A year ago the notion of major cities such as London, New York and Paris being shut down for an extended period would have been utterly unthinkable. But as the Covid-19 crisis unfolds and politicians scramble to deal with the devastating social and economic fallout, how do businesses engage their global customers?
Business as unusual
While some businesses are seeing increased demand, across the economy as a whole many others are struggling to work out how to survive, how to keep their staff safe, or simply trying to continue operating as near to normal as they can.
But normal isn’t possible at the moment.
The uncertainty makes life very difficult – how can you plan the next quarter or even the next year when so much remains up in the air? Rightly people are worried about themselves and their loved ones, and as Maslow argued back in the 1960s, our hierarchy of needs is laid bare for all to see. It’s a stark reminder that there are far more important things in life than our work.
That’s why trying to promote your offerings in such circumstances is tricky – customers have other things on their minds. The uncertainty over whether loved ones will be OK, how long this will last, and what it all means for their jobs, their social lives and the things that until recently we have all taken for granted is paramount in customer thinking.
In a world where many cities and countries are in lockdown, digital technology has assumed a vital role. Many companies are using digital technology wherever possible to enable their staff to work remotely – something that simply wouldn’t have been possible to anywhere near the same extent 20 years ago. Those companies that can are encouraging customers to order online – again, the economic impact even just 20 years ago would have been far harder without the internet.
As a recent report on Covid-19 from Gartner states: “This is a wake-up call for organisations that focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. Organisations that can rebalance business priorities and technology investment are in a much better position to capture future growth.”
Marketers have long embraced digital technology, but now more than ever they must rely on digital communications to reach their customers, wherever they are in the world – be it through emails, social media, videos or webinars.
However, at times like these, what do we say?
Honesty is the best policy
At the moment, first and foremost, companies should provide information and reassurance rather than push promotions that may seem crass in the circumstances. Messages should seek to reassure your customers that you’re doing all you can to continue to provide your products and services, and that you are doing the best you can for your staff and customers.
When people are fearful, honest and truthful communication can help calm them. You may not have all the answers yet – no one does – but by being upfront you are demonstrating that you are taking this crisis seriously and are doing your best to help your customers and staff.
Non parlo Inglese
For your global customers who don’t understand, or understand very little English, how reassuring are those messages when they are delivered in a foreign tongue?
Even for those customers that do understand English, the impact is muted. As Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Communicating in someone’s own language shows that you care and are serious about addressing their concerns – in short, that they matter to you.
However, translating the words is only half the battle. The other half is making sure the meaning of what you want to say is communicated effectively and properly understood too – even more so in a crisis. The connection with customers is more emotional, deeper, when expressed in their own language and when culturally nuanced.
As has been pointed out many times before, the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters – wei (meaning ‘danger’) and ji (meaning ‘opportunity’). Although this crisis brings considerable danger, it also throws open the opportunity to look afresh at where digital can play a greater role in how your business operates and how it functions, and gives you the opportunity to deepen your connections with your global customers.
To learn more about how to globalise your marketing campaigns SDL has produced an ebook. Download it now to discover how you can deliver global campaigns that truly engage audiences around the world.