According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, as of mid-May, confirmed cases of Covid-19 have reached nearly 5 million worldwide and almost 320,000 people have died. Even though these numbers continue to climb, it appears that in many places the curve is beginning to flatten.

In some respects, we seem to be on the road to recovery. States and municipalities are easing restrictions in order to reopen the economy, yet many of us are not leaving our homes without masks, gloves, and other protective gear. The tension between the economic and public health considerations is defining the next wave of the pandemic.

Balancing tensions is at the heart of how public and private sector entities are remaining relevant with key stakeholders. With respect to private enterprise, this tension manifests in what the organization wants to say with what stakeholders (internally and externally) want to hear. Since the beginning of January, W2O — an analytics-driven, creative marketing and communications firm ­— has been studying how organizations are remaining connected to their stakeholders during this global health crisis. What the company has learned is that the organizations that have remained relevant are those that have appropriately balanced tensions — on a number of different levels. What does that mean, specifically? What tensions need to be balanced?

  • National vs. Local: Relevant organizations are recognizing and engaging with national, regional, and local leadership. They are doing so by providing a point-of-view on the impact of the pandemic on a micro-level, engaging employees where they live and appropriately engaging local media and policymakers.
  • Public Health vs. The Economy: Relevant organizations are mindful of the need for the economy to reopen but also concerned with protecting the health of their employees. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Salesforce.com, and other organizations have embraced this tension well.
  • Societal Good vs. Long-Term Business Sustainability: Relevant organizations are stepping up by providing goods and services for free or at significantly reduced prices. They are also giving serious consideration to the impact the pandemic will have on global supply chains and adjusting accordingly.
  • Benevolent Actions vs. Marketing: As the pandemic began impacting citizens all over the world, many organizations stopped marketing and communicating with key stakeholders. Those organizations focused on the role they could play from a humanitarian perspective versus focusing on how best to reach people with a marketing message. As global economies have begun opening up, this tension between benevolent actions and direct marketing has become more acute. Some organizations are realizing it is OK to market to consumers on topics unrelated to Covid-19. A case in point: 90% of advertising running on Google is non-Covid-related and is still performing well. “How does our marketing communications plan need to change” is one of the most popular questions facing marketers today and will likely continue into the foreseeable future.
  • The New Normal vs. The Next Normal: Covid-19 has put a magnifying glass on those organizations that have been slow to innovate and adopt digital technologies in order to reach key stakeholders. The organizations that are seeing a bump in relevance with key stakeholders can, at least partially, attribute that to accelerated transformation efforts.

It has taken some time for stakeholders and organizations to embrace these tensions as an “AND” not an “OR.” As consumer engagement on pandemic-related content plateaus, it is important that companies continue to recognize:

  • Empathy is key. Everyone is working under very difficult circumstances.
  • Even with organizations beginning to market again, consumers still value actions over words.
  • Response initiatives should be geared toward ALL key stakeholders.
  • Transparency is not optional. Health care companies are giving us an unprecedented look into the scientific process — an approach that is gaining favor with many stakeholders.
  • Unique partnerships drive faster innovation and increase relevance.
  • Confidence both organizationally and individually will accelerate the new normal.

Maintaining relevance in a time of uncertainty is incredibly difficult as stakeholders are more demanding. They are holding organizations and governments accountable for action. The ones who continue balancing these tensions are the ones who will remain relevant and thrive. The ones who don’t, won’t.

Visit W2O’s website to learn more about the importance of relevance in the era of COVID-19 and to access W2O’s full Relevance Quotient.

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