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4 stages of virus coping: An email journey

As COVID-19 has descended, my mailbox – and I’m sure yours, too – has been filling exponentially. Notices and proclamations have come from retailers, museums, concert and event venues, my bank, restaurants and bakeries, airlines, hotels, the library, the animal shelter where I volunteer, and e-vite (for a baby shower). They range from safety and sanitization assurances, to cancellations and closures – the latter on accelerating rise.


I've saved most of them. They form an archive of reactions to crisis, encapsulated in miniature, communicated from brands to consumers. Their carefully-chosen words can be cross-compared and classified. It’s still early days, but already the variance in tone strikes: light, optimistic, sober, empathic, responsible, confident, uncertain, apologetic, rallying, humble, stoic, authoritative, defiant, compassionate.


Beneath the words accompanying business status updates, policy shifts, and expected impacts felt by consumers, I can’t help but try to intuit the mindset of the brands as they navigate unprecedented challenges and harsh new realities.


This just about sums up the recent past as COVID-19's onset has become tangible within culture, as I've experienced it through one brand's expressions. It's a sequence of 4 emails I received from the Museum of Ice Cream within 10 days.

March 4, 2020


Denial:

Trying to avoid the inevitable


A day prior, it was reported that 6 people total in the U.S. had died from the virus and a cruise ship was being held off CA's coast with travellers showing symptoms. Disconcerting.


Worry about contracting the mysterious flu will hamper business traffic. Try to get ahead of paranoia now before too late. With fear, there's still logic to being with others rather than feeling isolated.


Inviting, inclusive, bonding, heartening, opportunistic, savvy



March 5, 2020


Testing:

Seeking realistic solutions


The news has become saturated with updated virus stats. Cruise ship passengers begin receiving tests and some major employers are encouraging people to work from home.


Cultural conversation centers on the virus and questions about avoidance. Businesses want to show leadership and assure customers about safety.


Confident, proactive, trustworthy, comforting, competent, diligent


March 10, 2020


Bargaining:

Seeking in vain for a way out


At this point, the news feels increasingly worrisome and uncertain. We're all clinging to the life that we have always had, the desire to keep routines as normal as possible. Perhaps that's doing our part -- allay fears and stay steady. Proceed smartly and conscientiously. After all, to change our way of life would have economic and emotional costs.


Upbeat, escapist, unintimidating, nostalgic, carefree



March 13, 2020


Acceptance:

Finding a way forward


A national emergency is declared. Perhaps preceding this, a barrage of phone inquiries about safety, employee concerns and absences, slowed-down business, shortfalls in safety plans (e.g. hand sanitizer unavailable in market, impossible-to-enforce social distancing practices). Ignoring public health recommendations seems obtuse and irresponsible. Maintain core brand identity as tide shifts.


Empathic, tuned-in, prudent, generous, personal, visionary, idealistic



Brands -- and we consumers -- are each on separate timelines within these stages. And we likely will face new stages soon. I'm readying myself, for now, with a little bit of ice cream at home, sheltering in place.

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