Maintain Relevance By Keeping Inclusion In Mind During A Crisis

The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has proved to be an equal opportunity offender, and no community is exempt. Many corporations, small businesses and nonprofits are shifting their conversation from “sustainability” to “survivability” as predictable doors are forced closed and routine events are canceled. This leaves many people feeling vulnerable.

As major brands grapple with how to authentically respond to the needs of their key stakeholders, they may be finding that these audiences are not homogenous — and that their inclusion efforts need to be modified. This pandemic has revealed that some of our most vulnerable citizens are not only those who are considered to be at a higher risk of the disease itself, but also those who are secondarily affected. The secondarily affected include those who cannot work from home and will lose pay as a result, those who need to travel far to get to essential services, those who have illnesses and must now rely on telemedicine, those who lack affordable access and reliable internet, and those who work in the medical field and do not have the supplies they need.

Brand Communications During A Crisis

For a brand to remain relevant, it must recognize that eyes are watching. An authentic and impactful response in a crisis means a brand must be thinking of all of its stakeholders from a community mindset. While the impacts of COVID-19 are evolving and uncertain, the lessons transcend the event. They are applicable to an organization’s efforts to engage a community at any time. Companies can do their part by making sure that they are inclusive and authentic in their attempts to help.

For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, many companies are making a difference. Among them, manufacturers across the nation are retooling their production lines in order to meet the national demand for supplies, like hand sanitizer and face masks. School systems are implementing special online reading programs in an attempt to continue to provide academic stimulation for children. And internet and phone companies have pledged to keep Americans connected, even if customers are unable to pay.

How Big Is Your Tent?

During a crisis, how can your company keep inclusion in mind when communicating with its audiences? There are three steps to take.

1. Know Your Audiences

A crisis can reveal an organization’s vulnerability as it relates to diversity and inclusion. How a brand identifies, communicates with and engages key stakeholders can shape its reputation for years to come. As such, successful efforts should begin with a clear and comprehensive stakeholder map — no matter how big or small the audience may be. Additionally, plans for these audiences should be specific.

While it may sound basic, stakeholder mapping is fundamentally where many efforts related to diversity and inclusion break down. In a crisis, things move quickly, and we are at a higher risk of excluding important stakeholders when we have not included them in planning.

Taking the time to thoroughly create stakeholder mapping can ensure that your audiences feel included and engaged as part of the conversation from the beginning, not tagged on as an afterthought. However, if you get through the process of stakeholder mapping and your audiences all look, think and behave like the people at your planning table, keep working. You aren’t there yet.

2. Ask And Listen

Communications planning has to be inclusive from the beginning. Developing a feedback loop so that audience stakeholder groups are represented during the planning process is critical to avoiding the pitfalls of being tone-deaf during a crisis. Informal, low-cost surveys can provide valuable insights into how your stakeholder groups are feeling and what they need from you.

3. Match The Message

Utilize stakeholder groups to test and calibrate messages so that your brand doesn’t come across as tone-deaf. During the COVID-19 crisis, many brands have demonstrated the ability to pivot messaging so that it aligns more closely with what consumers are thinking, feeling and needing.

A crisis can expose vulnerabilities in many different ways, and by looking more inclusively at the needs of the community, we can have a greater impact. We all can do our part by helping our community during a time of need.