communicate during a crisisChange. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, is credited with saying “The only constant in life is change.” While this is generally considered true, particularly in these technology-infused times, change is not constant. It sometimes comes in disruptive leaps and bounds. We’re in one of those times today.

In last month’s blog post about Business Communication Lessons Learned in Unusual Times, I asserted that your customers don’t always want to hear from you. Make sure any communications you send are relevant to your audience’s immediate needs.

But it left open the question of how to determine what your customers’ needs are, and how to communicate those needs.

Three Stages of Crisis Management

This past week I attended a webinar presented by Carter Hostelley. Carter, the CEO of Leadtail, a B2B social media marketing firm. He put forth a crisis communications model that explains how to communicate in difficult times.

three stages of crisis communications

Source: Carter Hostelley, Leadtail

The presentation was from a social media perspective, but the model works for all sales and marketing communications.

The thing to realize is that different industries, different companies, and different people might be in different stages. Most companies in an industry may be moving through these phases in a similar way, so today is probably a more obvious time than ever to segment your customers to tailor your messaging.

Am I Safe?

This is the initial phase people go through in a crisis. They think “am I safe, is my family safe, is my company safe?” While in this phase the last thing they’re thinking about is buying from you unless your product or service directly makes them safe. If you can help make customers safer communicate carefully, don’t be too promotional, as you don’t want to come across of taking advantage of the crisis.

This is not the time to look for new customers.

Change in Patterns

In this stage, people have taken a deep breath and realize that life will continue. People are settling into a new way of working, whether it’s working from home or adjusting to new business realities.

When your customers are in this stage they may be ready to hearing from you again. Be aware that most customers still do not know what the next months will bring, so budgets are likely on hold. Don’t sell too aggressively.

New Normal

In stage three customers are once again looking to move their business forward.

New business model. This is really the mindset of our customs. We want to think about how this crisis has impacted our customers and their business model. And how does that ripple through how we reach and engage them?

This is the time to review your business growth strategy and tactics and see what you may need to change.

Backward Steps

While many companies, and many people, move through these three phases in a linear fashion, setbacks can send them back to an earlier stage. For example, last week many companies were informed that they are not receiving PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds from the Small Business Administration. These companies likely dropped right back into Stage 1 crisis mode if they progressed to Stage 2.

And your customer contacts who were doing fine, possibly working with you planning for new projects, may fall back into stage 1 if loved ones have a health event.

Moving Forward

Hostelley’s crisis management model provides a great way to plan your sales and marketing activities as we go through these surreal times. Many industries may not enter Stage 3 until this fall, or maybe even Q1 next year. Many essential businesses may be experiencing only minor revenue drops, or they may even be busier as ever as they help society get through these times.

So is the glass half empty, or half full?

As Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose stated in episode 233 – Can Media Companies Survive Coronavirus? – of their This Old Marketing podcast, we don’t know. All we know is there is water in the glass.

More posts from Tod


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Tod Cordill has worked in a variety of industries including software, manufacturing, printing, and eCommerce. He currently helps B2B companies integrate digital marketing channels into existing sales and marketing efforts by combining his P&L perspective with an engineering problem-solving structure. Get in touch and learn how Moderno Strategies can help you efficiently drive business growth. Connect with Tod: @todcordill on Twitter and on LinkedIn

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