How to be confident in your communications during COVID: communicating with care

REaD Group's customer engagement director, Scott Logie, explains how vulnerability modelling can help marketers make ethical customer communication decisions.

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Now, more than ever, communicating with care should be at the heart of every marketer’s communications strategy. Not only should you be selecting the right people to communicate with, but you also need to make sure your message is right. Data and insight-led decision-making is core to ensuring both these requirements are met.

At this time, not only should we be mindful that people have died, but also that many more are vulnerable. As marketers, we need to use data responsibly to decide how to communicate with individuals, especially during these uncertain times.


Firstly, there is a question of ethics. As a brand, there is a difference between what you can do and what you should do. Plan campaigns based on ethical thought processes: should you be contacting customers and is now the right time to do it? Use data responsibly – by using it to inform your decisions – to decide how to communicate with an individual.

Examine the data you hold on an individual to gather useful information about their circumstances and decide whether you should approach them, and if so, what the right message is. Are they living alone, or do they have multiple dependents? Whereabouts in the country are they? Some people have shifted to working from home almost permanently now: what do they need? How do you tailor your messaging to ensure it remains relevant, without being overbearing? The bottom line is that all your communications should be sensitive to the changed circumstances that everyone is experiencing.

You have an ethical responsibility, as well as a legal one, to keep your consumer data clean and accurate, and this has never been more important. Data that is up-to-date – screened for deceased contacts, for example – will help you make more informed and responsible decisions about how you communicate with your customers and prospects.

While any distress and damage caused to families by sending communications to a deceased individual are unintentional, it is also very easily avoided if the right data management practices are in place. Data cleansing should categorically be a fundamental aspect of data management practices for all government bodies, businesses, and not-for-profits.


Once you have assessed the requirements for your communications campaign and ensured that your data is cleansed and up-to-date, the next step is to be able to identify and treat your vulnerable consumers appropriately and respectfully. Vulnerability is a key factor and it should influence how marketers communicate with their customers. It is a consideration affecting multiple sectors, including utilities, charities, gambling, and finance, to name but a few. There is increased pressure on brands to demonstrate that they are treating vulnerable consumers with due care and attention. This goes beyond marketing too: for example, utility companies can use this information to get a steer on their more vulnerable customers.

However, for most brands, the only way to do this is by asking the consumer to self-declare.

If you’re worried about approaching vulnerable people, then look for a credible data partner who can help you identify who these are using vulnerability modelling. A vulnerability model will create a score for every customer, based on a combination of factors including age, income, housing, and education, combined with transient states of the consumer such as health or market forces acting on them, and weighed against that customer’s level of susceptibility to these forces.

While this scale does not give an absolute measure of the vulnerability of the consumer in every interaction, it does indicate the risk that the consumer may be vulnerable in a given interaction. This score can be built at the postcode level and can be applied to any customer or prospect that you know the postcode for. Using a consumer vulnerability scoring system will allow companies to identify areas that have a higher instance of vulnerable consumers and enable them to adapt their practices and policies where they need to.

Some data partners will also be able to apply the score at the individual level and provide a more in-depth picture and append this to your customer database. This insight can help you to identify individuals who are more likely to be vulnerable consumers at an early stage and tailor your marketing communications appropriately.

Communicating with care needs to be the new marketing mantra for the ‘new normal’. By using data responsibly to inform your decision-making when it comes to communicating with individuals, you will instil responsible marketing practices at the heart of everything you do.

  • Scott Logie is customer engagement director at REaD Group and chair of the Customer Engagement Committee of the DMA (Data & Marketing Association). 

1 Comment on How to be confident in your communications during COVID: communicating with care

  1. It makes sense for you to take a more gentle and informed approach to communication during and after the pandemic.

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