BY GUEST COLUMNIST Justin Roberti
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic. As of Wednesday, 118,000 people in 114 countries have contracted the virus and nearly 4,300 people have died. Now, more than ever, branding is crucial. So, how do you go about communicating your brand during a pandemic?
From a media relations perspective, companies may assume that this pandemic has nothing to do with them. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s because, if your customer cares about something, then your company should too. Here are some things to think about:
- How will you communicate with your customers on social media?
- Can you position your brand favorably?
- How should you communicate with reporters?
- How can you navigate this crisis situation in a way that is sensitive to your audience and the people that are suffering -- and promotes the natural strengths of your blockchain business?
Like most things in PR, this requires a little bit of finesse, some real sensitivity to the news cycle, and clear, resonating communications.
Here are a few steps to get you started...
Step 1 - Keep Calm and Carry On.
The public isn’t even sure how to feel about the reality of a pandemic which is unprecedented in most peoples’ lifetimes. Even the term “social distancing” conveys the sense of uncertainty, with an undercurrent of “use your best judgment” heavily implied.
There are lots of people in the press and on the street quietly panicking.
Grocery stores in the US are bereft of certain cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer and Amazon.com recently sold out of toilet paper and bottled water.
People aren't sure exactly where to go with the idea of self-imposed semi quarantine, but they will appreciate if your company is able to provide orderly leadership around the availability of your services.
Communicate clearly with your audience and you will reinforce your brand credibility as a reliable and stable force in difficult times.
Step 2 - Promote the strength of a distributed office.
If you are a blockchain concern, odds are that you are already working mostly within a distributed situation. That means that larger tech corporations, even those dabbling in blockchain, are trying to figure out how to have their entire collected workforces work from home.
Manufacturing companies like Boeing are struggling. Five workers at Boeing’s Everett widebody-commercial-jet plant have tested positive for the coronavirus, yet clearly they cannot relocate the manufacturing of commercial jets to workers’ living rooms.
Apple seems in a much better position to have employees work from home when possible, but Apple workers have run into challenges coming from unclear guidelines around the types of work that can be done from home and their own strenuous focus on secrecy in IP.
However, working remotely is business as usual for most blockchain companies.
San Francisco-based Coinbase began moving to remote work, on a “suggested but optional basis” following a contingency plan shared by CEO Brian Armstrong in February.
Step 3 - Communicate that you are both stable and productive.
Reach out to your audience on your blog, on social media, and through email lists now and make it clear that even as Disney theme parks and cruise lines close, as the NCAA cancels March Madness, Roman Catholic Churches are ordered closed, and schools throughout the US close, your business is able to operate, follow your product timeline, and deliver services to your customers.
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Blockchain social trading platform HedgeTrade issued a statement this week which read: ‘Each HedgeTrade team member has the option to work from home according to their needs… the distribution of our technology, as well as our team of developers, ensures that we have the adaptability and flexibility to weather global distress. The HedgeTrade team will continue to build out our platform even during the Coronavirus outbreak and throughout any market upsets.”
At a time like this, with so much disruption to our day-to-day lives the headline of “our project proceeds as planned” is still an important headline.
Step 4 - Blockchain is a real differentiator in a global crisis
In their PR and messaging, many blockchain companies make the mistake of leading with the strength of blockchain -- which does not move the general public whose uninformed perception of the technology is likely to be somewhere between neutral and negative.
But in a case of global crisis -- blockchain can be the differentiator it is meant to be.
While BTC has really taken a hit in prices, people still debate its value as a safe haven. The fact remains that blockchain as a whole and the services available through blockchain are more independent and agile than the traditional services they seek to replace, especially in financial services.
Blockchain can be a hero in the face of this outbreak. Your brand can be a hero if you make a concerted effort to advance the cause of helping people during the pandemic in any way.
Step 5 - Find a Way to Make a Difference
Now is your chance to be part of the solution to a highly complex global problem with implications for everyone.
Does your business track provenance? Manage donations or Handle insurance claims? Track medical supplies? Blockchain-based collective claim-sharing platform Xiang Hu Bao is using blockchain technology to process Coronavirus claims. Alipay, in cooperation with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, has launched a blockchain-based platform that enables users to track medical supplies.
Maybe your solution provides a solution that has a less obvious application -- maybe streaming or manages IP. But don’t take it for granted that your business can’t be part of the solution, or supporting those who are part of the solution at least, or perhaps even keeping normal services available for people whose lives are otherwise interrupted.
Since tracking data is one thing blockchain does extraordinarily well, it seems hard to believe there are solutions out there that can’t be part of pitching in for the human race right now. And yes, do some good work and it may get you some good press if you promote it.
One company that has jumped into the fray is Odem, which is providing free access to its blockchain education and credentialing platform to educational institutions that have closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. A very nice gesture that they celebrated with a press release that earned some mainstream media attention.
Step 6 - Share Your Story
Like any good relationship -- PR can’t be all about you. It has to be about your audience and how you can help them. Even how much you care.
Promote the strength and the value of what you can do with your disruptive technology in this greatly disrupted times.
- Compose a media alert or press release
- Use newswire distribution - I prefer PR Newswire over blockchain specific newswires, especially for this story which has implications for everyone.
- Do direct outreach to reporters already covering the story. Reporters already have a portion of the daily news budget devoted to the Coronavirus situation -- you can give timely stories about your angle on the problem and how you are responding to fill that existing news budget.
Do your basic blocking and tackling around PR and the stories will write themselves. Real news. Not just feature announcements. Not just mentions about the movements of your token.
All blockchain technology companies can benefit in this time of crisis because we hold the chance of a new or at least incrementally improved solution.
Be part of fixing what is ailing the world right now -- or at least part of making it not so hard for everyone -- and you can earn major media attention within the blockchain community and without.
Justin Roberti has a background in media and fine arts and has been writing and doing PR/marketing for over 20 years for Fortune 500 and startups in media, gaming, consumer tech, mobile tech, fintech, and blockchain. He is the PR Director for blockchain agency Zage.io.