8 Tips for Effective Adventure Brand Messaging during COVID-19

Fast Moving, Constant Change, Uncertainty

We wish this was describing a first descent river trip in a canyon no-one has ever seen before – but it’s today’s “current normal” description of both life and running a tourism-based company, thanks to COVID-19.

Messaging and marketing efforts have to recognize this new reality and pivot immediately.  The good news? We adventure types are good at fast pivots on wilderness trips outside – now let’s bring it inside to your mission control communications and marketing center.

Customers—as a collective—are on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

  • Negative: Uncertainty. Stress.  Fear. Anger. Scarcity. Isolation. Overwhelm.
  • Positive: Hope. Motivation. Generosity. Kindness. Optimism. Compassion.
    Just to name a few.

Likewise, we in the adventure industry are on this same rollercoaster.  All tourism companies have had business completely disrupted… no one is escaping significant hardship, loss of business and cash bleeding.

Deciding what messaging to continue to share on online can be confusing.

Do we try to sell trips, have a sale, push gift cards? Are we fully aware of our own states of mind?  Scarcity mentality and fear can lead us to make decisions around language that can harm our business reputation in the long run. We don’t want to jeopardize our hard won customer and community relationships  because of any missteps in communications on our websites, social media channels, emails, or phone calls.

Here are 8 Tips for Effective Messaging Right Now as the COVID-19 Crisis Escalates:

1. Do Not Disappear

Regardless of the state of your business, do not disappear from where you normally show up in the online world. Now is the time to show up and be helpful, inspiring, sensitive and optimistic. You want your company to emerge from this crisis with your customer base seeing you as part of the solution. You don’t want to be invisible or irrelevant to them, and you certainly don’t want to be perceived as part of their problems.

2. HACK these 4 Concepts into all Your Communications

No matter whether you’re writing an email to your email list, or posting on Instagram… make sure your content is:

  • Helpful
  • Authentic
  • Clear
  • Kind

And make sure your content passes your own “personal customer test”.  If you were to get your communication as your company’s customer or prospect, how would you feel about it? If it’s not an A on the “HACK” scale – edit or start over.

3. Pivot Your Mindset from Sales to Serving

Focus on serving your audience’s true needs right now, with special attention on foundational efforts that will position your company in a strong light once we move back towards normalcy (or a new normal).

A hard truth: Your adventure brand offering simply may not be “essential” to your audience right now. They very likely have way bigger fish to fry, given their current context.

The important piece to remember is that at some point, we will get back to (some kind of) normal living. In the meantime, shifting your mindset to SERVING your audience’s true needs will help you identify the right approach to messaging during this time.

  • How can you support their need for answers around your business?
  • How can you support their love of adventure (and being stuck in shelter at home)?
  • How can you support their connection to the outdoors and travel, while your trips are not running?

By identifying these things, you will know how to show up in a way that promotes positive perception of your company (aka brand loyalty). Your customers and prospects will witness you doing the right thing, caring for others as well as your business and staff, and it WILL make a difference.

Some ideas on how you can shift your messaging to serve:

Educational content: If you have something of value to teach your audience, now is a great time to create the content and get it out there. This doubles as valuable content to leverage again when the world gets back on track.

Examples:

    • A free email series that highlights at-home work outs to be a better surfer that people can sign up for, and have it delivered automatically to their inboxes every day for 7 days, for example.
    • Ideas on how to bring the adventure home, like how go camping and stargazing in your backyard with the kids. Maybe its your rooftop, or balcony for urban dwellers.
    • Tips on how to shift to more sustainable practices, as it relates to adventure, people, place, and planet—and how you implement these things within your business.

Inspirational content: Stories from your company or others. Of the ideas below, you can save this content and reuse it or feature it again and again.

Examples:

    • Customer Stories: Find great user-generated content over the last few years and shine a light on it by reposting it.
    • Customer Outreach:  Invite your customers to hop on an Instagram or Facebook LIVE interview or Q&A session. Ask them why they got into your style of adventure, their most triumphant adventure moment. etc.
    • Leadership Outreach:  Invite leaders in your community or industry to join you on Instagram of Facebook LIVE to talk about something of high interest/value to your audiences.
    • Share Your Why: Share your own business’s story of origin – the first time you saw a need for more adventure and solved that pain point by starting your business.

Local community content: Now is a great time to highlight others within your community.  Regardless of whether you already have strong relationships with your fellow business owners and community (and regional, national & global) organizations, calling out the work they’ve done and are doing is a wonderful way to be of service to them and their causes. This can help travelers learn more about your area as a destination to visit. Showcase their HACK content, too.  Highlight how they’re pivoting: “X-Brand is helping to…” and “X-Distillery is making hand sanitizers for the hospitals…” and “X-Brand is using their vans for health workers”. You get the idea.

Rancho Cacachilas & COVID-19 HumorEscapist content: Humor, adventure dreaming videos, educational content, etc. Things that you may take for granted but are useful or fun content for  your followers. Help them dream!

    • A time lapse of the river during sunset, or of rapids rising during a rainstorm.
    • Videos of baby animals on your ranch
    • How to properly feed a horse… or the funny things your horses do when you pull food out, etc.
    • Virtual tours of your biking trails, best swimming holes, river rapids, etc.

4. Treat selling with strong sensitivity.

Timing is everything here! Right now the USA is in coronavirus escalation mode. The next few weeks will be worse, and sensitivity to this disruption is paramount. Think carefully about if your products and services are truly essential or relevant right now; if they are, you can certainly be selling—with an adjusted message that focuses on helping others.

Creating urgency and scarcity in your sales timing is insensitive:

  • Campaigns with 24-48 hour only sales discounts creates pressure and is not helpful. Do your customers really need more pressure to act quickly now? Is this authentic? If your company is in trouble, chances are nearly 100% you’ll be offering discounted trips later, too.
  • If you have a great and useful product to serve people now, offer it. If you can afford a discount on it, go for it. But focus on adding value and being helpful FIRST, not on trying to goose your revenues with a short term stunt. People will remember that and you want your brand to come out of this epidemic with increased brand loyalty, not less.

Are your customers in financial stress right now?

  • This depends on who your customers are.  Discounting does not need to be your go-to; and it may not be important enough to spur the behavior you want.
  • Longer payment plans and smaller trip deposits might be enough to help new and current customers.

5. Pause Your Paid Ad Campaigns and Re-Evaluate Messaging – NOW

Best practice at this time is to pause all your ad campaigns, on social media and PPC (Google adwords, Bing, etc.). We believe you can still show up on those channels but only with revised ad campaigns that are sensitive to what’s going on in the world. Your customers might still want to travel to Italy someday, but not now… and they may have serious financial disruption such that buying a trip is a no-go now anyway. Use language that is calm, realistic, and call out the fact that these are uncertain times, while holding out important optimism for the future.

To highlight what we mean, we’re sharing an unfortunate example of active campaign messaging that at best is a waste of money, and shows your brand is not paying attention. This South Seas Island resort ad with its 20% off book now message, showed up smack in the middle of a New York Times coronavirus epidemic article Tuesday March 24. Unlucky timing? (Captiva as the place name was unfortunate, to say the least.)  If you are running ads across various placements right now – it’s important to check them right away and pause anything no longer appropriate. If you have a media or marketing agency placing those ads, make sure they are being proactive and responsive to the fast changing needs of your business.

A good example of what sensitivity for campaign messaging looks like:

6. Pause Your Scheduled Emails and Social Media Content, and Re-Evaluate Messaging

Do you really want to be the brand with ads up for a 24-Hour Sale on travel products right now? Is that appropriate or a good use of your cash resources?  Pause all upcoming emails and posts to review them, and revisit your content calendar for the immediate future by creating content that serves your audiences.

Here is a nice example of an email by TERRY Bicycles, alerting their customers to the fact that they intend to continue to offer their products and services—but in a way sensitive and appropriate to the situation at hand. Notice there is no sales pitch.

Virgin Voyages also did a great job at informing their clientele of paused operations with and A for HACK messaging. Take a look.

7. Review All Automated Communication—Email, Messenger, Website Chat, etc.

You’ll want to ensure that your communication within your automated responses is sensitive. Note: these do not need to call direct attention to the current state of affairs unless it relates to your business operations and key information your customers need to know.

If you make any edits to automations to reflect your current state of affairs, be sure to set an automated reminder to check in on whether it’s time to remove it, update it, or leave it as is. We suggest weekly reminders. Your end date right now is absolutely a moving target based on how this epidemic unfolds over the next weeks and months. (We use basecamp3 and calendars for reminders. Some of us even set alarms on our phones for the stuff we cannot miss!)

8. Be Proactive: Create Scripted Responses for Customer Communication

It’s easy for your team to feel overwhelmed by the consistent onslaught of emails, phone calls, and direct messages coming your way: what you cannot afford is to answer anyone with language that can be taken as impolite, short, sarcastic, or insensitive.

For quality control and process simplification- craft scripted responses for cancellations, refunds, rebooking, and frequently asked questions that are HACK superstars:  Helpful, Authentic, Clear, and Kind. This will also enable you to get other team members to confidently support communications, and you’ll know that the answers being given are consistent. That’s minimizes your risk of poor customer service feedback.

Don’t stop there though. Your team can use that scripted response as their primary template, and easily add/adjust language to customize it to the specific customer/prospect they are replying to.

At the end of the day… none of us have a chart for these waters.

It’s important to remember that whether we are adventure brand owners, staff, customers, friends or strangers  – we are all just doing the best we can. By pivoting our messaging to be helpful, authentic, clear and kind – we can come together while being physically apart. That’s incredibly powerful.

Want more tips specific to adventure companies during this period of disruption?

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