- Deborah Hayes
Brand Marketing During the Coronavirus Crisis
With social distancing keeping many people at home we are starting to see many changes in consumer behavior. Consumers have returned to broadcast and cable television seeking out the latest news. They are also looking for ways to escape — streaming movies, downloading game apps, and spending more time on social media. Health and safety concerns are driving more customers toward frictionless payment systems, such as using mobile phones to pay at check-out without touching a surface or stylus. It may leave you wondering what behavior changes may be temporary, and which ones may be more permanent. What actions can brands take to serve their current customer base and still market to new audiences without coming across as exploitative? Be honest, hopeful and helpful.
Most people are feeling vulnerable right now and empathy is critical. The nuances of brand voice are more delicate than ever. People will remember brands for their acts of good in a time of crisis, particularly if done with true heart and generosity. This could take the form of donating to food banks, providing free products for medical personnel, or continuing to pay employees while the company’s doors are closed. Companies need to show that their contributions are material and not solely for commercial benefit. Consumers recognize authenticity and true purpose. Many banks, for example, have moved to waive overdraft fees, recognizing the hardship on their customers. SAP has made its Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse platform free to companies who might be rapidly transitioning to new ways of working. Starbucks announced it is paying workers for 30 days whether they come to work or not, amid the coronavirus outbreak. And so many companies are making it easy for their employees to work remotely.
Keep your brand voice while pivoting your message.
You can adapt your marketing in creative ways to work around current challenges while maintaining consistent branding. Visa had 80% of its Olympics creative ready to go before the games were postponed. So the longtime sponsor pivoted and filmed new spots featuring athletes at home, using their phones, showing off their superhuman feats but then, just like all of us, washing their hands and sanitizing. Though the Olympics won't happen until 2021, Visa is keeping its spirit of perseverance and shared humanity top of mind. Nike came out with a new message: “Play inside, play for the world.” And in order to promote social distancing and show a commitment to public safety, Chiquita Brands removed Miss Chiquita from their logo. “I’m already home. Please do the same and protect yourself,” its Instagram caption read. One of the biggest missteps right now would be to remind people of what they’re missing. For instance, imagery of people hugging, kissing or holding hands has dropped by 30% in social media ads since COVID 19 stay home requests started.
Use what you have to solve new problems.
Companies are repurposing their production lines to join the fight against COVID-19. Local breweries and distilleries lost their main source of income when bars and many restaurants had to close. So instead of beer and spirits, they’ve started turning their alcohol into hand sanitizer. The grassroots idea took off industry-wide and some are taking the charitable opportunity to do some memorable branding, too, with stylish bottles and labels. This is, of course, responding to a shortage of hand sanitizer. But more than that, these companies are positioning themselves as doing what’s in the public interest, keeping their factories open and employees coming to work. All of those things make a company more purposeful and less commercial. Plan for what happens next. We are in the acknowledge-and-adapt phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. But we also have to plan for life beyond the crisis. As we navigate what we know, marketing leaders must work to keep their brands and customer journeys as whole as possible. They must lean into digital ways of working and connecting with customers, knowing that this will likely have lasting effects. All brands are having to think, operate, and lead in new ways during these uncertain and unprecedented circumstances, and we will all have to learn together with both confidence and humility.