It’s hard to believe we’re now three months into the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re facing an unprecedented stranglehold on worldwide economies, never-before-seen job losses and huge shifts in the ways most companies do business. With daily shifting consumer needs and expectations—how do brands survive and thrive when the ways we do business are no longer viable?
That’s a big—but also delicate—question that we’ve been asking ourselves daily. Strong brands are already pretty resilient to trying times—they’ve been adapting more than we realize right now. But adaptation requires proactive thinking and it’s all too easy to be reactive when fear and uncertainty factor into the equation.
You may be asking yourself: Do we shift our brand strategies? Does the fluctuating status quo require a fundamental reimagining of our brand expressions?
That’s a tough nut to crack.
Storms make trees take deeper roots.
Let's turn to the data!
In a recent Economist/YouGov poll, they found a huge majority of people see the pandemic as a national emergency, and nearly half of the people surveyed expect it to persist for several months or more.
When it comes to how people see the pandemic affecting brands, a recent worldwide survey done by Edelman Trust Barometer found there’s a large percentage of people who believe brands have a critical role during this time. And at least a third of people surveyed believed that brands must keep us informed about the virus and offer information on how to protect consumers from it in order to earn their trust. Those may not seem like high numbers—but when you think about a third of your customer base trusting your brand to keep them safe, that’s a huge marketing opportunity—and potential marketing risk.
Believed that brands have a critical role during this time.1
Edelman followed up on some of those questions by assessing the risk to brands by not participating or acting appropriately in response to the pandemic. Again— nearly a third of the people surveyed either criticized brands for not acting appropriately in their response or have already reproved brands they believe acted in poor judgment. And more than half of the people surveyed agreed that how well a brand responds will have a huge impact on whether or not they’ll buy from that brand. It’s probably worth pausing here to let you reread that last sentence again because it’s important. We’ll wait. And when you’re ready, here’s a follow up: a majority of people are already turning to brands that they feel they can trust.
When it comes to your brand right now, trust is key. But people are also seeking authenticity from your brand. They need empathy to contextualize the fear and disruption happening all around them. And they’re also seeking connections to the people and brands that they trust. There are record numbers of potential customers sitting at home scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—audience engagement is at the highest we’ll likely ever see it.
Building stronger brand experiences
The biggest takeaway from the data is that it’s really important to not take for granted the relationships people have with brands. Strong brand experiences in normal times are really important to build trust — but in times of uncertainty it’s pretty much table stakes. It’s also easy to forget that once periods of uncertainty pass, it will be important to have maintained a coherent brand experience.
When you think about your brand, it’s important to remember that all your marketing efforts build upon your brand platform and experiences. Your external marketing and communications don’t exist in a vacuum. At the core are your brand values, and those are what drive the ship—what your brand believes in, what’s important to you, and why you exist as a brand in the first place. Even if you haven’t been through a brand exercise with an agency or brand specialist, it’s really important to think about what your brand believes in right now because that will help drive the responses in your marketing efforts. Another thing that’s really important to understand about your brand values is that they help define how brands act even in normal times, and that is really key in building adaptability for future times of uncertainty.
It’s clear that people are looking to brands for leadership right now. And the best things we can do to meet that need are to lead with trust, to be genuine to our brands and our customers, to seek positive impact with our current and potential customers, and to seek to build connections with the communities that our brands thrive in.
People are looking to brands for leadership.
What can brands do?
First and foremost, think about your audience. Answer questions like: Who is your ideal customer? Who are your loyal customers? What is he/she feeling right now? What state of mind are they in? Context around your audience and defining their state of mind will help shape your messaging.
Once you’ve got a handle on the needs of your audience, try connecting those needs with your brand offering. What value does your business bring to your customer? What can your business do to comfort, reassure your ideal customer in this time of need? (Stability? Convenience? Safety? Connection? Community?)
Next, use your brand attributes to communicate your value to your customers. For example, if some of your brand attributes are friendly, inclusivity, empathy, and leadership, then your messaging should inform and educate your customers on your value with those attributes guiding the tone of your message attributes.
Be Transparent–It’s ok to show vulnerability and let your customers know you are going through a hard time like everyone else. This helps your customers understand that when they support you, they are contributing to something bigger.
Be Authentic—Knowing what your brand is will always be your north star. When you have doubts about what to say, go back to the basics of the brand you built and think about what your business set out to do for your customers and your community.
Make genuine connections—Now is the time for personal connection. Listen for the kind of support your customers are looking for and reach out to them. These are the things people will notice and remember.
Make it all about your business—While it’s ok to show vulnerability and acknowledge your current situation, be sure to include what you are offering your community in all of your messaging, rather than only talking about the current state of your business.
Operate out of fear or desperation—Trust that your customers will understand the position you’re in, and they will help you if they can. Keeping an open dialogue with our customers via social media and newsletters will go a long way. It can be good business to offer discounts—but do it with a purpose.
Some social media tactics to try
Join or create a Facebook Group— Use this time to connect with members in your community or industry. Actively listen to things that are going on in their day-to-day and share thoughts and ideas around topics you think would resonate with them.
Highlight a member of your staff each week— Have them fill out a quick profile on favorite movies, books, quarantine activity, what they’re doing to keep sane, and some photos of their home office if they are non-essential employees.
Conduct a weekly poll— Engage your customers who are starving for connection with the outside world. It could either have to do something with your business or not. As long as it makes sense for your brand, have some fun with it!