In 1918, the Spanish flu took to the grave around 50 million people worldwide. Based on past experience, it’s only normal to experience fear and panic with the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially with bleak health and economic projections in the near future. During a crisis, it’s expected to experience some psychological changes within society. However, the people who are able to recover from crisis are the ones who feel like they are in control of some aspects of the situation. Client communication is one thing that brands have control of, so here are some common psychological changes that happen during a crisis and how to communicate effectively to keep calm and COVID on.
Fear as a motivator for action
Experiencing fear is an important motivator to drive people into action. Recognizing this, governments around the world are using warlike metaphors such as ‘frontline’ and ‘battle’ to instill the severity of the situation in the public.
Since pandemics are only controlled when people agree to do certain things like washing hands, socially distancing themselves and getting vaccinated (if a vaccine is available), it is really down to the population as a whole to play their part.
Earlier communications from our clients reflected this sense of urgency and fear to motivate for action especially in the transition to a fully remote workforce and virtually servicing their clients. Most communications explained how the business was going to stay safe, remain functional and most importantly take action in cushioning the economic impact of the crisis. Without the emotion of fear, most clients and companies might have been motivated to carry out business as usual, ignoring the necessary social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus.
A part of the brain called the amygdala is activated in someone experiencing fear. Subsequently, this activates a series of physiological changes called the fight-or-flight response which include breathing and heart rate increases, peripheral blood vessel constriction, central blood vessel dilation around vital organs and tighter muscles. This response is intended to make some ready to react to potential danger such as undertaking the government mandated transitions with record breaking speed.
However, simple communication is important for someone whose fight-or-flight response is activated. Certain parts of the brain like the lateral prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and visual cortex, which helps someone critically assess the situation is lower because attention is focused to eliminate the existing threat causing the fight-or-flight response.
Our clients have followed suit with providing timely but realistic and factual communications that are easy to digest following the latest news including content about the markets, asset classes and products. Some examples include the rebound of oil prices (and it’s ongoing saga), recovery plans and lower interest rates. One has increased the frequency of communication from once a month to twice a week to account for this.
An overwhelming amount of fear is not helpful if held for a long period of time. Indeed, a prolonged fight-or-flight response has severely debilitating effects on the human body. Therefore, instilling trust by demonstrating thought leadership and authority is important to eventually reduce the fear experienced by your stakeholders after making the necessary transitions. This can make all the difference between keeping or losing a customer because without trust, people won’t follow advice.
One of our clients has gained additional custom because a current customer of theirs liked the proactive way in how they handled the crisis. A trend that we see is holding regular webinars and delivering communications that can reassure clients about proper handling of the situation.
Thinking for the client
As we have mentioned, the lateral prefrontal cortex has lowered activity in someone experiencing fear. This area of the brain is also responsible for working memory, planning and reasoning. It’s probably why someone might have trouble thinking clearly during a crisis. Therefore, our customers have started to amp up thought leadership communications in relation to COVID-19.
Some examples we have seen are launching Market Weekly podcasts, enriching blogs with macroeconomic and investment strategies addressing coronavirus, personalised emails from client relationship managers and media campaigns on thought leadership. They have observed that focussing on their intellectual capital is reaping a strong content performance.
Focusing on wellness and long-term recovery
A long-term pattern that we see after a crisis is developing resilience. While people are stressed during the crisis, they will come out of it and recover. However, emotions are part and parcel of difficult periods. Acknowledging and supporting this can help your customers cope with the situation in a positive manner. We have seen themes like wellness, how to work remotely and learning new skills online. Longer term positive changes like increased digital services and capabilities which will stay long after COVID-19 is gone are also highlighted in various communications.
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