Pandemic and Your Brand: Time to Communicate

Aside from its medical consequences, COVID-19 has the potential to hurt or even destroy your brand. The big victims so far are the cruise lines and many areas of the hospitality industry, but even ancillary industries are at risk.

Example: Over the weekend, I began efforts to cancel a spring break trip that I booked on vacation rental platform VRBO. According to the website, canceling on short notice would mean forfeiting the entire cost of the trip. To me, this was unreasonable given the COVID-19 pandemic. (Anything less than complete immersion in Clorox would not convince my wife that the place would be clean enough.) A day earlier, Airbnb announced that it would issue 100% refunds for bookings impacted by the pandemic. I looked for similar news from VRBO. And found nothing.

Upon reaching VRBO on the phone, the customer service representative reminded me that I would normally have forfeited the entire cost of my trip, but the platform was encouraging its property owners to give full refunds for rentals impacted by COVID-19. It took a little work, but I’m getting my money back.

As I was sitting on the phone waiting for VRBO, the reputation manager in me was running scenarios. The main one: If VRBO, which is owned by Expedia, doesn’t fully refund travelers impacted by COVID-19, the brand will likely not survive this crisis. Being unreasonable during a time of national emergency is not soon forgotten. Thankfully, VRBO and the property owner are doing the right thing for me, but the company still hasn’t made its policy known to the public. Recent news on this very subject proves my point: Airbnb further expands its coronavirus response, hosts complain, Vrbo makes no change

Right now, most businesses are up to their antibodies in operational and human resources issues, but you also need to remember to communicate with your customers.

  • If you are assisting people or businesses impacted by the virus, how are you communicating it? I would recommend an old school news release but using internet distribution channels.
  • If you are delivering products or services differently than usual (which we all are, right?) then you need to actively let your customers and prospects know this. Many people are at home and spending their days on social media, so now might be the time to deploy a Facebook or Instagram campaign, for example.
  • We also need to walk the line between informing and selling. It’s not business as usual, so don’t pretend it is. Be sure your business and your employees are following the advice of the CDC and your local government – otherwise, you risk brand damage if you appear callous.

We are in uncharted waters, but some sensible communications strategies can help us steer through it. If you need assistance with your messaging, let me know.

–John

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