As the Zika virus spreads through Latin America, questions about the safety of traveling are once again being asked. In recent weeks, via email and the Web, some marketers have begun to slowly and carefully address the crisis.
Believed to be transmitted primarily by infected mosquitoes, Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and possible brain damage. It’s been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization(WHO), and President Obama asked for $1.8 billion in the new budget for a multi-pronged attack on the virus.
With millions of Americans thinking of, and even planning overseas visits, how do you calm fears about a growing epidemic and provide reassurance?
Here are a few ideas from email that I’ve received in my Who’s Mailing What! inbox since Feb. 9.
1. Get People’s Attention
Emails sent by Sandals, the operator of several chains of Caribbean resorts, are always jam-packed with offers. Various packages, deals and airline partner specials related to resort properties within that brand are spotlighted as you navigate down the html.
After the first week of February, across all of its brands, Sandals has added a round read-and-white “ZIKA UPDATE” button that clicks through to a special landing page. While it is the same size as the other bursts typically used, its placement in the top image of the email, either just above or just below the fold, stands out.
2. Provide Important Information
Trust is the most essential ingredient in communication. To build and reinforce it, you need to give people as much information as possible. In this case, travelers need to know how to avoid, or at least minimize, the risk of infection by taking the right preventative measures.
The Sandals Zika landing page is topped with a big image of a couple holding hands on a beach and lots of reassuring copy about the company’s response to Zika. “ALL SANDALS & BEACHES RESORTS REMAIN TOTALLY ZIKA FREE” reads the banner at the top, with some quick stats and a breakdown of precautionary measures below.
Further down the page, a map and a chart detail the current Zika status in each of the Caribbean countries where the company has a resort. At the bottom, there’s a statement of Sandals’ commitment “to work with the Ministry of Health departments in each island to ensure that they remain free of the Zika virus.”
Despite their fears, most people will still travel. ExOfficio, a performance clothing retailer, recognized that “the pull of adventure is strong,” and sent an email that offered to “Mosquito-Proof Your Travels,” as the subject line put it.
The top block of the promo sets up the fight: “BUGSAWAY VS. ZIKA,” then goes on to position its clothing line as a disease-fighter. Another section of text describes how clothing treated with permethrin, an insect repellent, is “EPA-registered” and “Appropriate For Families.”
All of these steps are about making sure that the customer is comfortable with the decision to make a trip.
According to news reports, some airlines, hotels, travel agencies and cruise operators have offered their clients the opportunity to cancel trips without penalty for either a refund or credit towards another future travel.
Whenever an international crisis arises, allowing customers to defer travel or switch to another destination is a measure of goodwill that builds customer loyalty. Any expense generated by this flexibility seems like a small price to pay when the customer’s peace of mind, and the reputation of the business, is at stake.