We think we are agile and flexible, and that our communications and brand marketing anticipate changes. We think we can pivot for the unexpected, and then…COVID-19. Life as we know it stops, and planned marketing efforts, designed for pre-crisis circumstances, become no longer appropriate. People are worried that they or a loved one will contract the virus; they are concerned about their jobs and whether they will be able to pay their bills. Meanwhile, marketers and business owners are experiencing their own anxieties while trying to salvage what they can.
Marketing as usual in this environment can easily backfire if it is seen as insensitive, or worse, opportunistic. At the very least, it can be rendered ineffective if it doesn’t speak to what people need, and will be ignored. In today’s reality, people are looking for information, support and connection points to calm their fears. Nevertheless, communication is important and there are ways to continue to market; just keep the following guidance in mind:
Focus on the reason for your brand.
What your brand stands for and the essence of what your company does could be two different things. Amazon and Salesforce recognized their platforms rely on and serve small businesses, so they committed to a small business relief fund. Likewise, Google knows it’s in the business of providing answers, so they set up an $800 million fund to help find answers to the challenges presented by COVID-19, pledging resources to healthcare organizations and governmental agencies, financial institutions to assist small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB), academic institutions and researchers to increase their infrastructure, and funds to increase the production capacity for personal protective equipment and lifesaving medical devices. These companies’ initiatives are prime examples of how a focused response to those they serve acknowledges the crisis and continues to build brand loyalty.
Keep doing what your customers rely on you to do.
Do what you do best. If you are an event company that had to cancel major events, take them online. If you provide services to families experiencing hardship, increase your capacity to do so. If you are a car manufacturer, make it easier for people to shop for and afford your vehicles, with simplified purchasing, favorable finance terms and delivery.
The brands that will come out ahead aren’t those that try to create something new to buy outside of their core products or services; they are the ones that are increasing their ability to support what people already rely on them for.
People will remember how you made them feel.
Right now, people want credible information and reliable companies. They want to know how you can help. They want to know you are listening with your ear to the ground and feel their anxiety. Remember to step beyond your personal circumstances to understand the collective pulse. If you can, provide support for their needs through your brands.
Recently, grocer HEB posted a video to reassure customers about the steps it is taking to reduce out-of-stocks and improve product availability. Business unit directors addressed misperceptions and customer concerns around the availability of paper goods and perishables. They outlined policies to maximize line capacity by limiting bath tissue package sizes, expanding their supplier network, and closing floral, bakery and deli service counters to focus on meeting the produce, meat, seafood and grocery needs of their customers. This straightforward, fact-based approach to allay fears and deliver the level of customer service HEB is known for reinforces the equity the company has worked hard to earn.
A final thought
How a brand behaves at a time like this is more important than what it says. Engage with your customers in a meaningful way and they will remember when things get better.
Senior Marketing Strategist
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