The corona crisis does not spare marketing. Many companies should now change their strategies; a few already have. How the communications approach in marketing should look in times of crisis like these is revealed to us in an interview with Kathrin Behrens. The freelance communications consultant and crisis expert is owner of KB2 Kommunikation. She is currently supporting companies today in preparing for the time after the crisis later.
Ms Behrens, which impact has the crisis caused by the coronavirus had on companies’ communications concepts?
A huge impact. The corona crisis is catalysing a critical turning point in communication. All ideas and concepts created to date now have to be re-considered. This pandemic is such a decisive event that no one can simply carry on as before. Most of the changes will also endure once the virus has been overcome.
And how have communications changed? What will it look like in future?
Companies are currently calling out for customers to stay at home or are making an appeal for community. If you look around, you will hardly find any advertising. Communication which focuses on values such as responsibility and solidarity will gain importance. This process was already taking place, and corona has now significantly accelerated it. Profit-driven capitalism, as well as the acceptance of globalisation, has reached its limits – and this is having an impact on marketing messages.
Which marketing approach should companies therefore take in this situation? What would the messages have to be?
Customers today don’t want just any product, they want honest products which embody economical, ecological and social values alike and are not just driven by profits. Working conditions, too, under which the products are manufactured, must be ethical and the supply chain ecological. Customers are then willing to pay a higher price for this. Companies should therefore spread their good deed across all marketing channels. Perfect food for modern storytelling.
We often read that corona has given corporate social responsibility a push. But this term comes from the old century and doesn’t go far enough today. A term like “global existence responsibility” would be a better match. We expect companies to feel responsible for keeping our world a place worthy of living in. This need for a better world will shape communications in future. And this over the long run.
But is there then not the danger that this kind of communication in times of corona seems to be depressing? Don’t customers want happy communication, especially today, and hear something positive and motivating?
The communication is not negative, the facts are which the crisis brings along with it – illness and death, social distancing, and the biggest recession since the second World War with all its consequences. The scales of solidarity, this new sense for community, is flaming up everywhere in marketing, too, and providing a counterweight. It is creating a positive feeling for us. Many companies are riding this wave. At the moment, we are simply distracted; at some point, however, we will take a critical closer look and ask ourselves: what kind of company is it really which claims these values? Does it also actually live up these values in its actions behind the scenes? Value-centric communication only works if it is honest.
The B2B level can and should also leverage the possibilities of emotional marketing.
Are there any special considerations in terms of crisis communication for B2B?
The B2B level can and should also leverage the possibilities of emotional marketing. Values such as responsibility, trust and solidarity also play a big role here – and this also applies to the process chains. What’s more, functioning professional communication is also needed: which markets can still be delivered to, how can we bridge delivery bottlenecks, and similar? Information has to be available quickly in this case – for instance, on extra landing pages specially catering to various customer segments.
How important is marketing in times like these? Are many companies cutting their expenses for communications measures because they believe the measures will have little return?
It’s not possible to make a blanket assessment. Of course, communication in the travel or event industry has declined, as these areas are completely laid low. Other companies like Coca-Cola in Germany are reducing all their advertising, as other things are more important to customers, according to the company. In contrast, there are many companies which are continuing their marketing – yet now adapted to the current situation. In 2021, when budgets are re-aligned, is when we will feel the drastic cuts in marketing.
Kathrin Behrens is a freelance communications consultant and owner of KB2 Kommunikation
How significant is corporate communication in times like these?
More significant than ever. Values begin and are lived up in the company, and this includes transparent corporate communication. Each employee would like to know during such a crisis how business will continue, and especially while in home office, the daily flow of information should not be shut off.
In this case, too, the crisis is having a new level of influence. When we even have live video broadcasts from home office for the prime-time news, it can certainly be said that these are also being used for corporate communication. The C-level is being asked here to show stronger colours. For instance, CEOs at their laptops speaking directly with their employees, giving them updates and a preview of what is planned. Here, it is not about perfection, but about honest and genuine words. This could significantly reinforce the “we” feeling in companies.