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Jeanne-Aurore 01.17.21

Communication in a crisis, Interview with Yann Rivoallan

What stance should a brand take during a pandemic? What goofs can it avoid? Should it advertise… and how? What best practices are recommended? Yann Rivoallan, co-founder of The Other Store, who oversees e-commerce for more than 40 French brands, shares a few ideas about facing these unprecedented challenges.

Since the global public health crisis began, many brands have had trouble communicating in a fluid way. Why is that?

The crisis took everyone by surprise. Never before have all brands had to close all of their stores at the same time. For the first time, everybody was operating on a digital-only basis and nobody was ready. Some companies, realizing that they were unprepared, decided not to communicate at all. But this strategy has a downside: opting for radio silence under crisis circumstances means severing ties with the brand community and running the risk of losing it once the crisis is over.

A number of companies have been criticized for adopting practices that were deemed inappropriate.

That’s true. Some brands went the “business as usual” route and decided not to cancel mailshots or promotional posts on Instagram. Immediately, they drew fire for conducting these operations at a time when everything seemed to be collapsing. The main problem was poor timing. The campaigns had long been in the works and, amid all the commotion caused by the crisis, people forgot to put them on hold. But missteps are no longer tolerated in the post-Covid world. The degree of exigency – especially towards others! – is very high.

Is it possible to avoid goofs?

Sure. At the very least, a brand can communicate in a sober style suitable to a public health emergency and address the subject of preventive measures on its various platforms (e.g. social media). Alternatively, it can announce that, because it does not wish to endanger customers or personnel, it will not be delivering products until lockdown has been lifted. The fashion brand Mode Trotter made this choice, which is gutsy from the operational perspective but immediately establishes an ethical brand positioning. Des Petits Hauts took a savvy initiative by creating a newsletter that featured interactive activities with customers and had a “sweetness” theme consistent with the brand identity. This is the type of communication that people were looking for, more human than commercial in orientation.

What new values are emerging? Will they be influencing future modes of consumption?

Once again, the idea of community has taken center stage. Success will depend on the brand’s ability to maintain its connection with customers in an authentic way, transcending the offer of products or services. If a brand serves or pleases customers during the crisis, they will want to stay loyal even if that means spending a bit more. For brands to be true to the values that they claim to uphold. Consumers can no longer be deceived and immediately spot cynical maneuvers. When the denim company Tuffery began to manufacture denim masks for its employees and the local population, it sent a message that was very much in sync with its identity. Focusing on the values of “local” and “solidarity” was definitely a good move reflecting the right attitude.

Is this crisis the tipping point for an all-digital market environment?

It’s true that the crisis is stepping up the pace of digital transformation. The pandemic will cause many businesses to fail, especially those that did not go digital. Today, selling online has become a must. What’s going to change is the act of purchasing. These days, it takes a dose of courage to shop at physical stores, where traffic has dropped. The expectations of consumers are changing, they want the act of purchase to (re)become special. Brands will have to concentrate on training sales personnel to ensure proper storytelling. On the digital front, brands will have to up their game. For instance, they can introduce personalized video conference consultations or digital-order drive-thru services at their stores. If a brand sees that most of its sales are generated online, it should waste no time before rethinking its modus operandi! Another solution is to make it possible for customers to reserve a product or appointment at a physical location. In France, this already exists, because patients can already book a doctor’s appointment via the Doctolib platform. In a year’s time, we’ll look back and wonder why these options were not available before now. They say every cloud has a silver lining… at least this crisis will compel the clothing industry to take best practices on board and learn to communicate in an authentic way.

Cover image credit: © Yann Rivoallan, via LinkedIn

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