Developing effective communications strategies during COVID-19

By David Lawrence, MD at Platform Communications

Trade shows and conferences have always played a central role in the technology industry’s calendar, helping to drive news, product development cycles and customer engagement. Yet, 2020 has seen the vast majority of industry events cancelled or postponed. Meanwhile, audience and market priorities have completely shifted, forcing communications professionals to completely rethink their marketing plans.

With the impact of Covid-19 set to be felt throughout the rest of 2020 and beyond, how will those plans need to evolve?

We recently surveyed leading media and analysts to find an answer to this question. We asked for their views on how well (or not) technology companies have been communicating during the Covid-19 pandemic and what they want more (and less) of in the future. The results, published in The New World of Tech Communications report, are designed to help technology companies plan their next steps during this uncertain time.

Here are the three key takeaways.

1. Create a valuable virtual experience

Virtual events have rapidly filled the void left by the cancellation of major events and, as a whole, have been largely well received. Almost three quarters of media & analysts (71%) agreed that virtual events have tended to be more useful than (pre-Covid-19) physical events. One leading analyst said, “Overall, I think people are getting used to doing more things remotely and people are realising how much time they are saving.”

However, there are plenty of areas for improvement. Three-fifths of media and analysts (59%) reported that it can be hard to ask questions during virtual events and half (49%) said it can be difficult to get the input they’re looking for. One leading industry analyst said, “There should be opportunity to submit questions beforehand, and an expectation that questions will be answered, individually and to all attendees, afterward.”

Simply hosting a webinar and hoping for the best is not good enough. Marketers need to think about how they can attract their target audience and ensure that there are opportunities for engagement before, during and after the event. It’s also crucial to think about timing.

When a major trade show is cancelled, some companies have simply moved their briefings and events to take place online at the same time. This creates problems for journalists and can mean companies damage their chances of engagement as a result. A more strategic approach to planning of news delivery is a must to avoid getting lost amid the noise.

Looking longer-term, our research revealed there is substantial appetite for companies to adopt more integrated digital strategies when trade shows and conferences return. Around three-quarters (72%) of respondents said they would cover more from events if content was available online. Digital communications will still remain a powerful way to reach a much broader audience. Nine out of ten (90%) of respondents said they want more online access to briefings and presentations when physical events resume. 

2. Don’t go quiet – silence can be deafening

During a crisis there’s an understandable tendency to hold news back. This is reflected by the fact that three fifths (59%) of media and analysts have received less news than the same time last year. Worryingly, while technology companies might have re-examined what news they put out, it hasn’t actually resulted in an increase in quality. Almost half (48%) of respondents said that the quality of news has actually decreased compared to last year.

While it’s important to make sure announcements are made with the right tone, this doesn’t mean that you should go quiet. Media and analysts will be looking to shine a light on announcements that show markets are continuing. Additionally, during uncertain times, appropriate communication activity can help reassure stakeholders and ensures ongoing engagement with customers and prospects.

And if you are thinking of engaging in Covid-19 related commentary, tread carefully. 79% of the leading media and analysts we spoke to said it’s the top type of content they’ve been receiving, but less than a quarter (24%) want more. This reflects a feeling that not all content is genuinely useful. When asked what content they wanted more of, respondents picked case studies, industry research and product launches, which shows an unmet demand for insight into how technology companies are moving forward.

3. Tailor your communications

Media and analysts always want information that is designed for their specific needs. Nobody has time to sift through a mountain of information to find the insight they want.

This is especially important at a time when teams may have been reduced by cuts and furloughs meaning that media and analysts have even less time than usual. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 1-to-1 briefings (either by phone or video) were ranked as the no.1 most useful input by 94% of media & analysts, reflecting a clear need for focused, tailored stories and information. 

While it may be tempting to want to push all your content in front of key influencers at the same time,  you can actively damage relationships by doing so. As a case in point, online demos were ranked as being least useful input by over half of respondents (54%).

Technology communicators are preparing for a very different landscape in 2020 and beyond. To successfully drive engagement and sales it’s vital to continue to evolve communication strategies. 

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