Leadership and Your Response to COVID-19

It is an uncharted time for all of us. We have experienced delays in our clients’ plans to conduct their scheduled marketing efforts and are fielding an array of questions from customers who are searching for leadership. We challenge you to be a voice of calm, reason, and leadership.

Here are some positioning ideas for you to use as you assist your customers/members with their plans over the next 90 days.

An overall strategic communications plan centers around three words: commitment, community, and connection. These words are not meant to be platitudes, but action items. Each is an opportunity to DEMONSTRATE what you are doing to be part of the solution and a leader in your market.

This is a time to focus less on automation and more on personal relationships. Automation cannot solve this marketing challenge, but it provides a personal interaction with your customers/members to listen and learn how the institution can assist the individual and the community. Here is a plan divided into 30-day segments.

Next 30 days. Most institutions reading this are often the centerpieces of the community. Your market will look to you for leadership. Marketers should be on the frontline of this effort and demonstrate to the community their institution is leading when it comes to community involvement, assistance, and sanity in this time of uncertainty. Now is NOT the time to send another email to remind customers/members to wash their hands, practice social distance, and avoid hoarding. Customers/members get plenty of that on a media outlet called everywhere. Nor is it the time for a generic message of “we are committed to the health and safety of our employees, customers/members, and community.” No kidding. These messages are meaningless and are already on the home page of thousands of businesses.

What are you DOING? Are you offering to run errands for elderly customers/members? Assisting local business by offering interest-free bridge loans in order to make payroll? Offering retail customers the option to skip an upcoming loan payment? You get my point. SHOW how you are an integral part of the community, providing connection to the market, and committed to its longevity.

This is not bragging. It is about reassuring the community the financial institution is a leader.

Next 60 days. We have already seen the Federal Reserve lower rates to near zero. Money is cheap. This move to make access to cash easier is only half of what is economically required to weather this storm. The government must encourage spending. We only spend when we are confident we have jobs. Washington has passed a massive stimulus package. This includes direct cash payments to citizens, small business payroll assistance, and tax deferrals. You should have messaging prepared around what this directly means to your customers/members. These messages should not be product based, but rather about what the stimulus means to them. The overall arc for the communications should be to connect the customer/member to the institution by (1) explaining what is happening from a local perspective, and (2) making common sense out of the news coming from Washington. Institutions should think hyper local. Highlight success and inspirational messages thereby connecting the institution to the community.

Next 90 days. By this time, we will see the stimulus kick in and the positive impact of social distancing. If our response to the virus goes as planned, we will reach the 10-week mark and we should return to “normal”.

What will be the next area of concern is the upending of small business and the impact it will have on the population. For reference, 99.9% of all businesses are considered small (less than 500 employees). This group employs 48% of the working population. And while the .01% of big business employ an equal number of citizens, there are millions of small businesses that feed their supply chain. In other words, we are all economically connected. The main difference is a small business most likely does not have the liquidity to sustain its operation, hence the stimulus packages. Again, consumer spending will be critical to the recovery.

From your perspective, the financial implications will no doubt be concerning. If a business cannot make payroll, an employee cannot make rent, and a landlord cannot make the mortgage payment. The messaging will need to focus on what your institution and the community are doing to encourage spending from the institution’s perspective – borrowing. Communications should focus on buying local, spending local, and promoting the successes within the community. Operationally, the institution should be well positioned (technology and staff) to provide lightening quick approvals, clear communication, and a welcoming 5-star environment.

Stay Safe & Prosper!