The Covid-19 pandemic is having a big impact on businesses around the world. With things changing every day it’s impossible to tell how the crisis will evolve and if we’ll be in the same position, better or worse, in six months’ time. It’s really anyone’s guess.
This makes it challenging for brands to plan for the future. Attention and resources, understandably so, have been diverted to the here and now. There are fundamental issues to be dealing with that will determine to a large extent whether a business can successfully see out the disruption.
From a behavioural point of view, people have been forced to alter their consumption habits and routines in an attempt to adjust to a new way of life. And with the economy all but mandated to shut down, people are changing the way they interact with products and services, and with one another.
In a situation like this, when normality has been upended and the outside world feels eerily quiet, we can take the time to reset and get back to basics.
As banal as this may sound, brands need to ensure they’re providing value and putting the customer first. The once lauded subject of brand purpose finally has the chance to prove it wasn’t all for show. This doesn’t mean create one to fit the occasion, by the way. The goal is to build and reinforce trust with your customers, and this can extend beyond communications. Is there a way to use distribution methods to get products out to more people? Can product packaging be adapted to offer greater accessibility, or services redeployed to focus on critical needs?
Some brands have already taken the lead, for example by freezing premium increases, offering temporary subscriptions or by putting up accommodation to quarantine vital healthcare workers. Maintaining spend on programmes that build loyalty and offer unique and distinctive experiences can pay dividends, since the positive associations tied to the brand will carry on long after the storm has passed.
Similarly, try keep the brand light switched on as much as possible. Being present will make it easier for customers to re-engage. Studies show brands that continue to invest during a downturn come out stronger than those that don’t. An immediate cut to spending will seem like the right decision in the short term with improvements to the bottom line. But this can be deceptive. In the short term brand still benefits from prior marketing activity, in a sense gliding with the engines off. The true impact of marketing divestment will show up later. Brand image as well as brand usage – even if to a reduced extent - are both crucial to maintain.
Not all brands of course can afford to do this. Merely staying above water will be an exercise in austerity and extreme discipline. When communicating with customers, however, consider empathy above all else. What can you say that shows an understanding of your customers’ present realities? Look to frame communications around support, information and consolation, but avoid generalised ‘we can get through this together’ style messages.
If possible, try not to revert to drastically cutting prices to spike short term sales. Perhaps look to reinvest in other marketing initiatives for the long term. Too much focus on push-marketing at a time when people don’t have discretionary funds to spend could lead them further away from purchase.
If time is on your side, this could be a good opportunity to review KPIs and build in measurement frameworks to ensure your ongoing advertising investment is delivering on your business objectives.
Finally, keep an eye out for new opportunities – new products or markets – and again go back to basics of customer value. Where can a brand genuinely meet people with some of the more salient topics of today - mental health, financial management, remote learning, human connection and community? The things we may have taken for granted in the past that have now become essential to our livelihood.