Are Brands Communicating Effectively to External Audiences During COVID-19?

New Research Shows Brands with More External Communications See Greater Returns

The COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the entire world in March had an almost immediate and sweeping impact on the global economy. In the U.S., gross domestic product (GDP) fell 4.8% in the first quarter, more sharply than the 3.5% decline expected by most analysts.

It marked the first negative GDP reading since the 1.1% decline in the first quarter of 2014, and it was also the lowest level since the 8.4% plunge in Q4 of 2008 during the worst of the financial crisis.

Thousands of companies have been forced to furlough employees, as sales have plunged in a number of industries affecting everything from sales and marketing to workforce operations.

Despite these gloomy economic numbers, companies must plod forward in the near term and prepare for the economic rebound that is sure to ensue once the pandemic subsides and America reopens for business.

The Importance of External COVID-19 Marketing Communications

Key to companies charting the right course for their own rebound is the way in which they are communicating to external audiences. Through continued marketing strategies, press releases, thought leadership stories, subject-matter-expert columns, blogs, social media, and customer communications, all companies must keep communicating during the pandemic and post-pandemic.

Covid 19 Stats

Early in the pandemic, many companies slowed their external communications for fear of being perceived as insensitive and tone-deaf in front of outside stakeholders. However, after the initial shock of the pandemic, these external audiences began to seek information on everything from where to receive unemployment benefits to questions like, “will my hair salon still be open?”

“At this stage, companies needed to inform their external stakeholders of regular updates with information that benefits them and their needs,” said John Sternal, Director of Research for Merit Mile. “If you weren’t communicating, or if you stopped communicating, outside audiences moved on to other sources for their information. This can quickly and greatly damage a brand’s operating perception which tends to have long-term ramifications.”

It all starts with having a plan, and according to a recent Merit Mile Research survey, a whopping 41% of brands do not have an external communications plan in place during times of disaster. Merit Mile collected the research from an online poll with responses from 275 business leaders across various industries during the week of April 13, 2020.

The purpose of the research was to gain a better understanding of the percentage of brands communicating to external audiences, how brands are communicating externally to their audiences, and to see if there is a difference in business impact depending on how often brands are communicating. Ultimately, this insight provides visibility into how brands are communicating and promoting their products and services via marketing communications, public relations and advertising during the COVID-19 period.

Who is and Who is Not Communicating?

Nearly 8 out of 10 brands say they are proactively communicating with external audiences during COVID-19. Nearly a quarter (23%) either aren’t communicating or aren’t sure how.

Nearly a third of brands (29%) say they are sending or posting some form of external communications between 2-3 times each week. 17% are either not communicating or only doing so once per month.

Brands Communicating More Often See Greater Returns

More than half (57%) said they are interested in tying their PR efforts to lead-gen strategies, but that they are unsure how to effectively develop those strategies.

Slightly more than half (58%) say they are positioning 2-3 company executives as Subject-Matter Experts for trends and insights.

In terms of measuring the effectiveness of their external communications, nearly half (46%) are seeing similar web traffic, and only 35% are getting more inquiries from the press to discuss industry topics.

However, when isolating only the companies positioning their thought leaders, 48% are seeing an uptick in web traffic; 42% are getting more inquiries from the press; and 37% are getting more invites to sit on virtual panels and webinars.

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to persist and impact the overall global economies. It is important that brands in every industry – of every size – continue to position themselves as thought leaders through a regular cadence of external communications. Want some advice on how to do this? Contact Merit Mile to speak with an expert today.