Communicating Through the COVID-19 Crisis

This article was written on March 23, 2020 by FMS' CEO, Tim Pannell

We all find ourselves in a very unique time. I don’t believe any of us have experienced anything like this in our lifetime (unless you are 102 years old). The pandemic has put a halt to all normal life and has changed marketing communications to more crisis communication. Most of us are working full-time to just keep up with a new paradigm in communicating. I think it is critical to remember these four words as you are communicating for your bank during these times.

Compassion

In some ways, I think this is the easiest word for most community bankers to understand and implement because it represents just about every community banker I have ever met. Most community bankers genuinely care about their communities and have spent their entire careers trying to make life better for the communities in which they serve. However, it is important that you not only are compassionate but that you show compassion in your communications to the marketplace. The market needs to know that you understand what they are going through and that you care about their needs. Strive to show identification with the average customer, and show how much you care about what they are experiencing.

Authenticity

For many of us in the banking industry, we have grown up with the idea that we need to set an example of professionalism and not let people see us as “normal” but rather something better. However, today’s marketplace is looking more for authenticity. People can relate to others who are genuine and authentic. People want to see that you are just like them, dealing with the same things they are dealing with. Therefore, don’t hesitate to post videos wearing jeans and a t-shirt and talking about the realities that we “all” are facing now. Be willing to be that struggling parent with kids at home, that small business owner that is concerned about the marketplace and that loving family member that cares about those in your household. Use language that is very real and genuine and not platitudes that sound like you are not even going through the same challenges that others are facing.

Information

Due to the fact that the situation we are facing is both unprecedented and all-inclusive, it is important that you ask the question, “What do people need to know in these times?” Make sure to think through all the different groups of customers that you have, and try to be proactive in providing information to them about their accounts, their ability to access cash, the steps to go through if they have a loan and are unable to make payments at this time, and what to do about mortgage payments if you lose your job. Get in front of these needs, and provide plenty of information. And, when you provide this information, use formats that people really want to digest such as video and infographics. Try to avoid just straight copy (like this post, ha ha). You cannot over communicate during this crisis. Clarity is reassuring.

Brand

In all your communications, don’t forget that you have a brand and a brand promise. Don’t lose your brand messaging during these times but rather leverage your brand. You want to always be building brand equity through your messaging. Since the very nature of this crisis generates more emotion, your communication has a greater chance of being more memorable. If your brand is all about “everything matters,” then weave that message into your communications. Every person matters, every business matters and nothing matters more to our bank than you, the customer. Continue to build your brand messaging internally and externally through all your communications.

These are extremely challenging times, but I also think that community banks have a tremendous opportunity to truly shine through this crisis. Make sure to show your compassion, be authentic, provide information and always advance your brand. As always, if FMS can do anything to help you or your bank through this process please give us a call. And, more than anything else, be safe and take care of your family.