We all know the importance of powerful brilliant, clear and thought-leading communication. But in the current pandemic climate, what communication is and what it does has shifted. It is now no longer just about a company keeping people in the know. What OTC brands and businesses are saying, how they are saying it and who they are saying it to is now about ensuring their very survival.

According to a recent article from Forbes, how companies use corporate communications to handle the coronavirus crisis will be “a decisive factor in whether the company survives or not”.  

In the weeks and – for some countries – months since coronavirus forced nationwide lockdowns never seen before, we have all witnessed the rush for companies and individuals alike to adopt a more digital approach. Forced by circumstances to form new lifestyle and working habits in record time, companies are having to step up and take immediate action to care for their staff, mitigate risk and maintain their customer base.  

So here are our five top tips for any OTC brand or business to ensure its digital communications is working as well and as hard as it should be to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.


1.  An authentic online presence is your business saviour

The power of using social media to communicate directly with your target audiences is clear. We know almost three quarters of consumers will recommend a brand to others if they had a good social media experience and 63% expect companies to offer social media customer service.  

The pandemic has seen the use of social platforms soar with WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram seeing a 40%+ increase in usage among 18 to 34-year-olds since mid- March. So whether your digital presence is at the top of its game or in need of work, now is the time to leverage it. At the very least you should let your customers know of any changes to your business and be able to address any ongoing concerns they may have. Adding a banner to your website, sending out an email, or posting on social media platforms will remind your clients that you have their backs.

If this is new territory, make sure that you have the right social media skills and well-defined priorities before you start. And remember, social media is about building relationships and enables a company to have a more human and relatable voice. Try sharing entertaining, reassuring, educational content and encourage people to message you directly if they have questions about your products/services and your industry to start conversations. After all, conversations happen on social platforms regardless of whether you participate or not, so it’s always better to join in than pretend it doesn’t exist


2.  Align lockdown language and content to COVID-19

With the majority of the population currently stuck at home, your digital content needs to echo the new living/working situation. This means your messages, tone of voice, imagery and the effect that coronavirus is having on your audience must all be considered before posting anything. It’s been great to see how quickly some companies transitioned – live-streaming classes and talks, developing free downloadable educational content, clinical staff becoming influencers, the launch of virtual support groups and more.

Ultimately, consumers will remember brands for their genuine acts of kindness, whether financial donations, free products for NHS and other key workers, continuing to pay employees, or even repurposing manufacturing capabilities to make essential products such as hand sanitiser and face masks. Feel-good authentic content promoting positive messages will be remembered by customers when the time comes to spend money again.


3.  Harness the power of digital communities

A significant change in routine is tough for anyone. Fortunately, social media has the incredible power to encourage solidarity and build camaraderie. It is a powerful tool to harness when developing your crisis communications toolkit. In challenging times, people find great solace in knowing they can continue to communicate with each other – even digitally.

Of course, not all businesses are expected to provide expert knowledge on COVID-19. But these are some great examples of how companies have used social media to help people during the crisis.

Instagram has introduced a “Stay Home” sticker people can add to their stories. The company knows that public figures and influencers on there can make a real difference and encourage people to do the right thing, and this functionality helps them reinforce the message. 

New York City Subway has done a fantastic job encouraging people not to use its services, sharing powerful messages on its Twitter account supported by data, such as: “March 17, 2019: 5,568,464. March 17, 2020: 1,785,252. 3.7 millions of you chose not to ride with us yesterday because you want to #flattenthecurve. We miss you, but for now, we’ll say: thank you for not riding with us. You’re keeping NYC safer.”

Nike “Play inside, play for the World” campaign has been encouraging people to stay healthy by exercising at home. Its #LivingRoomCup hashtag has helped motivate people while promoting the sportswear giant’s community and producing an incredible amount of user-generated content.


4.   Adapt not just to survive but thrive 

A key factor in resilience is adaptability. In the coming months, your organisation is going to have to develop new ways to reach out to customers. People will be more averse to the idea of walking through a door and shaking hands and it is likely to trigger long-term changes in how we carry out business and marketing.

Trade shows are being cancelled, physical sales points are closed and marketing budgets are being reviewed and reassigned. Companies need to pivot their messages, modify their media mix and diversify their revenue streams. Now more than ever, people are looking for digital solutions to their new daily challenges which means a digital approach is likely to become even more prominent. Companies must carry out a thorough review and update of their digital plan and quickly turn their attention to social marketing, eCommerce, SEO, content creation and influencer campaigns.

Token efforts won’t cut it. Marketers must rediscover where clients now are online and identify new ways to engage them to support the company’s recovery and success.


5.  Future-proofing your digital strategy in an uncertain future

We all understand there will be no return to what we called “normal”. Some Coronavirus-era habits will become “business as usual” and communications programmes will need to reflect this to be future-proof. Part of this shift will be a continued, increased reliance on a digital strategy. After an unprecedented disruption of traditional marketing practices, adapting to cater for new means of consumption is absolutely vital in order to limit losses.

For example, Millennials, who are now aged 24-39 and a digital-first audience, are becoming household and businesses’ key decision-makers. In 2019 alone, they made 60% of their purchases online and that is only set to increase across all age groups given recent weeks. This means that healthcare brands and businesses have to create authentic digital content and provide customer services online if they want to build trust and loyalty with this audience.

As this digital transformation accelerates, businesses must start planning for life during and (hopefully) after COVID-19, developing new ways to connect with customers. Online platforms are helping marketers to gain insights in new consumers trends, to learn, adapt and fine-tune what will be their “new normal” marketing strategy. Digital adoption is unlikely to reverse, so any actions brands can take to better serve their clients, care for their team and grow their customer base now will be the key differentiators between the company that will survive and the one that won’t.

If you need help to ensure your digital strategy is not just working hard for you during the COVID crisis but is on the front foot for when it starts to ease, then get in touch. The Difference Collective has a team of senior digital healthcare experts which can help.

About the Author

Claire Delplancq is a Digital Communications Manager with more than nine years’ experience working in healthcare and technology. She works with clients to conceive communications plans which help support their goals by leveraging PR, digital, influencers and on/off-page SEO tactics. She is also a lifestyle content creator and a Difference Collective consultant.

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