Take a look at your email. Is it just us, or does it feel odd to see so many brands giving their take on COVID-19? Brands large and small seem to all be jumping on the bandwagon to share how they are reacting to this pandemic. Don’t get us wrong, this comes from a good place. Letting people know of closings or detailing limited services is necessary. That said, as marketers, a flash sale on luxury jewelry or push for spring house painting can make some of us scratch our heads.

Let’s take a second to ask ourselves: how do we continue to communicate to our customers? How do we leverage our brand’s voice in a way that doesn’t come off as opportunistic or confusing? How do we maintain a focus on expressing our humanity and acting with empathy?

At The Perception, we’re confident in the perseverance of those in our community and beyond. We are going through this together, united by an interest in each other’s well-being. Brands can join in this by advocating for their customers and helping out as much as they can. Here are a few of our thoughts on how you can get there.

Listen To Yourself

Most people hate listening to recordings of themselves. It’s not just because our voices sound way cooler in our heads, it’s because it forces us to stop and think about how something was said. An inflection. A pause. Volume variation. It’s like proofreading but instead of catching spelling errors or missed punctuation you’re capturing your own performance from an outsider’s perspective. Apply this concept to your marketing. Take a step back with an ear to how your brand’s communications may be received.

Your brand’s personality is important, but in situations like these, you want to make sure it comes across with nuance. We’re not living in a dystopian society. You’re allowed to embrace the personality that makes your brand what it is. What we’re suggesting is an appreciation of a “helpful neighbor” nuance if it is appropriate for your brand. That’s what your customers need from you now, even if they don’t expect it. That means remaining supportive yet unobtrusive.

Here are a couple of key areas we think are important to consider:

What you’re sending out to customers should be focused on your area of expertise. That doesn’t mean it needs to be boring or unaware of what’s happening in the world. It means that you need to speak to customers’ more base needs and how your category expertise can help meet them.

Highlight features that make people’s lives better. Provide advice based on what your brand should know a lot about. Make an effort to reassure in the part of everyday life where you play a role. Check that the seriousness level is industry appropriate. Financial services, perhaps focus on security and success under pressure. Retail, maybe some humor or levity, offer a respite from the some of the serious. CPG, the comfort and convenience you bring to our lives. Advertising product information is no longer an effective way to communicate. People want to connect, especially in an entertaining way. Your brand can deliver value and be the escape customers need during a time of anxiety.

Crack open those brand guidelines you made. Use the tone you’ve outlined to judge whether a message is crafted appropriately. Be comfortable deviating slightly, but don’t lose sight of who you are—that can be jarring for consumers that need stability now more than anything. (If you have to deviate too much that may be a sign this isn’t the right time for your brand.) A couple things your customers need as it pertains to how you speak to them: Consistency in your brand voice, sincerity to authenticate your message, and transparency to build the trust needed to truly connect.

A Sprint Not A Marathon

As marketers, we know being reactionary is inefficient and, for the most part, ineffective. But, unforeseen circumstances at this scale require an agile approach. Your speed to shift focus and messaging is an important factor to how your brand is perceived by consumers. Think of it as running sprints versus a marathon. It’s an opportunity to work closely with your team to develop testable ideas broadcast through flexible channels. Take this approach to digital. Monitor and update your social channels often with category-specific updates, news, and inspiration. Allow those ideas to come from your entire team, not just marketing. Swap out ad placement creative or run multiples for A-B testing. Regularly run results reports to adjust on the fly and put your weight behind the ideas that are hitting.

Uncertain Times Require Flexible Planning

Your sprint communications will in no doubt impact your annual marketing plan. That marketing plan as you knew it may be crumbling in front of you, but there’s no need to junk the whole thing. Assess any already created, established content and adjust accordingly. For particular categories or industries, much of it may not have to change much, for others you may be looking at a complete overhaul. We should be looking to craft our marketing plans to allow for some legroom to keep testing ideas. Put a strategy at its base that can support quick change and arm your creative team so they can prepare fast and flexible development approaches. Looping in the media teams into this planning is vital. They’ll not only have the wherewithal to help determine appropriate channel attributes to measure by, but also where hard decisions may need to be made about when, where, and how often work is executed. Rank those channels by flexibility and put more energy into those that can change quickly with you and your team.

While not all hard and fast rules, trusted brands acknowledge the situations they’re in and how it effects the world around them. Communicating during a time of crisis requires nuance, balance, and agility. When in doubt, a spoonful of on-brand honesty, humility, and yes, even humor helps people cope with uncertain times.