What Outreach Do Our Audiences Need During COVID-19?

COVID-19 Outreach Tips

In the middle of a pandemic, with the economy moving toward a depression and people isolating in their homes, all the carefully crafted marketing and outreach plans are suddenly obsolete. As a strategist involved in any form of user experience or marketing, you’re likely asking yourself: what should I be doing? What do customers, consumers, and other user types need right now?

The answer is: personalized and transparent experiences.

Why Doesn’t Yesterday’s Outreach Work Today?

Let’s look at two examples of traditional experiences and outreach that are not working during the CoVid-19 pandemic.

1. Humor

On April 1st it’s traditional for many organizations to send out emails or press releases with joke products or false announcements. Some people love it. Others find it mildly annoying. But even when it’s annoying, it’s harmless to be excited that a great runner is becoming a US citizen (he wasn’t).This year the stakes are higher. CoVid-19 misinformation is causing deaths. It’s a fine line between a harmless joke and spreading misinformation (e.g. lies), and smart organizations are canceling their April Fool’s jokes out of caution.


COVID 19 Outreach Tips

an April Fool’s joke about losing business is in poor taste

2. Promotions

It’s common to look for “opportunities” in place of challenges. We all want to make lemonade out of lemons, and stop our companies from hurting in the pandemic. But if your team focuses on the pandemic as an opportunity to profit, that mindset will come across in your communications. When companies send thought leadership out about “using this opportunity to innovate” it feels as though they’re missing the fact that their audience is busy trying to make ends meet. For the lucky ones, the day is stressful because the gyms are closed. For some there are kids who now need to be homeschooled. For others there are sick family members and friends, and the risk of getting sick while at work. And for some there is suddenly no work at all, and the risk of homelessness.

To quote Ben Barone Nugent, a content designer at Netflix, “[Promotions] make sense in a vacuum when money and emotion isn't an issue, but it makes no sense when businesses are having to lay people off to survive.”

What Outreach Do Our Audiences Need During CoVid-19?

There are two ways we can actually help our audiences during the pandemic.


Businesses can’t pretend all is well. To build a sense of community, be honest. Share that not only are call volumes extremely high, but also the number of workers is limited, to prevent the spread. Or tell your audience up-front what they can and can’t get from you right now.

Porter Square Books, a bookshop/cafe in Cambridge, MA is doing a great job of letting customers know how to get books from them - and how to get books from other indie bookstores, if they can’t fulfill the needs!

COVID 19 Outreach Tips

Porter Square Books recommends fewer books in an order. This puts customer service in front of short-term profit

Many organizations are afraid to be this transparent. They think saying “we can’t do it all” will cause people to lose faith. But honesty builds trust.


I know, I know. Personalization is a buzz word, used to mean everything from “track a customer’s movement” to “know a little about the audience segment.” Here, I mean: use whatever you know about your audience to meet them where they are today.

For example, if your company offers something like deliveries, delayed payments, or another feature that can help people during the pandemic, tell them. Focus on how this will help them - not whether it’s new or something you’ve already done.

American Express sent an email about how to use their website. It’s a good start, but I wish they had used a subject line that specified why I might want to check my account right now. I’m sure they have a list somewhere of the most common calls they’re receiving.

COVID 19 Outreach Tips

American Express promoted their online tools, but didn’t personalize the email to customer’s needs

If your company offers something that is not an emergency service at the moment, such as clothing or toys, don’t try to convince people to come in. When you tell people that you are cleaning your shelves, they will:

  1. Wonder if you weren’t cleaning them before

  2. Distrust you for telling them to leave the house when public health authorities are recommending they stay in


COVID 19 Outreach Tips

Smith Tower ignored Seattle’s stay home order, and tried to convince people to eat out.


I’m not pretending this is easy on businesses. Obviously it isn’t. But losing your audience’s trust isn’t worth a few extra sales today.

Focus on Help Over Profit

It’s a minor switch, but we need to move away from finding opportunities for profit at the moment. Instead, we need to find opportunities to help. Help our audience, help our community, and help one another.

Here are a few ways you might be able to help others:

  • Offer online trainings of anything you typically do in-person. 

  • Acknowledge that everyone is in this together. Don’t pretend this will end tomorrow, but help your audience move through the days more easily.

  • If you’re building something new, focus on features that help people self-service.

  • If you have funding to put into one area of the organization, focus on customer service (both online and via phone). This will improve customer retention when you need it most, while also helping people.

  • Crisis management means good communication. Your company voice guidelines, customer service scripts, and site error messages should be high priorities. Find your gaps, and prioritize fixing them.

COVID 19 Outreach Tips

Mamaleh’s Delicatessen and Restaurant connected with consumers by providing value, instead of focusing on a quick sale

Lastly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. We’re all in this together.

Contributed by
Marli Mesibov
Job Title
VP, Content Strategy