Why it is more important than ever to show rather than tell

This weekend marks a significant next step in the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Pub, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, hotels, caravan parks, theme parks and bingo halls are among the businesses and attractions that can reopen on Saturday (4/7) as the two-metre social distancing rule is replaced by ‘one metre plus’.

While many will be gagging for that first pint, meal out or film on the big screen, others have not left their home for months and will be apprehensive about anything close to approaching a return to normality.

How can businesses convince these cautious customers that is it safe to return while not making the experience sound too sanitised to those desperate to enjoy a night out?

It is going to be a delicate balancing act, but the key here is to ‘show’ rather than tell’, something we regularly tell delegates on our media training courses.

Here is a quote I saw in the Mirror from a spokesperson from Mitchells and Butlers, which owns a string of pub chains.

The spokesperson said: "We’re taking great care to make sure that the safety and wellbeing of our guests and colleagues remains at the very forefront of all of our re-opening preparations from the July 4.”

Is that enough to reassure you to visit one of its pubs?

It might be good to know our safety is at the ‘forefront of the re-opening preparation’, but it would be a much stronger, and reassuring message if they went on to tell us what safety measures they were introducing or at least considering at this point.

As I write this blog, a holiday park in Devon has emailed me to tell me that it is now taking bookings and, as a way of offering some virus reassurance, it informs me that it is spending ‘an additional 50 per cent more time cleaning the accommodation’.

That may sound impressive on the face of it, but it feels vague and more detail would surely provide greater reassurance.

Expand the message to show me exactly what you are doing differently with that additional time to make the caravans and the wider site ‘Covid secure’.

Give us some examples of the steps that have been taken.

Compare what you have just seen with these examples I saw in the Morning Advertiser, the trade publication for the pub industry.

Edward Anderson, who runs three pubs in Cheltenham, told the publication: “We hope to open our two pub gardens on a weekday evening soon. We are keeping our pub which has no garden closed.

“We are not comfortable having guests sat inside yet.

“We have provided more shelter in our gardens and are going to serve out of windows. Our toilets have been adapted for single person use.”

Brendan Padfield who runs a pub in Suffolk said: “We have created snugs – panelled enclosures with a glass top quarter. They should make the customers feel safe and they are certainly really cosy.

“A wonderful kind and generous customer has bought a brand new marquee and loaned it to us for free. This will enable less confident diners to safely eat outside with the knowledge they won’t get wet with rain.”

How do those quotes make you feel?

Providing more detail about the steps that are being introduced not only helps to make us feel our safety is being taken seriously, but we can also start to picture how our night out could look and feel if we venture to one of these pubs.

Showing us what action has been taken makes the safety messages believable.

This is not a new thing. We’ve been talking about it on our media training courses for years.

Let’s use a non-coronavirus related example.

You’ve probably heard many organisations and their spokespeople say something along the lines of ‘we are passionate about customer service’ or ‘we take complaints of this nature extremely seriously’.

It sounds scripted, vague and lacks imagination and, as a result, doesn’t feel particularly believable.

But if you can provide examples of the extra lengths you are taking for your customers, then it comes to life and is much more believable. 

This Saturday’s lockdown easing is just the next step. Gyms, spas, nail bars, casinos and conference centres are among the business still waiting for dates for when they can re-open doors.

Even those non-essential shops included in earlier easings of the lockdown still need to convince customers it is safe to return, with footfall considerably down on last year.

Getting the messaging right and showing customers it is safe to return will play a huge part in whether reopening is ultimately successful for your business.

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