Crises Management: Messages Sent Now Will Define You Forever

Branding is about who you are and who you want to be . . .
and the steps to take to make that happen!

I sat down to write an article on the preparation of electronic files for various purposes – commercial printing, publications, the Internet, electronic ads, novelty items, etc.  However, we are in the middle of a world-wide health and financial emergency, and my partner and I felt we’d be remiss not to address that subject instead.

When a crisis occurs, you have an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a good corporate citizen and simultaneously cement and communicate your brand to current and potential customers in a positive way.

Developing Your Message

One of your first priorities as a small business owner when trouble strikes is to send your employees and your customers a message about the situation.  You need to be empathetic to their circumstances and emphasize that you are all facing the same difficulties because (most of the time) you will be.

You need to provide an overview of the steps you are taking to manage the crisis and (if relevant) explain any modifications being made to your products/services to deal with the situation and address special needs.  Finally, you must emphasize the importance of good communication and outline in detail the best ways to contact you with any problems or concerns – phone, e-mail, text messaging, social media etc.

Needless to say, you have to prepare your employees for any changes to their roles due to the crisis, and you should coach them on the proper information to communicate when dealing with the public.

Once you have figured out the correct content of your message, you need to prepare versions for all of the various media you will be using:

[   ]  e-mail

[   ] letter

[   ]  web site posting

[   ]  social media posting(s)

[   ]  signage for physical location (including any changes to usual hours) and instructions for getting in touch

[   ]  PSA (Public Service Announcements) for local media

[   ]  Press releases communicating information of interest to the public

While not all of these vehicles will be appropriate for everyone, every business will need to utilize more than one, remembering that different customers have very different preferences for receiving information.

Memories Are Long

Part of being a good corporate citizen is to honestly assess the part your product/service plays in the community.  Are you essential . . . or a luxury?  If you are the former, you will need to reassure people that you will continue to serve them with the least possible disruption.  You want to be sure to stay away from any language or unintentional suggestion that you are exploiting the situation for profit or gain.  Conversely, any steps taken at such times to offer charitable assistance and lend a hand to the community at large are important.  While your business might be suffering from a less profitable moment, too – chances are others are dealing with even more difficult circumstances and could use your help.

Memories are long.  When conditions improve, your customers will remember your behavior.  Did you lend a helping hand . . . or just help yourself?

Be Honest

In all of your communications, be honest and truthful.  People have an innate ability to recognize when you are being evasive and less than forthcoming.  While we certainly understand that some information is private or cannot be shared due to the likelihood of being misunderstood, you will do your business and your brand the most good by developing a reputation for being the kind of company a person can trust.

While honesty can be difficult in the short-run because hard messages sometimes have to get delivered, the long-range benefits will be worthwhile.  People will be inclined to believe ALL of your messaging, which is one of the key benefits of building a good brand.

Be safe.  Be well. 

Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!

Note:  In the midst of a crisis, future planning is probably the furthest from your mind.  Nevertheless, planning is also an act of faith and optimism for the future.  An upcoming article will explore the reasons all of us should be developing contingency plans for portions of our business that can be conducted online. 

Know Your Audience

Duh!!

Ok.  So maybe you do (and maybe you don’t) have a sufficiently good understanding of just whom you think that group is.  If you do, consider this posting a chance to quiz yourself to be sure.

A brand becomes memorable when the values being communicated resonate with people.  In other words, the product, service, or company you present match the personal perception and experiences of your customers.  Otherwise, your message becomes suspect and easily dismissed as just another example of “sales hype(rbole).”  Therefore, an honest, clear-eyed self-awareness is critical.  However, equally important is an understanding of whom your audience really is.

In some cases, that group might be your customers.  In others (such as this blog), your audience is your readers.

Why does this matter?  Why do you really need a clear perception of the people on the receiving end of your branding efforts?

  • The clearer your understanding, the more directly you can speak to their concerns.  (Ex:  If your audience is small businesses, you don’t offer branded sales strategies costing millions and millions of dollars; this group won’t have GEICO’s advertising budget!!)
  • You’ll pick language that identifies you as a peer and colleague, enhancing your credibility.  (Ex:  If your audience is other small businesses, then use of jargon is acceptable and perhaps even useful.  Conversely, such words would be lost on a general retail audience.)
  • Demographic details help you present your message in the most meaningful possible way.  (Ex:  If your know your audience is young, you don’t expect them to remember circumstances from 40 years ago;  if you know your audience likes sports, don‘t waste time drawing analogies to opera!)

In figuring out whom you are trying to reach, develop quick profiles that you can keep handy as a reminder.  For instance, prepare a description that addresses items like the following:

  • Age
  • Interests
  • Geographical location
  • Occupation or industry
  • Affiliations/affinity groups
  • Marital status
  • Income/earnings
  • Education
  • Hobbies
  • Gender
  • Etc.

Examining characteristics such as these can often yield a clearer picture (feeling free to add or subtract categories to match your specific circumstances).  Then, you must begin incorporating this understanding into your branding efforts.  However, a word of caution.  Be sure to ask yourself whether you are being sufficiently honest with yourself to create an accurate portrait.  In other words, are you right?   Sometimes, forcing yourself to look beyond your immediate assumptions can lead you to consider other targeted niches that might expand the scope of your audience AND sales.

For instance, Carole and I went through such an exercise.   While some obvious qualities kind of slap you in the face (i.e., our audience most certainly does include small businesses with an entrepreneurial bent!), we had to guess a bit about other qualities that might apply (such as sales savviness, technological literacy, size staff, etc.).   However, most interesting to us was the realization that we had a whole other potential audience not originally targeted when we began this blog.  Specifically, we realized that certain communications professionals (especially those young and inexperienced or perhaps still in college) might benefit most from our experience in learning how to get needed tasks accomplished. 

Both of us could remember receiving requests on deadline that we had absolutely no clue how to get started (much less completed).  We can remember turning to the Internet and asking, “Where can I find a free source for photos of giraffes to use in an ad campaign?” or “What items are included in a survey used to determine the audience of a product?”

(BTW—That later question – much to my surprise – just yielded a remarkably well-aligned answer:  “Using Web Surveys to Determine Audience Characteristics . . . ; https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060290.pdf .)

In closing, never underestimate the value of very specifically targeting your message to your audience.  However, intellectual honesty is critical.  Make sure you know who your audience is . . . and are not wishfully imagining that group is who you WANT your audience to be.  For instance, you may think your product or service is perfectly aligned to those with unlimited funds and discriminating taste when – in reality – you speak more clearly to those on a very tight budget.

Toward that end, performing simple surveys, meeting with formal or informal focus groups, and implementing other forms of research can only help get a clear understanding while simultaneously being a reality check on yourself.

Good Luck!

Have a couple extra minutes? Read the next story in our “The Beginning” series: How to Create a Mission Statement (Including Definitions, Examples, and a Mission Statement Generator).