Meet our panel:
- Ann Chong, Managing Director, Malaysia
- Pamela Tor Das, Managing Director, Singapore
- Danny Wong, Digital Engagement Director, APAC
COVID-19 has forced many brands and businesses to reinvent themselves and accelerated the pace of digital transformation. These are new waters for many and stepping into the world of digital and social media marketing can seem daunting. But what is more important for communications professionals and marketers to take note of is the way they communicate with their audiences.
What are the considerations to take onboard, new channels to explore and expectations to fulfil? Read on to find out.
Can you share some handles for sales messages – bearing in mind different industries and countries are in different phases?
Ann: Let me start by giving everyone an idea of what our market has gone through for context. So here in Malaysia, we are in a Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) which means we have eased some of the measures but we have not completely opened up.
One thing to consider is that while we need to be safe with our messaging and not to over-sell, there are people who are quite hungry for some normalcy in their messaging. Right now, we are reaching the start of the Muslim Hari Raya celebrations. Even though there are some measures still in place that prevent people from gathering, in terms of sales messages during this time, they should be controlled but still give a sense of festivity. I think it’s also a good time to be a bit more hopeful and positive in your messaging.
How can marketers approach corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and messages of support in a sensitive manner?
Pamela: I would say with or without COVID-19, the same basic principles of CSR still apply. I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s Start With The Why. And if you look into your organisation’s purpose, ask yourself does this initiative align with our business purpose? How is this related to our business strategy in a way that people can make a connection with?
In our work in Singapore, we have helped a number of clients to identify CSR initiatives for them to support mainly because they do have products or services that will really be helpful to certain audiences whether it is healthcare workers or migrant workers.
Don’t jump on the bandwagon for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon. It still has to come across as authentic. It should not be done for publicity sake with or without COVID-19.
How can brands strike the balance between addressing fears and exuding optimism? In the previous Ask LEWIS, Steven Reilly, Managing Director of LEWIS Australia shared that some brands were facing backlash for their content because their messages came across too pushy or tone-deaf.
Danny: During these sensitive times, when it comes to communicating with your audience there are three main things people look for from brands. Number one is safety when it comes to keeping business open in a socially responsible manner. It’s about giving people the confidence to engage with your brand. A good example is how restaurants and food delivery services here (in Singapore) are communicating their safety measures. It’s these little things that help brands build consumer confidence by getting them to buy into that safety proposition.
The other thing is empathy. If you look at the travel industry, for example, it has been severely impacted by COVID-19, yet brands have been empathetic in ensuring that people are getting their refunds for their bookings and communicating their efforts to reschedule festivals that have been paid for. Even supermarkets, how they are letting the elderly do their shopping without needing to deal with a crowd. All these things bring out the human aspect of a brand. Speaking of that human aspect, a masterclass in empathy is what the CEO of Airbnb did recently when they released a public letter about the downsizing of their company. It was done with respect, tact and tribute to the people that have contributed to the company’s success.
The last piece is relevance. People have the need to draw a connection between what they are doing now and what they stand for in this new normal. For example, brands can encourage people to pick up a new skill while they are stuck at home or give them a reason to get up in the morning by injecting positivity in their messaging. There are many opportunities for brands to help people develop new rituals during this time because there is relevance.
What do brands have to bear in mind now in order to prepare them for after the pandemic?
Pam: All brands and organisations exist to meet a certain gap. That gap would or may have evolved and you need to evolve with it to stay relevant. For example, if there isn’t an immediate need for your services or products now, keep in mind that there are still people who are looking forward to it the moment they can consume that again.
Think about how things would have changed when the new norm sets in. Do you need to pivot your services and products? This whole situation has showed us that we live in a global ecosystem – we no can no longer function in silos; we need each other – look at how the supply chain is built up. And if your solutions are indeed useful right now, think about how you can support other businesses amidst all of this, what type of communications can you put out to help raise awareness of certain issues.
A lot of brands assume that everyone’s just interested in COVID-19 related news and content, and that the media will note bite their brand’s stories. In fact, this is something we hear a lot from our clients – what should we do at this time, is media fatigued from COVID stories? Based on a recent global report that surveyed journalists from around the world, they do recognise that consumers are starting to get fatigued of the news but because the situation is so fluid, they do still want to keep up with the news.
So, we do have to keep in mind that what they are interested in is local content. On the other hand, we also see a rise in non-COVID related content and features and this tells us that it’s not all doom and gloom. People still want different types of content and that’s why brands have to think before they resume their communications. They have to adapt. And now is not the time to stay silent. People still want to hear from your brand. Start planning for that transition period, the same messages and promotions will not work after restrictions and lockdowns are lifted.
Danny: I like to use that analogy of brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth for one day – you may not see the impact but it’s more of the continuous effort of doing it that will allow you to see the results.
How can you get your brand to stand out in the sea of marketing messages in a good way?
Ann: I think it’s building on what Pam and Danny have mentioned already and that’s not just sticking to COVID-19 messaging. Genuineness does come to mind – consumers really do value how transparent and genuine brands are when it comes to delivering value to them. At the end of the day when you talk about standing out, it’s about being genuine, positive and hopeful and also finding creative ways in delivering that message. In fact, we’ve seen so much creativity from brands during this time whether it’s finding new ways of communicating or exploring a different channel. And to go back to Danny’s analogy, if you’re brushing and you still have cavities then maybe it’s how you’re brushing or perhaps adding something else like flossing!