As we emerge from the fog of COVID-19, one theme continues to dominate my thoughts.
It feels like more people than ever have been showing genuine empathy towards others. They’ve demonstrated a level of thoughtfulness and care we often have not seen in the past, at least publicly. This has been terrific!
Business, government and community leaders have played their part too, stepping up their game in the communication stakes. From what I’ve observed, many leaders have started showing compassion and empathy towards their constituents; they have been direct in the way they communicate and, thankfully, sparing in their use of jargon and spin.
In addition, it felt to me that businesses have been producing content that’s more useful, relevant and respectful of the audience than what they normally would dish up.
In a similar vein, many brands have been circumspect with the frequency and tone of their advertising.
In all, while some brands have been a bit clunky in their communications, at least they’ve tried to communicate with a degree of authenticity, whereas previously, brand-centric promotional missives were all you got from them.
These are all good things!
Which leads me to a question:
Will this trend continue?
From a marketing and communications perspective, why can’t businesses be useful, helpful and relevant all the time? Why can’t we deliver value to our customers and the community generally, over and above our products and services ongoing? This applies to businesses of all sizes by the way, from micro personal brand enterprises right up to large companies.
And will our leaders eventually go back to pre-COVID-19 days where spin, soundbites and robotic messaging prevailed?
The politicians who have stepped up in recent months, will they return to their old ways?
Ditto business leaders. Some have been pretty good of late in the communications stakes. But will they go back into their shells, pushing authentic public communication aside in the process?
Rita Men, Associate Professor of Public Relations, University of Florida, explained in The Conversation five ways in which CEOs should communicate with their workers during coronavirus:
- Be transparent
- Convey authenticity
- Show empathy
- Put people first
- Demonstrate optimism
(Personally, I think these traits are just as applicable to external audiences as they are when communicating to employees).
Meanwhile, according to CMO.com, CEOs are fronting a growing number of brand initiatives offering customers additional services and value-added offers in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
CMO.com quoted Amanda Lacey, of Sydney-based PR consultancy, Popcom:
“Now is the time to demonstrate your organisational core values and reconnect with your community,”
But shouldn’t this be something leaders and brands do anyway all the time?
Of course, some people, leaders and organisations have always demonstrated traits such as those outlined above.
I’ve loved how the New Zealand Prime Minister has communicated during these challenging past few months, especially her video conferencing calls with subject matter experts (dubbed “Conversations Through COVID-19”), plus her casual live stream chats with the public via Facebook
But here’s the thing: this has always been Jacinda’s modus operandi – she was a good communicator coming into the pandemic, and she has emerged from the crisis with her reputation enhanced.
So what next?
I have no definitive answer, but the “optimistic me” thinks there will be a knock-on effect and we’ll see a continuation of empathy-driven authentic communications coming from our leaders, for a little while at least.
But I do fear that, eventually, politicians will go back to treating us like schmucks; business leaders will put the walls back up and stop communicating as genuine human beings; and businesses and marketers will start promoting again like it’s 2009.
Which leaders and businesses have you observed communicating well during the COVID-19 crisis?