All of us have extra worries in these unprecedented times. But today, more than ever, being clear about your key messages is vital.
Your customers, your team and suppliers need strong, clear messages about your business: what you stand for long term, the benefits you deliver right now and any issues you may have. These may need tweaking in the current circumstances but the core should be durable.
The process is invaluable: get down on one page who your most important audiences are, what your high-level brand message is, the core message for each key group (customers, team, suppliers and partners etc.) and the proof points you can use to demonstrate these. Bringing in an outsider can often help to add some objectivity and perspective to the process as it’s easy to be too close to your own business.
Whatever your perspective on the current crisis, the government have clearly used a process like this, and it gives clarity: mainly ‘Stay home, protect the NHS…’ but, as it became clear that social distancing was being flouted, they updated this and added ‘act as though you have it’ and then ramped it up to 'people will die’. At the moment it’s the ‘100,000 tests a day’ target and future plans to ‘test, track and trace’. Behind this, in supporting documents and a detailed messaging house, will be more specific proof points (‘183,100 tests this week’ etc.)
Why are these key messages so strong? Because, like their readers, the media are in a hurry and looking for a simple, clear message. Because they are repeated consistently by all those authorised to speak, and because we know the human brain likes strong numbers and simple patterns (threes and fives particularly) so the strong messages get recalled. With so many plates spinning, your customers will appreciate strong, short and clear messages.
In the midst of everything that’s happening, why should you spend precious time on this? It’s pretty simple:
• Because top brands are using these times to reinforce their core message, not lose it in the noise
• Because team stress levels will rise further if they see or hear any inconsistencies
• Because customers need clarity on what you stand for long-term, and on how any short-term issues are being handled
• Because suppliers and others need to know you’re still out there and coping.
These key messages then become central to all communications for your senior team to use, until they need to change - be that a Covid-19 website update, a customer e-mail or a Zoom chat with staff.
Other principles from crisis communication may also apply: if you make a commitment (‘all orders still dispatched within 24 hours’) you must stick to it, so be conservative. And where there is uncertainty, acknowledge this, but state a next-step deadline: ‘Unfortunately we can’t give a fixed delivery time yet, but it will be before the 20th - we will give you more specific timing at 5pm on Thursday’.
As someone said to me once, the role of leaders in times of crisis is to provide certainty: something we all need as much as possible these days. As a team we’ve done a lot of messaging work with many of our clients, so we can help. And we can help now – messaging workshops can be done virtually in half a day with a small team. And trust us, it always delivers!