Across Europe, the COVID-19 crisis is beginning to ease. Many countries are starting to lift lockdown measures and there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Whilst the UK is still fighting the worst of the virus, England’s Department for Education is seeking scientific advice regarding the right time to reopen schools. For universities, now is a good time to be thinking about how you’re going to handle communications for the return to normality. Having a plan in place ahead of schedule can help make sure that the transition goes smoothly.

Here at The Brand Education, we’ve been thinking carefully about how universities can position themselves during the crisis. That challenge continues as the lockdown wanes, so let’s talk about a few of the things to remember as we look to the future.

Consider your readers’ emotional position

In marketing, we’re used to the process of getting inside the heads of our audience. Persona frameworks help us to understand who we’re talking with and get to the heart of their needs. But never forget that those needs are a moving target. Coronavirus has changed everyone’s priorities and we’re all in a very different emotional position than before the crisis. 

The most successful communications strategies are based closely on the changing emotional position of their audiences. It’s worth reinvesting the time you spent building your audience frameworks for the post-corona era. What are their priorities right now? How do they want to feel? Make sure you know the answers to these questions before you hit publish.

Put outcomes at the centre of your comms

Uncertainty about the future is at the centre of our fears and doubts surrounding the pandemic. Many of your students have specific ideas about the course of their lives and careers well into the future. The pandemic may have compromised many of those ideas. Students want to know that your university is just as concerned about their futures as they are. Your academic partners, too, want to know that you are focussed on a positive vision for the future of your projects.

For these reasons, focussing on outcomes and how we’re going to reach them is key to supporting the needs of your university community through comms. We all want to feel a sense of normalcy – a big part of that is learning to look to the future again rather than living day-to-day. You’re in the privileged position of being able to help everyone feel normal again. 

Don’t over-promise

A focus on outcomes needs to be carefully balanced with restraint. The pandemic is, after all, largely unpredictable. We can’t be sure of what’s going to happen in the future – only what we’re working towards. When we’re talking about outcomes and getting back to normal, keep your vision clear but your promises incremental. Failing to deliver on a promise you’ve made is more damaging than not promising in the first place. 

Focus on consistency

In previous articles, we’ve touched on the idea that different people prefer different methods of communication. If you want to ensure quality messaging penetration, it’s important to list and leverage every comms tool at your disposal, from email to Twitter, texting to public forums. But it’s also important to ensure consistency across these communications, not only in the specifics of your messages but in tone and style as well. A unified voice will help to build trust and bring people together.

With different teams working on different channels across different departments, it’s not always easy to maintain a consistent voice. A quality branding package, with detailed editorial and visual guidelines, is your best tool for ensuring that it happens. You can even update it with information specific to messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you plan your communications strategy, keep in mind that a lot has changed since this time last year. The balance between competitors in your market may have shifted, creating new opportunities and new ways of leveraging them. The swing towards digital learning is just one example of such changes. However, with a mindful approach to communications and the right brand strategy, you can position your institution with a compelling vision for future success. Good luck!