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These are unprecedented – but also temporary – times. Businesses need to adapt their marketing plans, but recognize the powerful role that differentiated marketing and compelling communications can make to sales.  And in many cases, firms need to recognize that external media and others may be talking about them, whether or not they manage their profile proactively or not.  

We’re busy helping clients, and adapting like everyone else to WFH and to communications/marketing without face to face events.  We’ve been learning lessons from our colleagues in Asia who are several weeks ahead. But we’ve also been thinking hard about the implications for financial services and fintech marketing and reputation management.  Here are our thoughts below, informed by our activity globally, we welcome all feedback. At this time, we’re all learning from each other.

Planning and messaging

What do your clients actually want to hear about at this time? Has their consumption of media and content changed? We see a shift to major media and more ‘hard’ news, along with “news you can use”, and trusted friends on social media. The most read stories are naturally Covid-19 dominated, with credit-related and balance sheet stories also to the fore. Broader topics such as sustainability, diversity, Brexit negotiations, regulation of big tech have all been overshadowed short-term.

You can shift marketing activity onto digital channels, but do so intelligently. The mindset of clients is febrile and shifting – good market research takes time, though there are ways to find and incorporate real time feedback.  The best digital campaigns continue to tell the brand story while remaining informative and offering guidance, keeping you front of mind during a period when your audience will arguably have more time on their hands to consume good content. 

For bigger firms, marketing to existing clients and contacts is likely to become more of an immediate priority – make sure that activity is “sanity checked’ and don’t let it get driven just by numbers.

For B2B businesses communicating, some important points include:

Getting the tone right matters. This is a time for facts, not hype. It’s vital not to overclaim or brag, nor to speculate, nor to use jargon that obfuscates. More than ever, genuine authenticity to the fore. Thinking outside your head – “how would I react if I received this kind of marketing message” is critical. Focus on differences that matter now.

How much should you refer to the crisis in proactive non-Covid comms?  In other words, does a press release not mentioning this look misjudged – not necessarily. That may change day by day. We’d say generally not to repeat the obvious – your audiences want you to cut to the chase.

Is it acceptable to comment on the virus and its impact for marketing purposes?  Hundreds of firms are doing this, some subtly, some crassly.  Generally it’s fine if it links to your business in a concrete way – if you are a fund manager, you can talk about markets. Transparent “ambulance chasing” is counterproductive and is rightly being called out by journalists and others.

Consider all stakeholders. What messages you need to get out, both directly to your clients and via media channels.  It’s important to focus more than usual on all stakeholders – including suppliers and partners. People will want to know about your continuity planning. What’s changing and what’s is staying the same.

Crisis considerations

The general challenge is that companies are trying to deal with hour by hour changes across many countries, all of which are applying rules/guidance differently. This requires an enormous amount of agility on the crisis and issues management front. 

Consider setting up a small task force that includes major stakeholders internally, including internal, external and social comms people (and IR) – with a short call daily to understand business decisions. Set up a closed WhatsApp group for emerging issues. For larger companies, set up a small online “war room” where important documents/files/messaging can be held together. Operate a live working doc of messaging that can be updated to reflect changes quickly. Scenario plan – build a short book of messaging now for a number of different scenarios, including internal and for clients. 

Increase social listening and take note of what others in the industry are doing – banking, tech, construction, manufacturing all have different risks and considerations. Also, is there any media criticism of what some are doing/responses in general – use this to adapt and learn messaging. 

Finally, actually do what you say – make sure that messaging aligns with proactive measures taken – are you offering paid time off, are you offering health information and assistance; important considerations that external messaging isn’t just paying lip service and people are genuinely put first.

Think about types of training (media training, social media training etc) to get executives up to speed and ready while they might have some more time while being confined to home, focus on delivering projects such as content pipelines and programmes that can be activated when the time is right. It’s a good moment to prepare and put in time getting ready.

Digital channels and advertising

The availability, cost and impact of paid digital marketing are all affected. With an upswing in remote working and the robustness of company’s tech stacks being shone under the spotlight, people are embracing social platforms to not only collaborate with colleagues while working virtually but also to keep abreast of developments. There will be more eyeballs locked on second screens for longer than ever before, which means more opportunity to serve up content directly on these channels. 

With events being cancelled and some marketing spend therefore freeing up, our expectation would be for more money to be redirected towards online channels.  At the same time, companies in some sectors will be retrenching. We’re yet to understand how these two conflicting trends in demand will have an impact on bidding costs for keywords, as the digital advertising landscape becomes more competitive, with surplus budgets being shifted but some campaigns postponed.

Econometric studies clearly point to sustained growth as a result of sustained ad spend strategies, including periods of downturn. It’s critical to remain authentic and creative to earn cut through. 

Across all channels remember that visual content, both stills and video, trumps text – the combination of the two is most powerful. It pays off if you think in pictures to either communicate your messages or even emphasize them.  Audit your existing visuals and see how you can update or reuse without having to do shoots.

Media handling

How is journalist behaviour changing in the short, and possibly longer term

How has the B2B media’s appetite for news changed?  Is there still an appetite for pure ‘business as usual’ stories?  What has got crowded out, what kinds of stories?  

On the media side, journalists are telling us they’re overwhelmed – news outlets like the FT themselves are coming to terms with the idea of everyone working remotely. The challenges businesses are facing with new ways of working are also faced by media outlets; so have consideration, don’t hassle, be understanding. Recognise that the news cycle (and the way journos are working) is also having to adapt.

Many interviews have been by phone for some years – but important meetings, especially introductions – are often face to face. As these become phone interviews, how do you minimise the disadvantages of phone interviews and recreate the personal contact/bonding element as much as possible, while being succinct?  Is video better? (most journalists don’t like the perceived hassle).

Have journalists become friendlier, for a bit anyway?  It’s early days, but authenticity and gravitas are crucial at present – sounding too corporate or defensive in the current environment won’t work well.

Remember some journalists are extremely used to wfh, but others much less so. They are now using their time differently. Concepts of how long a phone interview should be are changing – one got cut to five minutes yesterday as some news broke.

Virtual product launches and virtual media tours require careful development and selection of assets. Your media training and media guidance should be quickly reviewed.  Make sure if possible that your media-trained spokespeople get some quick revision so that they get the tone right, both around the disease and economic crisis, and understand how to do phone interviews well.

Thanks to Cognito colleagues from all our offices who’ve contributed to these thoughts.  We’ll continue to update periodically as our experience and insights develop.

Andrew Marshall is Cognito’s Vice Chairman