What a Papa John’s Tweet Can Teach Us About Marketing in a Pandemic

And how you can implement this for your own business.

Screnshot of Papa John’s contactless delivery process.
Source: Papa John’s Twitter Account

Missed Opportunities

COVID-19 has impacted every single one of us to varying degrees and presents some significant challenges for businesses trying to stay afloat as we all weather the impacts of this virus.

It cannot be overstated that during this time we have seen people from all walks of life come together to support each other.

A particularly strong message that I’ve seen in my social feeds lately is to those who still have their jobs: support your local businesses if you have the financial means.

City street with signage promoting shop local.
Support your local business messaging rings clear on this city street — Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

However, I’ve noticed from both personal experience and observation of my peers, that a critical step is being missed and opportunities to connect willing customers with still-open businesses are failing.

That failure is no one’s fault — these are unprecedented times, but there’s a way to improve it, and this Papa John’s tweet teaches us everything we need to do that:

Screenshot of Papa John’s Tweet
Screenshot of Papa John’s Tweet
Source: Papa John’s Twitter Account

Understanding New Consumer Vulnerabilities

Before you can come up with the messaging like the above Papa John’s example and make it specific to your business, you need to get into the mind of your consumers.

As consumers, we are all more vulnerable because of this virus. Economically, socially, and health-wise.

We’re concerned about our loved ones and our jobs, we miss our friends, but most of all, we want to avoid spreading the virus so that we can get through this as quickly as possible.

Thus, we want the businesses we interact with (and want to support) to acknowledge and ensure we can purchase their products without further risking the spread of the virus.

The good thing is that businesses want this too, but there’s a gap. One way to fill that gap is to ask yourself this question:

What are my customers afraid to tell me?

More often than not, an unhappy customer will simply choose to do business elsewhere in the future rather than provide you with feedback and we’re none the wiser.

Except now, the stakes are much higher, and customers are more sensitive, so we have to improve anticipating their silent needs.

By spending time thinking about what our customers might be afraid to tell us, and to ask our loyal customers or peers for “off-the-record” feedback, we can do a better job addressing their vulnerabilities.

So, what might your customers be afraid of?

Picture of a small box that says “Fragile — Handle With Care”
Your customers are fragile, handle with care. Photo by jesse ramirez on Unsplash

Let’s use restaurants as our example and work backward from the Papa John’s messaging, to uncover what customer fears they identified:

Fear of the pizza box accidentally opening and the contents being exposed to droplets.

Fear of their meal or the box being placed on an unsanitized surface.

Fear of their delivery driver not respecting the 6-foot rule when dropping the food off.

Fear of not being able to pay and tip without face-to-face interaction.

You Need to Change Your Marketing Messaging to Address Vulnerabilities, and There’s Data to Support It

I’ve been writing about the need to address customer vulnerabilities head-on, but it was just my opinion until I came across this article: 3 Data-Backed Messages Converting Customers in the Coronavirus Economy

In short, Phillip Stutts has access to an enormous data set on spending habits and media consumption of US shoppers. What his agency found is that consumer vulnerability has completely changed the way we shop and consume media, and if our marketing messages don’t change along with it, we’ll be dead in the water.

I can’t give Phillip enough props for sharing the data, but he cites the top three messages consumers want to hear right now: “Helping others. Safety. Trust.”

While Papa John’s messaging isn’t directly about helping others, it promotes a level of safety and trust with its customers to continue doing business with them. Let’s look at how they addressed the fears listed above:

Fear of the pizza box accidentally opening and the contents being exposed to droplets → We’re introducing a quality seal on your pizza box so that you can be confident it wasn’t opened.

Fear of their meal or the box being placed on an unsanitized surface. → It’s our commitment to you that we place your meals on clean services, so much so that we’re advertising that fact loud and clear.

Fear of your delivery driver not respecting the 6-foot rule when dropping the food off. → We’ve given all of our driver's strict instructions not to interact with customers so you can rest assured you will receive your meal without exposing yourself.

Fear of not being able to pay and tip without face-to-face interaction. → Our online application handles all payments and tips so that you don’t have to interact face-to-face with our delivery driver.

How to Apply This to Your Business

It starts with understanding your customer’s fear and vulnerabilities, the ones they are too afraid to say to you.

Once you figure out those scenarios specific to your business, you can begin to create detailed messaging to address those.

For example, if you are a liquor store and you offer alcohol delivery, you’ll want to take a similar approach to Papa John’s, but take it a step further even and explain that your employees wear gloves when taking bottles off the shelves. You’ll also want to create and document your process for checking identification that doesn’t require face-to-face interaction.

Looking at another example, if you are a car dealership and have pivoted to online delivery, you’ll want to create messaging around vehicle sanitation before and at drop-off. Do you sanitize the door handles? Steering wheel? Your customers want to know that and need to be able to find that easily.

This isn’t just about advertising copy. You need to make sure this message appears on your website, your Twitter account, your Instagram account, etc.

The one critique I’d offer Papa John’s is to “pin” that Tweet to make sure it’s the first thing customers see when they get to their Twitter account. If I have to dig to find out you do fully contactless delivery, you’ve probably already lost me.

Isn’t that a little overkill? Won’t it create more fear for my customers?

No, it won’t.

Image of Airline safety booklet.
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

If you need inspiration for how to message without creating panic or fear, think about the last time you were on an airplane. There are safety booklets. There are verbal instructions in the “unlikely” event of a water landing or emergency. It’s certainly a sensitive conversation you need to be empathetic toward, but not changing your messaging seals a far worse fate.

And if you think you’re doing too much, you’re probably doing just enough to address your customers in the way they most need it right now.

I am a Senior Product Manager at a tech company. I host two podcasts and invest in sports cards. For more info — https://medium.com/@jonathan-torrey

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