The coronavirus pandemic is challenging brands to change their marketing efforts, in order to meet new consumer needs and behaviors.
The virus is disrupting models that marketers and brand strategists have successfully used for years. Brands are being forced to reallocate budgets, shift their priorities and restructure their teams.
Cautiously adapting their strategies, brands are aware of the severity and sensitivity of the issue. And, they are cognizant of the impact of their decisions on consumers.
While daunting, now is the time for brands to take action. Some of the changes we are seeing might be here permanently and brands that adjust now, will be better prepared to serve their audience in the future.
The following are actions brands can take to ensure they are serving the needs of their audience in this moment, while still keeping their brand’s core intact.
1. Understand the context
It is important for brands to understand the context within which they are operating. Whereas before brands might have monitored market, audience and industry changes on a monthly or weekly basis, things are changing rapidly during the coronavirus crisis. Brands must track new developments, trends, consumer behavior and brand sentiment on a daily, if not hourly basis.
Timing is crucial. Brands need to understand their target in a particular moment in time. Context might allow them to anticipate certain changes, but real-time engagement and active social listening will enable them to adapt, tailor and personalize their interactions to meet each consumer’s unique needs. Brands need to be sensitive to the different realities global audiences are facing at any given time.
As a result, brands should immediately audit their current marketing efforts. The tone of their messaging and its delivery needs to change. Pre-scheduled content needs to reassessed. Automated or pre-written responses need to be stopped.
2. Connect through authenticity & transparency
Brands need to reinforce their commitment to authenticity and transparency during this time. Brand values need to come off the wall and they need to find their way into every piece of content, and every interaction a brand takes. Purpose-driven marketing is needed. And now truly is the time for brands to demonstrate their commitment to their audience and their larger cause.
It is crucial that brands communicate the measures they are taking to help their employees and their customers during the crisis. Brands that prove themselves to be responsive, responsible, and reliable will see improvements to their brand sentiment, brand trust and overall brand equity.
Additionally, now more than ever, audiences are looking for brands to be human. By acknowledging the difficulties, they are facing and being transparent in how they are approaching the crisis, brands can show their audience their ability to adapt and be resilient.
3. Communicate and serve with empathy
Audiences are fragile and vulnerable at this time. They are looking for sources of reassurance, support and optimism. Brands need to be aware of this and they need to be empathetic.
Brands are run by people who are facing similar hardships. Now is the time, to highlight these individuals and allow them to share their stories. Allow them to use their experiences to better understand, connect with and serve consumers. The more they are present, the more they are creating a sense of community and belonging between the brand, their audience and audience members themselves. This is something that valued tremendously by all, especially during these unique periods of isolation.
4. Act with intent
Every message, every action and every effort a brand takes needs to be intentional. During this pandemic, coverage of the coronavirus has flooded homes and audiences are oversaturated with news. Brands need to be cognizant of this and they need to ensure that they are not contributing to the noise.
All messages need to relevant and they need add value. Within a single piece of content, there should be a hierarchy of information. Lead with what is most important. Audiences are seeking clarity and brevity at this time. Their attention and their time are limited. Brands need to adjust their marketing accordingly.
It’s time for brands to decide which efforts will be the most impactful and therefore, deserve the most attention and resources.
5. Innovate and pivot as needed
It is important that brands remain flexible during a crisis. They have to be willing to work with new demands and new constraints in order to guarantee their survival.That might mean that they have to pivot their efforts temporarily or indefinitely.
During the crisis, brands should explore different ways in which they can position, promote and deliver their products, services and experiences. Brands need to think creatively. For example, virtual tools have made physical spaces and events accessible to quarantined audiences. The need for sanitation materials has motivated some to shift their production efforts. Others are offering their products and services at a lower cost to aid those working from home.
Ultimately, brands should focus on what they can do, with what they have, internally and externally.
We are in a delicate state. Brands are being faced with a lot of uncertainty as they navigate the world of crisis communication during a pandemic; a crisis most never prepared for. They are taking critical decisions daily. However, it is equally as important that they look ahead to the recovery period and what lies beyond it. Brands need to reflect on how their current actions will impact their brand positioning, brand sentiment and brand equity after the crisis.
Really, one must wonder: will branding, marketing and business ever look the same as it did pre-COVID-19?