Marketing during a crisis can put brands in a precarious position. Carrying on as if it’s business as usual may appear tone deaf; put out the wrong messaging and your brand could be seen as taking advantage of a bad situation. However, both historical trends and recent studies point to what you absolutely don’t want to do - and that’s go dark.  

In 1991, when rising oil prices put a strain on the economy, brands that cut advertising saw sales decrease by over 25%, while brands that increased ad spending saw sales increase by 40-60%. This trend was also consistent during the recession in 2009.  Brands that invested in marketing, were able to strengthen their relationship with their customers, and in the long-term increase sales.  A recent study on how COVID-19 is influencing consumer behavior reported that only 8% of customers expect brands to stop advertising. Today’s consumers do not expect your marketing machine to come to a grinding halt, in fact they will likely trust you less if they don’t hear from you. 

If going dark isn’t an option, what is the best approach to branding during a crisis? Here are a few best practices we recommend for creating messages and content that will resonate with customers in the long-term.   

People want to hear from you – but be sure to add value

Consumers look to have a personal connection with their go to brands. According to the results of a recent survey we conducted, people will follow brands on social media for information related to their hobbies, more often than they will follow them for product updates. It is clear that the relationship between a consumer and a brand is about more than a transaction. It is vital that you communicate how your business is responding to the pandemic early and often.  Your messaging should avoid piling on the overload of information your customers are receiving, and instead focus on adding real value and service.

Delta Airlines acted quickly in response to the pandemic by sending out direct emails to their customers. Delta then followed up with a micro-site for customers to visit for the most up to date information, on safety steps, new rebooking policies and memos from the CEO. By communicating early and following up with a valuable resource, your brand can effectively build trust in the long-term. Find more tips on setting up a “dark site”, in our recent blog “Prepare your business for disruption”. 

 

Delta

 

Know your industry

Brands that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic need to shift their channels to focus 100% on crisis management. Brands in the grocery, healthcare, and travel industries will increase public trust by focusing all of their efforts on sharing relevant information.  78% of consumers expect companies to worry about their employees’ health  which is why it is vital that you are transparent about the steps you are taking to safeguard the wellbeing of your staff. For brands at the center of the pandemic consumers will heavily scrutinize any marketing campaigns that don’t address the current realities, in a way they would not for brands that are only tangentially impacted. 

In industries where the pandemic has made sales almost impossible, it is important to embrace the reality head on and make it clear public health is a priority. In the automobile industry, Honda used this technique in their #stayhome campaign, where they created the first car commercial written, directed, edited and watched from home. Honda successfully promoted their brand and made it clear they are not prioritizing profit over safety. 

 

car

 

Specific sectors including streaming services, grocery delivery apps and mobile work software platforms have increased sales as a result of the pandemic. The increase in customers will lead to new bandwidth challenges and it is important to respond with an agile marketing and communications strategy. These companies can build long-term trust by ensuring their customers have a seamless experience, at a time when nothing feels straightforward or easy. Marketers also shouldn’t be afraid to put out content that is entertaining. Zoom has been very successful at distracting offices globally with their silly meeting backgrounds.

For most companies the impact of the pandemic has been less obvious. Business has been impacted, but with some adjustments you are still going strong in your day to day. Don’t be afraid to communicate this to your customers directly, and again focus on the service you can provide. Can you put together a toolkit to help customers better use your product? Can you pivot your business in a way that positively impacts the community? 

 The best way to brand your business is by reminding your customers you are here and ready to provide value – both to the community and for their business. 

Explore new digital marketing

More consumers are going online than ever, and brands are expanding their digital content through video, social media and brand advocacy. Hippo, a homeowner’s insurance company is using the social-platform “Next Door” to advertise to potential customers. Porsche, is spreading their message of public health over personal profit by creating a social media campaign encouraging owners to take pictures of their cars in garages, staying off the road.  Traditional marketing outlets such as direct mail or televised ads have too slow of a production process to keep up with the news cycle, which is why digital channels are crucial.

Companies need to not only pivot to digital marketing techniques but also pivot their content.  Brands are doing this by focusing their content on education and entertainment. The household appliance company Dyson has put out a series of how-to videos on YouTube, to help consumers effectively use their products. Dyson’s branding strategy shows to their customers that they are keeping current and looking for ways to add value. Another company providing content, that is both entertaining and educational is The Lego Group. Lego recently worked with the UK government to produce an animated YouTube video to educate the public on the importance of social distancing. The new focus on digital is likely to continue in a post-pandemic world, as companies reach new audiences and discover innovative creative techniques.

Keep it real

Whether you are promoting a cause, ramping up recruitment or reaching out during a pandemic, your messaging won’t work unless it’s authentic.  In addition to their work with the UK Government, Lego is also developing face visors for healthcare workers, making sure their content and actions are aimed at producing social value which the public will remember. 69% of consumers said that, in the future, they will absolutely not choose brands they see placing profits before people during the pandemic. As many brands take a serious look at their marketing budget it is crucial to invest in content and activities that will build trust with your consumers in the long-term, as well as bring benefits to your community.  

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