. The crisis may be global but your response must be local.

The tools to deliver crisis communication are, today, easy to employ. The variety of online captive and public platforms make getting in contact, even face-to-face, very easy. However, it is the appropriateness of the platform for the message and clarity of the message itself that are the important elements.

From team member briefings to new services and operating procedures for customer care, to investor and partner information, all need to be communicated cognisant of the appropriate channel, tone and necessary detail for each audience.

The coronavirus emergency is likely to be with us for some time, during which rules and resulting business responses will change. To remain of value, communications will need to be current. Crisis communication is not a set-and-forget proposition, nor does one-size-fit-all circumstances. Continual assessment of the situation and updating of messages will be necessary.

Devising and delivering such ongoing communication can stretch the resources of even the most sophisticated corporate communications and/or marketing team.

This is where expert external support can make the difference between a perception of ineffective response or one of a business that is dealing with the situation in a manner that supports customers, team members and partners. A business well-placed to quickly return to growth in the eventual recovery will have a distinct commercial advantage.

RMK+A has advised and supported numerous organisations in times of difficulty and is equipped to offer a suite of communication advice and implementation support during this challenging period.

We have devised clear, cost effective, packages of support ranging from core customer and team communications through to detailed investor, regulatory and media relations. A discussion with us could help your business to navigate a smoother passage through these turbulent times.

Legends in their lunchtimes

As the basket at the foot of the AMP guillotine begins to fill, for those of us who have had the privilege (or curse) to have been active in business for more than 3 decades, the unfolding events appear all too familiar.

Hubris, and wilful blindness have never combined to end in a positive result. Never-the-less, both tend to manifest as part of a regular business cycle.

An outbreak of believing your own PR is likely to resulting in mounting casualties.

Business success depends not only on sound strategies – well executed – but, annoyingly, on a degree of luck, timing and a supportive broader social and regulatory environment. Too often management and boards can mistake a fair proportion of the latter three (delivered by regular variations in business and consumer confidence) for their own genius.

The resulting natural tendency is to lessen the focus on detail and begin rewarding one another for the job well done. A tendency naturally increased if it is other people’s money that is being used.

The mess uncovered at the AMP is almost certainly the beginning of a long stream of hubristically driven shambles that the, much delayed, Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services will bring to light.

The damage to personal and corporate reputations will, in some cases be irreversible and in most cases, take long periods to recover from.

Two things confound and disappoint the public and work to lessen an organisation’s social licence to operate. First, the evident avarice-driven disregard for rules and customer benefit. Second, the failure of boards, as houses of review and management supervision, to identify and act on such abuses.

As professional communicators, we are regularly asked to convey good news and minimise poor outcomes when engaging with ‘stakeholders’ (read anyone who can impact on a share price that drives bonuses or who can tip folks out of a job). Both on principle and in the longer-term interests of our clients, we never knowingly misrepresent the facts. We may focus on one element more than another, but to lie is to ensure you will, eventually, get caught-out. An outcome that damages all involved.

Board members of any public company, industry body, not-for-profit or other such organisations have a responsibility to ask management the difficult questions, to challenge assumptions and, where necessary, to check the detail. Even if all is presented, on the surface, as good news.

In getting to the facts, too often we have witnessed situations where process is relied upon rather than proper answers. Instances where to us, as so-called spin masters, it is obvious that either not enough substance is present and/or too much pre-spin has already been applied.

Thankfully, few such cases have involved our existing clients. But we have worked on quite a few crisis management cases where the damage has already occurred.

Business cycles have, even in our relatively short experience, displayed a predictable regularity. A longer view of business history does not support an alternate conclusion. Executive management and boards should, in good times and bad, take a close look at how their businesses operate, how they generate the results, consider the prevailing conditions and ensure that they are well insulated from possible ethical, regulatory and operational failures.

If that is happening, the task for the communicators is to tell a good story, well. If not – welcome to the town square, with the crowd baying for blood. The most that can be done at that point (at great expense) is make the best of bad situation and prepare the ground for the successors.

Instant feedback is going to get you – a cautionary lesson

One of the most damaging and cringe-worthy moments in the Ardent Leisure response to the deaths at Dreamworld was the sight of Ardent CEO, Deborah Thomas, live on-air asserting that that a family had been contacted when she was seemingly not in possession of the full facts.

She was asked if the company had reached out to the mother of the two adult siblings who died on the Thunder Rapids ride. She said they had.

When told that one of mothers, Mrs. Dorset, was watching and had told the journalist who had asked the question that no one from the company had actually contacted her, Ms Thomas then change her statement to say that the company did not know how to contact Mrs. Dorset. The reporter then gave Ms. Thomas Mrs. Dorset’s mobile number.

Crisis management lesson: When fronting the media and you are not absolutely certain of your position don’t try to muddle through. If you have not done something yourself don’t assume it has been done and state it as a fact. If you don’t know or are not sure, say you don’t know or are not sure. That may not be the best outcome, but it’s better than getting it wrong because today’s instant media feedback loop will catch you out and make you look a fool, or worse.