Up until now, the conversation about the vaccine has been very fragmented. We hear multiple things from multiple sources, and now those voices are starting to contradict themselves. We have GPs, social media influencers, social media comment sections, and journalists giving contradictory information. Journalists are seeking out medical experts and epidemiologists for comment. Then there are state press conferences with premiers and their health major state health ministers. The result is confusing, cluttered, noisy, and contradictory —and that makes us afraid.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been adding to the confusion with claims that people younger than 40 can get the AstraZeneca jab, despite the country’s top medical body advising against it, and that vaccinating Australians was “not a race”. GPs are feeling the brunt of this unclear messaging. They also can be great messengers for the rollout, but they should be armed with easy to use resources and transparent timelines so they feel informed rather than bamboozled by contradictory messaging.
In a crisis, it’s important for any brand — whether it’s the government or a retailer — to have one voice. Communication must be clear, straightforward, and to the point. When a crisis hits, it pays to have a single, leading voice that can take control and is 100 per cent informed on the issue.
Logistics entrepreneur Steve Orenstein, the founder of the express courier service Zoom2u, imagines a centralised hub of communications as an answer to the government’s contradictory messaging. “An online hub or destination, such as a website, could have acted as an information portal to help reduce friction and streamline communications for all,” he says.
“This could have been home to news updates, information on side-effects or even a real-time counting element that demonstrates the number of vaccinations happening nationally, by the minute. This would have increased transparency, reduced fear of the unknown and, ultimately, eased the hesitation we are now seeing. Australians from any state would be welcomed to visit this site, to search where their nearest vaccine would be, and when they could have it.”
Talking and listening
The government needs to stop making the vaccination a political bouncing ball and bring it back to what this is all about: people. Changing the conversation about the vaccine to being one about people will invoke a lot more patience, which is necessary as the government works through its rollout challenges.
To prove their empathy, the government should consider the ‘talk until they drop’ strategy, where whoever is holding the press conference stays until every single question from the media has been answered. This can be broadcast live on social media, meaning it can be blasted directly to the public for hours without editing. A brave spokesperson can answer a selection of social media questions, too. It shows that you’re not talking down to people and giving them a short, dumbed-down answer.
This is a great solution for retailers, or any brand, when they’re facing a crisis. It allows media and social channels to be flooded with new content that gives a consistent, clear message that they can use in reporting instead of the fragmented and even manic messaging of multiple voices. It proves you care about your audience and the questions they have.
‘Talk until they drop’ also shows that you are across the topic in hand, that you know the detail enough to talk for a long time about it, and that you’ve got nothing to hide. Even if you don’t know an answer, you’re confident enough to admit it. You’re not hiding behind a short press conference or behind a different spokesperson.
Social listening is another great tool to get empathetic messaging out there effectively and accurately, along with reading what’s being written in the papers, on blogs, and in thought leadership pieces. There’s a good chance that many people have made assumptions that aren’t correct, and in the middle of a crisis, it’s important to understand what those assumptions are.
Every retailer should regularly use social listening to understand what the general public is saying about their brand and get a better understanding of their potential and current customers, especially in the lead-up to a big change or new offering.
Social listening is the key to countering these incorrect assumptions and fears. Speaking to your audience as though they are intelligent enough to receive more than a sound bite will make them feel respected and reassures them that decisions are being well thought through.
Orenstein shares a bright idea around social proof during the rollout, and one that retailers could utilise: “Social proof is a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others, in an attempt to undertake behaviour in a given situation. As part of a centralised hub, real-time data from those receiving the vaccine could be uploaded, providing a constant feed of reassurance to those who are cautious,” he said.
“For example, “Of the 10,000 people who received the vaccine last week, X said that they felt X, and only X said that they felt X.” Most businesses use this today in terms of reviews and gathering feedback. It is a crucial element to any business’ marketing strategy that has been completely bypassed here.”
Online retailers can use a similar approach via on-site popups that tell visitors, “Someone in X bought X.” These provide social proof by reminding customers that their store is popular — the online equivalent to a bustling in-store experience.
Cohesive communication channels
Digital marketing is a key part of the government’s vaccine comms strategy that needs to be updated. Clear messaging can be tailored to targeted audiences using social media, and this can be made even more sophisticated and helpful using artificial intelligence (AI). The posters, TVCs and other creative included in the government’s $23.9 million Covid-19 vaccination campaign do not address the current concerns, nor do they properly address the broad demographic sweep they need to go after.
They need social media marketing, they need a dedicated website that has a great Q&A section, they need AI chatbots to answer questions and a dedicated helpline. We also want to be in a position where the bulk of the information available is coming from one clear source: the federal government.
What happened to the communication channels that the government established at the peak of the pandemic last year, like its Covid-19 WhatsApp channel or Covid-safe app? Orenstein tells me the government should be “investing in tech, such as the Covid app, which has had little attention since launch and its negative reception. This could have been incredibly valuable had the marketing and onboarding of the technology within the population been the focus,” he said.
“Today’s GPS and Bluetooth tracking could have been used in contact tracing, as intricately as when two people pass each other in the street,” he continued. “But, as with the lack of clarity in communications around the vaccine, the app was criticised for its potential lack of data protection, which was never really communicated clearly. This gave it an almost immediate negative launch. Constant investment into your existing technology is crucial. Identifying areas to improve and innovate will ensure that logistics are only set to get better and more accurate.”
For brands more widely, the important takeaway is to choose your channels carefully and stick to them as confidently as possible. There’s no point launching a channel one moment and moving onto something entirely different the next. If you do, you risk confusing your customer and diluting the power of your channels.
From speaking with a single voice, proving your empathy, and sticking to your channels like glue, there are so many lessons for brands and retailers to take away from the government’s vaccine failures. As we continue to navigate this crisis, it’s time for businesses to learn from the government’s mistakes.