Product Messaging in the World of COVID-19
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Product Messaging in the World of COVID-19

Many businesses are speculating about how their day-to-day operations will look when we eventually return to a sense of post-pandemic normalcy. While there are countless different visions of this “new normal,” most agree that there will be some big changes to the ways in which businesses market, sell and support their products. So how can we prepare our marketing efforts for this world, with so much uncertainty still ahead of us?

The customer is watching

Social distancing is likely to be a part of everyday life for at least the next few months, and customers are watching to see how companies adapt their operations to follow the restrictions. Airlines are changing passenger flow to avoid the traditional scramble at the boarding gate and the impatient rush to leave the plane as soon as it touches down. Hotels are redesigning the check-in process to make it as contactless as possible while maintaining a personal touch; at the same time, guests will want reassurance that rooms have been thoroughly cleaned and that they don’t run the risk of picking up an infection from a previous guest.

Hygiene is likely to become a major selling point for other businesses too, with restaurants, rental car companies and entertainment venues such as cinemas and theatres all needing to address customers’ anxieties about staying safe.

How these businesses communicate their commitment to keeping their customers safe is likely to be key to successful and effective marketing.

Changing the message

The marketing messages for social venues might have previously focused on the lively atmosphere and the social experience, with photos of people mingling with cocktails in hand or of a cosy bar full of happy people laughing while squeezed around shared tables. For some customers, this imagery might now trigger fear or concern; images that represented positive emotions and aspirations only a few short months ago now send out a very different message. At the very least, the images of crowds will be an inaccurate representation of how we’ll be experiencing social interaction in a post-COVID world.

Even for products that don’t contain a social element, messaging will need to be adapted to reflect the reality of our new environment. Companies with websites or brochures showing images of offices with workers in close proximity or making physical contact such as handshakes or hugs might at least raise an eyebrow—we don’t know how long current restrictions may last, and the imagery could quickly appear outdated. Photos of workspaces with giant cubicle farms may also need to be updated to show the screens and partitions that will now separate workers from one another. It’s perhaps a stretch to suggest that people in a post-pandemic workspace should all be depicted in masks, but pictures representing obvious taboos in the current climate should be avoided.

Some businesses may also need to rewrite their messages to remove once-innocent references to “infectious enthusiasm” and “contagious energy,” as these adjectives will carry a far more negative connotation than before the pandemic.

And lastly, as companies begin to offer promotions to their customers and staff, the nature and appeal of traditional rewards may change. Is a staff incentive of a long-haul trip to an exotic destination as attractive as it once was? It’s inevitable that for some people, the prospect of long-haul flights and vacation time in big resorts is not going to be appealing, if at all possible, for some time.

Staying relevant across markets

The impact of the pandemic has not been the same in all countries, and messaging will need to reflect those differences. For countries where the number of cases and the severity of restrictions have been low, many of the old messages may still be appropriate; for those where many people have died and where the road to normalcy is long and uncertain, the sensitivities mentioned above may need to be addressed.

Localizing content to reflect culture-specific views and opinions has never been more important. Looking a year or two into the future, the pandemic is likely to provoke a wide range of feelings across different markets, depending on how deeply a population has been affected and how a country is perceived to have handled the crisis. These emotions may range from sadness and anger to gratitude and increased trust in figures of authority. Having local and up-to-date knowledge of these perceptions is key to delivering localized content that not only gets the message across about a product, but also contains the right emotional cues.

Focusing on what we know

Many businesses have been quick in adapting their processes and communicating these changes to their customers. The British homeware store Dunelm quickly designed a simple process for picking up your purchases while respecting social distancing. Their video neatly shows customers what to expect and offers them choices on how to shop. McDonalds in the Philippines was also quick to send a message of reassurance to its customers about how important they consider cleanliness to be. The video is certainly dry, but this style is perhaps appropriate for a message about hygiene.

Just as we showed in a previous post that the hand-washing message was communicated in different ways around the world, promoting products and services in the post-pandemic world will need to be adapted to the tastes and experiences of the local markets. Reflecting both regional preferences and current events in your localized products and messaging will be vital to your global success.