Taking full advantage of digital to communicate in a time of change

Posted in Digital Events on 21 April 2020 By Victoria Sugg, Group Business Development Director

Looking at how to respond to COVID-19 through timely and authentic digital communications, Emperor’s second event in the ‘Keeping communications out of lockdown’ series took place on Friday 17 April.

Hosted by Cam Gunn, Head of Digital at Emperor and Simon Bennison, Digital Director, the session explored how to provide the right digital experience for all your stakeholders, both during this period and beyond, when we emerge from the current pandemic to a changed world.

The session split broadly into three areas, with a broad overview of what’s happened around COVID-19 in relation to digital to set the context, followed by case studies of how businesses have been using digital communications to address the issue so far, and advice on tailoring your digital response. 

The crisis has caused rapid digital transformation 

To sum up the context that we all know well: everything has gone sideways.

25% of businesses reported they had temporarily closed or paused trading.

21% of the workforce is on furlough.

53% of adults have said the coronavirus is affecting their well-being.1

On a macro, business and individual level we have all been affected and this cumulatively creates what we as humans fear the most – uncertainty. The uncertainty creates discounting, spending reduction, it becomes hard to attract people and capital, teams become disjointed, supply chains are disrupted, and yet expectations go up. Businesses come under more scrutiny and often receive unwanted attention.

All eyes are on how businesses react (there’s even a naughty and nice list). In this climate, more than ever before, reputation is set by acts not ads. Great examples were seen in Pret a Manger and Addison Lee’s quick action on discounts and freebies for the NHS. Brands also pivoted into different services, such as LVMH – one of the first companies to adapt their operations and start producing hand sanitiser, and significantly not branding it to leverage the opportunity, prioritizing speed over selfish gains. Many were swift to act and are to be applauded for this. They won’t be forgotten quickly.

Amid this shifting context, digital has never been so critical. As Keith Weed, the former CMO of Unilever commented: 

We’ve basically got the next 15 years of people [set to come] online [to] have come online in the last 15 days.

More people are online shopping for the first time or trying to get in touch with organisations via digital for the first time. And internally there’s a massive impact too. Taking the Zoom Video conferencing platform as an indicator – a company that eight months ago was worth $16 billion is today worth $42billion. It has had 50+ million installs on Google Play alone and a 67% increase in user base.

There have also been a number of positive organisational changes to have happened, with businesses embracing new ways of working and processes that they might use post outbreak. What is clear is that COVID-19 has sped up digital transformation in all businesses – forcing organisations to make decisions fast and adapt daily to the challenge.

How are businesses using digital to respond?

There are some great examples:

RB’s purpose is to nurture and protect, and as such it has heavily invested in hygiene and consumer health. It has created a separate hub that quickly gets into practical advice with an overview of how individuals can act. It outlines what as an organisation it is doing and also brings together expert advice and latest news from reputable sources all on one page.

Baked into UK infrastructure, Capita has been able to lean into one of their business lines of data in a way that is useful for all of us, offering ‘Business Unusual’ dashboards on corona and viruses with data on social media, sentiment, most frequent FAQs and a message from the CEO talking to all stakeholders on what COVID-19 means for Capita.

As we have come to expect of BP, it is offering lots of good, relevant content but in particular a great response timeline, breaking down (almost) by the day what its done to contribute to aid recovery in its markets.

PWC’s approach brings up the question of whether it is appropriate to market during this time? The business has turned the business impact of corona into a diagnostic tool that you can run through to understand where you might be impacted. It’s free with six areas of focus, which is clearly a lead generation tool for them for the future – but for which it’ll be forgiven as the tone is appropriate and the content useful.

If you have access to unique insight or data then you should use it. Similarweb has something unique to communicate: it has looked at key words, traffic to websites and impact by sector. This information was launched as a PDF first and later adapted to a hub.

Cairn Energy
Cairn Energy exhibits what should be the digital standard. The homepage references its response to COVID-19, quickly signposts to an operational update and also an update on offices – short, sharp and appropriate.

Digital has given NewDay the chance to support its customers with an FAQ. It’s a simple and effective way to reassure customers and negates its need to get in touch either through a call centre at limited capacity or email. This approach can be used for all stakeholders and is just as relevant for B2B.

Shell social
In this period, the visibility of management is of tantamount importance. CEO Ben van Beurden has been out front and centre, creating videos at home and even had engagement from the CEO of BP – a further demonstration of the unity we talked about in our previous session on sustainability, ‘The intrinsic link between sustainability and survival’ on 15 April and the need to humanise our approaches.

Emperor’s new furlough web template 
Clearly a major question for digital is ‘What do we do for employees?’ For those that don’t already have a strategy in place we have created an employee hub wireframe we are rolling out in support.

So how should you respond with digital?

When it comes to tailoring your digital response to be right for your organisation, here are a few suggestions to get the ball rolling.

1. Ask yourself: Why this? Why now? Why us?

Why is this important to communicate? Why now and why are you the right organisation to talk about this? Get it wrong and it can backfire, for example, the other day when Just Eat did a big social post around a ‘power hour’ for colleagues where they can’t be interrupted. The internet was swift to respond with ‘that’s what a lunch hour is meant to be!’

2. Mind the gap: communications and actions must align

What you say has to resonate with what you are doing. For example, don’t send out ‘we are all it in together communications’ while announcing redundancies.

3. Acknowledge, clarity, relevance

Far too many organisations have failed to acknowledge COVID-19 on their sites and in their communications. Explain the impact of the situation with clarity and outline your action plan. Cover all audiences and tailor the message as appropriate.

4. Take the opportunity to review and reset

Review your channels and competitors. Look at the strategy – is it still relevant and are you tracking the right KPIs? The comms strategy should be timeless and this is a great time to stress test that.

5. Go easy on yourself

There is no playbook for what is happening. Give yourself permission to try – many have been quick to react and subsequently finesse their approaches.

Appropriate, timely and authentic communications

Today, the need for clear communications is more critical than ever. Take inspiration from others but always be sure that what you are doing is appropriate, timely and authentic for your business. And take full advantage of digital to reach all of your stakeholders. Providing the right digital experience for investors, customers, employees and partners is key to delivering your message with clarity and impact.


Coronavirus, the UK economy and society, faster indicators: 16 April 2020



Get in touch with Cam Gunn, Head of Digital at [email protected] or Simon Bennison, Digital Director at [email protected] if you have any questions.



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