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The COVID-19 pandemic has made the world more aware of essential services and appreciative of essential service providers. Communicators should take note.

There is a tendency by communicators to fire off messages that center on “us” rather than “them”. There also is a tendency to tout product or project features, not engage the people who use the products or are affected by the projects. Communicators should step back and identify what and who is essential in their messaging.

Many brands have followed this advice during the pandemic with advertisements that celebrate their end users, as well as essential service providers. They are less ad and more thank you card. Their goal is to deepen an existing relationship or make a fresh connection. 

The pandemic and government response, if anything, has made trust more tenuous. Brand and public affairs communicators must look for ways to build or rebuild trust with their consumers and audiences before trying to sell something or push a point of view.

Ryan Jordan, executive creative director at imre, a marketing and communications company in Baltimore, advises in an interview that it’s “now time to rediscover your authentic voice, to return to the roots of your engagement.” “Go to where the people are and have an honest conversation about what they want to hear,” Jordan says. “Let your customer point the way.”

Letting customers point the way suggests interacting with customers or audiences by either asking them or, perhaps better, by observing them to learn about their concerns, problems and needs. What you learn from answers and observations will form the subject lines of your communications. You should be producing communications that are relevant and useful.

Jordan says it’s equally important for communicators to find out where people are getting information they trust. The best ad in the wrong voice or on the wrong communications channel is ineffective social distancing. Testing potential trusted voices and channels is essential to communications success.

Finally, Jordan encourages authenticity. These are serious times, which call for serious conversations. Communications don’t have to be somber, but they should be worthwhile. They should resemble the kind of practical, useful advice you might give a neighbor over the back fence.

Communication tactics must fit the message you are trying to deliver and the channel you have chosen to convey it. Video storytelling and organic engagement are good ways to connect and converse with intended audiences. They also play nice with a range of channels from social media to email. The prolonged quarantine of most Americans has mixed up pre-pandemic habits with new ones, so Jordan says don’t be afraid to experiment, including with different channel choices.

The bottom line, according to Jordan, is to rediscover the answer to the question, “What makes us essential?”  That will be your lodestar on communicating in this precarious pandemic period.