COVID-19 messaging guidance

COVID-19 illustration for COVID-19 emailAt this point your craft beverage brand is facing tough business decisions on how to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to keep customers and employees safe. Some of these decisions are being made for us, such as state-to-state direction on large gatherings and public spaces. Other decisions, like how and when to message visitors about the current pandemic and the impact of “social distancing” on normal tasting room operations, remain a choice for owners and management. Read on for clear guidance on what to communicate via public relations, website and social on COVID-19’s direct impact on your business.

CDC recommendations for craft beverage

Cancelled event photo for COVID-19 postLast week Market Your Craft was asked to speak at the License To Steal National Wine Marketing Conference in Pennsylvania. Wineries from across the U.S. gathered for an amazing three days of sharing (and stealing) ideas to help grow business in crowded markets. Since then, dozens of industry events have been cancelled or postponed, including the Craft Brewers Conference, WhiskyFest Chicago and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention and Expo. In that same timeframe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its recommendation to cancel group gatherings from 250 or more to 50, as well as introducing guidelines for social distancing. Businesses large and small are scrambling to make sense of it all, followed by communicating the impact of COVID-19 to customers.

Broader-reaching than a website update and more factual than a social post, a press release gives craft beverage brands a structured way to distribute time-sensitive news quickly to industry publications. Journalists at the local level and beyond use the information in the press release to write an article for their subscribers, helping to cast a wider net for your timely update. We recommend using a press release to notify a select group of media contacts if COVID-19 has forced your business to 1) cancel a major event, 2) furlough or lay-off team members or 3) temporarily shut-down public spaces/tasting rooms or operations completely.

Updates on COVID-19 and resources for your craft beverage brand:

Many state and regional/AVA associations are providing COVID-19 guidance to their craft wine, spirits or non-alcoholic beverage members.

voluntary tasting room messaging

News on phone image for COVID-19 postPerhaps you, too, have been overwhelmed by coronavirus messaging. Worldwide spread and containment efforts. Travel bans and airline response. Sports seasons being delayed or cancelled. Major events postponed. Employment and financial impact. Our inboxes were full last Friday with notifications from brands inside and outside of craft beverage and their response to COVID-19. Over a hundred, in fact. And after reading a handful with the templated introduction, “The safety and well-being of our customers, guests and staff throughout our community remains our top priority,” it’s easy to see how communicating when you don’t have something different to say doesn’t add value to the conversation.

Were these brands just checking the box? Doing what they felt they had to do as a socially-responsible company? Perhaps. We’re not here to be critical of brands that are making very personal, business decisions about COVID-19 in real-time. There’s no playbook. But for tasting rooms that have yet to message around this pandemic, below are some recommendations for moving forward:  

CONSIDER MESSAGING COVID-19
OKAY NOT TO MESSAGE COVID-19
  • Changes to normal operations
  • Event cancellations, policies, refunds
  • Additional services available, i.e. pickup or delivery
  • Limited product or tour availability
  • Schedule changes
  • Service interruption or delay
  • When the message only discusses hygiene, cleaning practices, staff training, hand sanitizer and continuing to monitor updates by the CDC and WHO (what 95% of other tasting rooms are communicating)
  • Connecting a promotion or limited-time offer to the pandemic directly
CONSIDER MESSAGING COVID-19
  • Changes to normal operations
  • Event cancellations, policies, refunds
  • Additional services available, i.e. pickup or delivery
  • Limited product or tour availability
  • Schedule changes
  • Service interruption or delay
OKAY NOT TO MESSAGE COVID-19
  • When the message only discusses hygiene, cleaning practices, staff training, hand sanitizer and continuing to monitor updates by the CDC and WHO (what 95% of other tasting rooms are communicating)
  • Connecting a promotion or limited-time offer to the pandemic directly

Your brand voice can still be used tastefully to communicate a serious message around COVID-19. For example, Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village, NV, on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, had this to say about changes to its normal operations:  

Alibi Ale Works logo for COVID-19 post
Handshakes, fist bumps, hugs, bro-hugs and high fives will need to be temporarily replaced with waves, eye winks, mustache-raises, jazz hands, cool-guy head nods, Vulcan salutes, bows, curtsies, shaka-brahs, foot bumps, or even a good old-fashioned, properly-distanced “hello.”
Alibi Ale Works logo for COVID-19 post
Handshakes, fist bumps, hugs, bro-hugs and high fives will need to be temporarily replaced with waves, eye winks, mustache-raises, jazz hands, cool-guy head nods, Vulcan salutes, bows, curtsies, shaka-brahs, foot bumps, or even a good old-fashioned, properly-distanced “hello.”

It’s especially important to put yourself in your customer’s shoes during this time. Any communication on COVID-19 should add value to their understanding of the topic and empower them to make personal decisions on visiting your tasting room. Consider linking to a page on your website that outlines the extra steps for a safe and healthy customer experience, like this example from Odell Brewing Company. Otherwise, leave COVID-19 out of the conversation and continue to engage your customer as you would normally.

business as usual: the new norm

Hardworking brewer for COVID-19 postRegardless of your position on our country’s response to the pandemic, there’s no denying its impact on business operations for weeks and months to come (if not longer). If you’re like many craft beverage brands, you’re going to remain open until the health and safety of guests and employees is in question. Or until you’re asked to voluntarily close taprooms like the governors in at least five states – California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington – did over the weekend. And customers will respect and appreciate you for that, because the sooner we return to some level of normalcy, the better.

How sensitive should businesses be to normal messaging via social and other channels? The team at Market Your Craft believes that brands can and should continue telling their stories during times like this. Now’s the time to double-down on video and other content to keep the [potentially remote] customer engaged. It’s just a matter of knowing what’s in- and out-of-bounds:

APPROPRIATE TOPICS
TOPICS TO AVOID
  • A single, prepared statement on COVID-19 for social and other purposes. For example, “We will remain open during normal business hours and continue employing best practices to provide a healthy environment for customers and team members.”
  • Online ordering
  • Take-out sales and delivery
  • Virtual tasting and pairing events
  • Updated events calendar
  • Polls and surveys
  • User-generated content, i.e. your beverage being enjoyed in nature/at home
  • Recipe submissions
  • New and seasonal releases
  • Wide-open spaces for on-site enjoyment
  • Support for small/local business
  • Goodwill messaging
  • Address customer service issues in a timely manner
  • Lifestyle photos of customers enjoying your tasting room (with permission)
  • Do not over-communicate COVID-19
  • Where possible, take public conversations private
  • Do not joke in any way about the topic
  • Do not play the victim card
  • Avoid outwardly-promotional tactics, such as using @handles and #hashtags with the sole purpose of growing your audience
  • Do not adopt a cultural, moral, political or other position that hasn’t been previously discussed – now is not the time to align with new causes for fear of seeming fake or disingenuous
  • Do not create or share content specifically addressing steps taken to address COVID-19, i.e. installing hand sanitizing stations, spacing out tables, etc.
  • Do not share with the public any internal communications with team members regarding operational changes
APPROPRIATE TOPICS
  • A single, prepared statement on COVID-19 for social and other purposes. For example, “We will remain open during normal business hours and continue employing best practices to provide a healthy environment for customers and team members.”
  • Online ordering
  • Take-out sales and delivery
  • Virtual tasting and pairing events
  • Updated events calendar
  • Polls and surveys
  • User-generated content, i.e. your beverage being enjoyed in nature/at home
  • Recipe submissions
  • New and seasonal releases
  • Wide-open spaces for on-site enjoyment
  • Support for small/local business
  • Goodwill messaging
  • Address customer service issues in a timely manner
  • Lifestyle photos of customers enjoying your tasting room (with permission)
TOPICS TO AVOID
  • Do not over-communicate COVID-19
  • Where possible, take public conversations private
  • Do not joke in any way about the topic
  • Do not play the victim card
  • Avoid outwardly-promotional tactics, such as using @handles and #hashtags with the sole purpose of growing your audience
  • Do not adopt a cultural, moral, political or other position that hasn’t been previously discussed – now is not the time to align with new causes for fear of seeming fake or disingenuous
  • Do not create or share content specifically addressing steps taken to address COVID-19, i.e. installing hand sanitizing stations, spacing out tables, etc.
  • Do not share with the public any internal communications with team members regarding operational changes

You want to remain consistent with communications during times of uncertainty, encouraging a visit to your tasting room when appropriate. Doing so appropriately will ensure you protect the value of your craft beverage brand while promoting industry goodwill for all. We appreciate the recent efforts of Daniel’s Family Vineyard & Winery to offer part-time employment opportunities, recognizing furloughs and layoffs affecting many Indiana businesses:  

Daniel's Vineyard logo for COVID-19 post
We understand the financial impact this can make on many people in our community and would like to offer part-time employment at our Vineyard. We are currently pruning our 22-acre Vineyard and will be accepting workers at a $13 hourly rate working Monday-Friday.

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