Nothing is currently more sobering than the daily death toll at the hands of Covid-19 and the estimates of the deaths still to come. At the time of writing, more than a third of the planet's population is under some form of movement restriction, which just a few short weeks ago would have seemed to be the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster.
It therefore feels somewhat uncomfortable to consider the impact the disease is also having on other facets of life; after all nothing is more valuable than a human being. However, quality of life, for many of us, comes down to our employment and the businesses that support us. Therefore it is critical that business decision makers continue to run their organisations as successfully as they can during these difficult times.
There have already been scores of articles written discussing the appropriateness of business continuity, and the aim of this article is not to add to them. Businesses are facing the most hostile environment that they have ever come up against and survival by whatever means is becoming the key objective in the short term.
Part of survival is the ability to maintain, and even deepen, relationships with customers. Done well not only will this create loyalty but build affinity long into the future. People have long memories and how organisations both communicate and act during these challenging times will become a yardstick by which they are measured.
It is no coincidence that the organisations that are being celebrated by consumers are those that are living by their brand purpose and values and using them as a guide to what they say and how they act.
Calling on our expertise of leveraging brand thinking to elevate business success these are five points that must be considered.
1: Actions speak louder than words
Depending on your business, you might be able to repurpose some of your activities into practical, immediate aid. There are literally thousands of examples but LVMH perfumes is producing sanitiser, Lyft is delivering medical supplies and UberEats and Pret a Manger are supporting health care workers with free drinks and reduced cost meals.
If you can’t offer services, you can always lead by example. For instance even if the worst is to happen finding some small ways to show you care about your employees. Despite being forced to lay off two-thirds of its staff, Qantas is working to find temporary jobs with supermarkets and services that have seen a surge in demand.
Whatever you are able to do, make a link between the actions you are taking and your business’s culture (mission, purpose and values). This is a perfect way to stress-test to see if you truly practice what you preach. People will be looking for socially conscious brands that match the efforts of the community. Prior to the pandemic three quarters of Millennials’ purchasing decisions were found to be influenced by CSR. This points to even more reason that now is a good time to become good corporate citizens. You can do this by mitigating negative feelings such as fear, dread and anxiety from your audience by acknowledging these feelings in words.
Show that this is a shared experience by sharing personal anecdotes – how your brand has also been affected (not just in figures, but as people). This can establish two-way empathy and reinforce the emotional connection you have with your customers. However, it is critical not to take the sympathy-seeking too far.
For example Gordon Ramsey has not shown his caring side after firing 500 of his staff and then expecting public sympathy for the devastation of his restaurant business. Not cool.
Keep it simple, stupid. Only update your customers on crisis information when it is relevant (e.g. changed business operations, setting rumours straight, and assurances of continuity). Do not bombard your customers with crisis news stories they can get elsewhere or offer advice you are not qualified to give.
Always use simple, straight, transparent, singular messages with no room for ambiguity. Acknowledge any uncertainty by being clear about what you know, what you don’t know and what actions are underway to get the answers. Do not make false promises.
e.g. Nadaam cashmere - ‘This is just a generally confusing and frustrating situation but we don’t really have answers, we just make Soft Stuff. Like you and everyone else we are WFH and adjusting our plans accordingly.’
3: Use this time to engage and reconnect
The longer that lockdown lasts the more people will feel lonely, disconnected and bored. This is an opportunity to engage with your audience. Ask them what they want from your brand and your communications. Maybe they want a distraction and for your content to be respite from the dreary humdrum of Coronavirus? Maybe they do want guidance or information. Open the floor for discussion.
It is also a chance to ask your audience what changes they would like to see when lockdown and social distancing measures begin to get lifted. People have more time to give feedback so now is a good time to reflect, listen, make your audience feel heard and plan strategic change in response.
e.g. Kari Traa sportswear - ‘Our everyday lives have changed drastically and in these times it’s hard to know what’s right to communicate to you. Maybe you want a break from it all. Or maybe you want a distraction and want to see clothes and be inspired by us. We don’t know… please tell us.’
4: Channel the weirdness
Remember, strange times breed creativity. Shakespeare wrote King Lear under quarantine for plague. And already there is talk of coronapreneurs and the disrupter organisations that we’ll see emerging out of the pandemic.
Use this slower period to really think about how you can cut through the boredom, entertain and make people smile. Find social trends that are relevant to your business such as #coronacraft and offer tutorials or instructions. One of our favourite examples was Time Out media temporarily changing its name to ‘Time In’, adapting content to show readers how to maximise life enjoyment in this present situation.
5: Build long-term emotional ties
The more a brand can operate in the emotional realm, the better equipped they will be to withstand short-term crises. This is because people act less rationally during crises and are more likely to revert to long-held beliefs, habits and comforts - system one thinking. With the continued issues surrounding panic-buying, it might be tempting to capitalise on people’s insecurities with deals, scarcity marketing and other scare tactics. But this approach is unsustainable and will likely backfire in the longer-term. Facebook has banned advertisements on their platform which promote panic.
As people are more frugal, it can be useful to show the utility or comfort that your products provide during this crisis. However, short-term measures should always align with long-term brand strategy and brand-led marketing messaging should always outweigh direct-response marketing.
In the weeks that come, make the right decisions for yourselves and your businesses. Stay at home and stay true to your brand values.
Written by Manfred Abraham and Georgina Baker, BrandCap