27 Mar 2020 19:59 IST

Communication in the time of coronavirus

Now, perhaps more than ever, a sharper definition of your target audience is needed

I started working on January 10, 1973. I can almost hear you say “cut to the chase”. I will. In those 47 years at work, I am certain that the present shutdown and the enormous risk to life, forget business, is something that I have never experienced and hope to never have to experience again.

And yet the human race has exhibited enormous resilience, whether it was the World Wars, 9/11 or any other Act of God. Life must and will go on. And since my life has been advertising and communication, let me share a few thoughts on what the present challenge means for business and, consequently, what strategies one must adopt.

Step back

The worst decisions that people make are when they are on an emotional high or low. I feel it is very simple to make decisions to stop all ads, end retainers and cancel all economic activity given the fact that all malls are shut, dealerships are closed and consumers are in a state of panic. But, there’s a bright side to this whole imbroglio. People are home and just cannot get out. They are glued to their TV sets and mobile devices and watching it as though there is no tomorrow.

Let’s assume you are selling cars or two-wheelers. What’s the purchase frequency of categories like these? Certainly more than three weeks. So if you are engaging and have relevant communication, your brand could well be on top of the mind when the person goes out to buy. I think there will be an increased demand for two-wheelers given the uncertain nature of an already stretched public transport system. So don’t rush into a ‘stop all activity’ decision.

The target audience

Now, perhaps more than ever, a sharper definition of your target audience and a greater fine-tuning of your message is needed. There are older audiences like me who are still the prime targets for certain products and services now, perhaps more than ever, and then there are the millennials with different expectations. How do we segment these audiences? By media, by messaging and by strategy? The one size fits all that we were so comfortable with in the past will not work in strife driven times like these, which leads me to the next thought for your consideration.

Content is more than king

How often have we heard the expression that “content is king”? Well, it seems to be an emperor now. Given that time has almost become a negligible factor in the equation of life, people devour content almost like the way my grandfather used to read The Hindu.

In that context, the content that you put out there can work wonders or put off people who might have otherwise been interested. How important is the tone of voice in a scenario where people are worried about their elders’ health and their own careers, how do you still reach out to your consumer? That’s the communication challenge we must win.

Don’t let the communication be ‘in your face’

The crudest thing to do is to try to take advantage of this pandemic and be found out quickly. Never underestimate the smartness of the consumer. If you add a coronavirus super to your existing commercial, people will wonder why the opportunism. But if you are the one producing Dettol, Lifebuoy or Savlon, lucky you!

Unexpected crisis in the air

Times like these can throw up unexpected problems that could impact your business. Like a WhatsApp-created crisis unnecessarily frightened people out of having chicken, relating it to coronavirus. It was completely baseless, but created damage to the whole poultry industry, that had to garner support from the medical profession and experts to dispel the myths. Be alert to ensure that your brand or business is not hurt by rumours, fake news and competition.

And finally, be a good corporate citizen.

The crisis of hungry, homeless people, migrant workers in distress... all of these provide tremendous opportunities to stand out from the crowd. World over, the smarter companies are realising that it makes good business sense to be a good corporate citizen. Reach out to such groups to genuinely help, and never mind the photo opportunity!

Yes, these are difficult times, to put it mildly, but essentially good will triumph over evil (read virus), and let’s stay alive to share the story of our lives with posterity so that the next generation is better prepared for crises of this nature.

Stay safe!