The world has changed. Today, in 2020, we find ourselves in a situation many may have thought unfathomable twelve months ago. But we’re getting through the first phase of initial shock, whereby many companies scaled operations back, paused on decision making or had to make some incredibly tough decisions.

For many businesses, certainly those born after the 2008 recession, marketing themselves during a crisis is a completely new challenge. There is concern about how you market yourselves whilst ensuring you get it ‘right’ — whether that’s investing in the channels that will deliver the best return, or communicating with your audience in a way that will resonate.

Indeed, Peter Field, a leading researcher on marketing effectiveness, outlined in Raconteur’s The Future CMO report that “going dark is very dangerous; do whatever you can to avoid it.”

And, with 58% of consumers claiming that the way brands behave during COVID19 will affect their decision to give them their business in the future, the need for you to communicate effectively during a crisis, such as this global pandemic, couldn’t be more crucial.

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The reaction to coronavirus by brands has been incredibly varied. Some have done a complete U-turn, many have continued to act as though it’s business as usual, while others have pivoted their entire operations to meet a demand that never before existed. There is no right answer, as a brands reaction must be in accordance with who they are. In the hopes of helping you to keep your business operational and continuing to drive business, we’ll discuss how you can market your business during a crisis and adjust your marketing strategy to best position your brand.

Adapting your messaging and tone of voice

A common claim is that you never truly know who someone is until you witness them in a crisis. We believe this can be applied to brands too. What you have to say and how you say it will be crucial in how people perceive your brand, not just now during a tough time, but also for years to come. There is no right answer, as each brand’s reaction must be tailored to their individual circumstance.

What we do know, however is that it isn’t business as usual and you shouldn’t treat it as such. To do so would be short-sighted and it won’t go unnoticed by your audience. Instead, it’s important that you adapt your messaging and tone of voice to suit the situation that you’re currently facing, whilst still remaining true to your brand.

If you’re unsure how to communicate or adapt your message we’ve distilled it down into six areas for you to consider.

Know your audience

You must put yourselves in the shoes of your audience and understand what it is that they need from you as a brand during this crisis. Reviewing your buyer personas is a good way to do this. Your target customer will have had a drastic shift in mindset and it’s vital that you understand what is important to them, what’s influencing their decision making and where they’re gathering their information from. It’s all well and good to talk about your new agile remote working culture, but not everyone will have been able to transition seamlessly – so take that into account.

Know your brand voice

Just because you’re dealing with a serious topic, this doesn’t mean you have to be robotic and overly formal in your tone of voice. Yes, you will have to adjust the manner in which you communicate but don’t do a 180 shift and abandon your core brand qualities. Try to avoid being sarcastic or insensitive. If your audience has come to expect a relaxed and friendly tone from you, its wise to keep this up where it’s relevant to do so. Your messaging must still reflect who you are as a business.

Don’t be opportunistic

You should always remember three key commandments of crisis content: Don’t give advice about the crisis itself unless you are in a position of authority to do so, don’t be opportunistic, and focus on value, but don’t force it.

Be positive

There is obviously no one size fits all response. However, it is key to remember a number of important points: Be positive, but don’t be cheerful, reassure but don’t patronise, don’t catastrophise but don’t be nonchalant. And, above all, remember that this is a uniquely human tragedy.

Stay relevant

Crises are never static, they develop over time. You must ensure that you constantly keep up to date with developments and that you message reflects any changes. A brand that is seen to be out of touch or behind will be seen as insensitive and lazy. However, a brand that is remaining relevant and steadfast will become a trusted and reliable source.

Context is key

Consider the context of the channel that you are communicating through. Social media is a very important platform for many, but if you’re making a serious statement, that can easily get lost or mis-communicated through the platform’s limitations.

In that case it would be better to communicate using a more permanent platform such as your website. An Instagram story is not the best place to announce the furloughing of staff for example.

How to cut through the noise with considered creativity

Once you have figured out what you want to say and how you want it to come across, the next hurdle is figuring how to cut through a chaotic and noisy environment. You’ve no doubt experienced a number of messages that are a carbon copy of one another – the marketing landscape is full of them.

However, we advise taking a considered approach to creativity. This doesn’t mean all the bells and whistles, but thinking about ways to differentiate you from your competitors in a way that resonates with your audience. You can produce your own creative angle that works perfectly for your own business. Here’s how:

Do something that helps

Can your business help in anyway? This doesn’t have to be directly related to the crisis relief effort, but if it does – then that’s hugely positive. If not, then think about the challenges your customers are facing right now and what you can do that helps them directly, without putting your own business at risk.

There’s no need to go ambulance chasing, but if you can make small, smart adjustments to better meet the needs of your customers and audience, then now would be the time to do so.

Turn challenges into opportunities

Instead of panicking, companies should take a step back and ask how their business can adapt. Is that offering your product for free in the short-term or pivoting your offering to supporting a new demand. It may not be immediately obvious, but it’s highly likely that there are new opportunities for you to turn your hand to.

On-point execution

Execution is key. Once you have a great idea, it must be well-executed or it could harm your reputation. If you’re pivoting your business offering ensure that you’re doing so to meet a demand and not just to show willing. Ensure that what you’re doing is well-researched and backed by data if you can. This will all help to support your execution.

Examples of considered creativity in action

Outlined below are several brands that we think have executed great examples of considered creativity.

Natural Cycles

Natural Cycles is an FDA and CE approved digital contraception app that pulls the data from women’s basal body temperature into its algorithm to asses which days they are most and least likely to  get pregnant.

They adapted their app shortly after the pandemic was announced to also offer a coronavirus symptom tracker. This has done well not only with their users but also with media, including coverage in the Evening Standard, The Independent and Cosmopolitan.


Pathfindr is a Norwich-based start-up, which produces low-cost GPS trackers so firms can keep track of their goods as they move around their supply chain.

They’ve repurposed these trackers as personal devices that alert wearers if they’re within two metres of each other. This isn’t a huge media story but has done well in the trade publications.


Breathe is a HR software provider who produces an annual in-depth looking into the economic impact of toxic workplace cultures. We planned to launch the Culture Economy 2020 in April year, however, when pitching this out to the media, we discovered that without a coronavirus angle, journalists weren’t interested.

We worked closely with the client to re-write the report to make it relevant and remove anything which would jar (we’ve banked this content to be reused at a later date so it doesn’t go to waste), we amended the press release to include a covid-19 angle which resulted in 12+ pieces of coverage including City AM and Forbes.

Integrated marketing communications that have impact

This crisis sent marketing strategies into a state of flux. As a result, businesses have been looking at new ways to spend their marketing budget, as well as what channels they should use to announce big news and ensure that their message heard.

We’ve seen that businesses take three different approaches to their marketing during a crisis:

  1. Panic – putting a hold on their marketing activity
  2. Plan – whereby businesses regroup and assess their current assets and marketing activity that they might have been putting off such as rebranding or updating their website
  3. Persevere – continuing with their marketing efforts and looking for new ways and opportunities that they can reach their audience

Regardless of which way your company is inclined to react in a crisis we’d recommend the following activity to support your marketing during a crisis.

Review and repurpose your content

By changing the content used across various platforms. Across the marketing industry we are seeing a massive increase in the use of podcasts, webinars and infographics as content mediums that are receiving high traction and engagement amongst users.

This doesn’t have to be new content – review your current assets, whether that’s written blog posts and guides or video and see how you can repackage this content in a way that’s relevant to your audience right now.

Meet search demand

In an unforeseen crisis people will encounter problems that they’ve never had before and, as a consequence, they’re search patterns are changing. Many companies offer solutions to these new problems that people are facing, so it’s important to understand what they are and adjust your SEO strategy to meet this short (or potentially long-term) demand.

Engage with your audience

With social media being used more than ever before it is important to have a look at how you engage with followers. Everyone can be guilty of posting on social media and then forgetting about that post, but companies should look at ways that they can interact with their audience more, ensuring they are talking with them and not at them.

How to manage sensitive issues and crises

Coronavirus may be a once in a generation event but the traditional wisdom of crisis communications still applies. Organisation is key. The first step is always assembling a team with clear lines of communication and responsibilities. This lays the foundation for the next steps: demonstrating the right values and knowing your audience. The nature of a crisis means nothing is guaranteed. But taking these steps will put you in the best position to weather the storm and come out strong.

Identify a crisis team

Have an internal crisis team in place ideally before an emergency arises. This team will not only be able to prepare for a crisis, identifying potential threats and key players but will also be able to react faster as the crisis begins to enfold. If you haven’t taken this step as the crisis is unfolding, do so immediately.

Know your audiences

Know your different audiences and the messages that matter most, but keep the core message the same do you don’t contradict yourself. Updates must be regular to your different constituencies and you must ensure you control your own narrative and have something to say before someone else says it for you.

Demonstrate the right values

Don’t just communicate that you broadly are on the right side of this, you must demonstrate it with your actions. For example, outline the steps you’ve taken to make sure your employees are safe. And overall, remember to be human. People will remember the companies that meaningfully engaged with them to demonstrate support and those that were tone deaf. This is clearly shown by a recent Censuswide survey that revealed 58% of people in the UK say that the way brands are behaving during covid-19 is going to affect their decision to give them their business in the future.

Evolve with the crisis

The situation is constantly moving, and you must demonstrate leadership throughout, updating your audiences – whether that’s employees, customers or investors – as things change.


As companies adapt to the new reality we find ourselves in, the message that we at Aspectus would like to impart is one of small shifts. Companies may be inclined to completely shift their marketing strategy in relation to coronavirus, but this is likely to backfire more than it will be beneficial. Small, targeted changes will be key to navigating this new world we all find ourselves in.

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