20 Tips for Business Storytelling in the age of COVID

By Doug Motel

It’s no secret - the pandemic has zapped every industry in the world with a reality check, forcing everyone to rethink people, processes, and productivity. 

With the shift in the way we do business, the narratives of your brand story are more important than ever. 

Do you fully understand the relevance of this moment and have you been thinking of using it to your advantage? Well, guess what?  It’s no longer a choice. Your brand story MUST align with the times or your competition will make you seem archaic and out of touch.

Changing the Narrative

With so many people out of work and directly affected by the pandemic, your story must be one that reflects the current situation, how your business is being affected, and how you are getting through it. 

Sensitivity is key.

Who’s Stepping Up to the Plate?

In all things, there will be companies who’ve done things right, and then there are companies that completely missed the mark. As an example, Cottonelle definitely got it right by directly addressing consumers’ concerns, then urging them to “Stock up on generosity” which pivoted into a partnership with the United Way. 

On the flip side, Carnival Cruise Lines ran ads promoting their “Mardi Gras” ship while The Big Easy was being devastated by the outbreak. Definitely not a good look.

KFC’s choice to show us commercials of people licking each other’s fingers over a bucket of chicken was also a great contender in the “Clueless Companies” Olympics.

Beyond the pandemic, there has been so much civil unrest going on that businesses must weave this narrative into their storytelling or suffer the consequences. 

All audiences are watching. This includes history students in the year 2030.

If you’re wondering where you fit in or how you can pivot your brand storytelling during COVID, here are 20 tips to help:

Be Present

Almost every business has been directly impacted by the pandemic. Instead of disappearing, now is the time to really show up and address the virus elephant in the room. 


Be Authentic

Big clothing brands, including Ann Taylor, American Eagle, and Anthropologie, shut their stores across the world but earned praise for announcing they’d pay their store employees during the closures. 

The problem (according to many of their employees) is that they actually just fired them and failed to communicate well with their staff about it.

So, it’s not enough to “talk the talk” you need to “walk the walk.” Because nowadays, people can spot a phony (at least when it comes to marketers). 


Get Creative

Do something different. Give consumers different ways to use your products even though a store isn’t open. Start offering a product or service that has been on the back burner for years.

Some of the best business stories come out of chaos. With so many people at home, it’s a perfect time to introduce something new you’ve been thinking about doing or adding another platform to your arsenal.

I had been taking notes on an idea for software that would easily generate press releases for small businesses and I thought; “well if not now then when?” and that was the impetus to launch PressGo.site


Go Deeper

Engage with your audience on a deeper level. If your business is having difficulties, your loyal followers and listeners will want to know. Put your hand on the pulse of your audience. Are they sharing their stories too?

There may never be another time where your potential customers give you this much permission to be vulnerable and real. Seize it! 


Ask Questions

As you’re engaging with your audience, now is the time to ask questions. Do you know what they really want? Are you giving them what they need? 

You don't have to wait until they ask you. You can start the conversation by asking them what they need help with. 


Respond Fast

Does your audience have questions? Answer them on a live forum, chat, or video stream or weekly video. 

I am always surprised when I work with clients who have left so much conversation on the table in Facebook messages & comments, Google questions & reviews, etc. 

A potential customer who has questions is the hottest lead you can discover so don’t leave them hanging.


Show Empathy

The best thing you can do is show how much your business cares about others. This is not the time to be selfish – your audience needs to know you’re right there in the trenches with them.


Consider Addressing Social Justice

“The age of COVID” is also the age of social change. Dare to weave your story into what’s happening socially and what (if anything) you are doing to make a difference.

There are companies that are speaking out and taking a stand and they ARE losing SOME customers over it but they are gaining new ones who are aligned with their values. 

Just make sure you are being real!


Don’t Be Predictable

Try not to be business as usual. Stray from the norm. This MIGHT be your only chance.


Get Personal

Studies show that the world is mistrustful of the faceless nameless corporations that try to woo them. 

Nowadays people want Instagram photos right out of celebrity’s bathrooms for god sakes!

You don't need to get THAT personal but consider sharing pictures of family, walking outside, dealing with the pandemic. 

Being human goes a long way.


Go Behind The Scenes

If you don't feel comfortable sharing too much of your private life consider taking your audience behind the scenes with you to see how you work. If you have a video shoot, show how the company is following social distance rules and the other precautions you are taking.


Post Your Workspaces

Another thing to consider if you're skittish about getting too personal, just show the audience what working from home really looks like. Encourage them to show you their work environment.


Highlight People In Your Audience

Your audience, especially now, is an integral part of your brand story give them shout outs. Share their clips from Instagram or TikTok and weave them into your communications.


Show Your Solutions

As a company, you’ve had to make hard decisions. How did you pivot successfully and come up with solutions that work?

Necessity is the mother of invention. Take a look and see if you haven't had to invent something during the pandemic.


Bring People Together

Technology helps bring people together. Use your platform to host live events.

No matter what your business is there is a good chance that a community meeting will be of help. 

A virtual event is also a terrific excuse for telling the world about your business be it social media or traditional public relations. 


Lead With Your Core Values

If you haven't already, I recommend that you do some sort of a values exercise. Try to identify the top three values that your company holds. You are allowed to change them but without this North Star, all messaging becomes ripe for lack of focus. 

Use messaging that reinforces the values of your brand to set yourself apart from the competition. 


Share Stories Of Resilience

We all really need to hear from people who are finding their grit. 

Highlight stories of strength and resiliency in your local community.  A story that acknowledges people who are rising to the occasion is not only helpful in providing us with solutions but it also gives us the inspiration that we need right now. 


Be Flexible

Share how you continuously pivot throughout the many changes going on. 

Remember when they told us NOT to wear masks unless you were a front line worker and then the next week, once we had a greater supply, they told us we all needed to be wearing them? 

We have lost all control of our company’s timeline. COVID-19 is running the show so you need to be able to change on a dime. 


Welcome Distractions

Yes, we need to make sure that our messaging is not clueless and in denial about 2020. But we also don't need a steady diet of Chicken Little screaming about the end of the world. 

We are more than this pandemic. And your stories should help remind us about this periodically. 

Business having an online pizza party? Let your audience know.


Don’t Stop Sharing

Your audience is listening, so keep talking. Your pivot matters.

Telling your story the right way now will help you come out even better on the other side.

Like democracy, brands die in the darkness.

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