Co-Founder at Imaginovation, overseeing the company’s global creative and strategic marketing, branding, and advertising initiatives.
The COVID-19 crisis is impacting the work and decisions of professionals in the branding and marketing sector. Due to the looming uncertainty, many marketers are finding it hard to lead initiatives, and this is especially true as customers navigate away from their traditional buying habits.
But, there are some positive sides to it. This period is offering a unique opportunity for marketers to rewrite their marketing playbooks and improve brand strategies. So, let’s talk about the branding strategies businesses should consider adopting to steer through a crisis.
1. Show Empathy And Associate With Good
Many people may become vulnerable during a crisis, and the most important thing marketers must do is show empathy. It’s not the right time to focus on the profits. And not a good time for hard selling at all. Organizations should rise above the commercial mindset because it won’t do any good for the business.
There are many examples of how companies are rising above the economic interests and building their brands by showing empathy. For example, many banks have waived off overdraft fees and offered a moratorium on monthly installments to ease the hardships on their customers. And various companies have made their platforms and tools free for companies that are migrating to a remote working environment.
You have to rewire your brand voice around empathy and support. People remember brands for their good deeds during times of crisis. It doesn’t mean you have to go extreme; just show your customers that you care, and make them feel valued through empathetic and compassionate messaging.
2. Develop Brand Messaging Based On Trends
During the COVID-19 crisis, people are spending more time on the internet for entertainment, reading the news and staying updated. Now, the more people use the internet, the more data is going to be generated.
Marketers can use this opportunity to track data, trends and online user behavior to get better insights. You can check what type of content your audience is reading or consuming the most on the internet and modify your brand messaging accordingly.
Keep an eye on the conversations happening on social media, online forums and e-commerce sites to uncover insights and opportunities.
3. Optimize Your Brand’s Messaging And Reach
In a period of crisis, circumstances tend to change rapidly. Therefore, it would be best for marketers to build fast-response models to quickly pivot creative and time-sensitive messages. Take, for example, Nike. The marketing team at Nike quickly launched a new campaign (subscription required): “Play Inside, Play for the World.” Ford’s latest ad, “Built to Lend a Hand,” is another example of how global brands are pivoting their creative messages.
Now, as circumstances change, the media platforms used by consumers also change. So, beyond creativity, it’s also important to consider these changes and target the most effective media platforms. For example, it might make sense to spend more ad budget on mobile game ads or YouTube ads or advertise on streaming channels because there has been a spike in digital entertainment. Similarly, in times when news consumption increases, you can target news sites to promote your brand through contextual and native ads.
It’s important to be able to engage with your customers where they’re at, and sometimes that might mean developing new avenues for them to interact with you. With more people at home and connected online, developing a custom mobile app could be a unique branding opportunity for marketers to engage more customers in real time and on demand. Health and fitness businesses, for example, could create simple yet engaging content, such as a daily diet schedule, exercise videos and stress relief techniques to keep brands top of mind and encouraging online sales.
(Full disclosure: My company builds mobile apps.)
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Take A Break
It might sound impractical, but remember, a global pandemic is not an opportunity for branding or marketing. A great strategy is knowing when to talk with a powerful message and when to stay silent.
In March, some major brands including KFC, Hershey’s and Coors Light paused their ads that didn’t fit the new reality of hand sanitization, social distancing and working from home. KFC stopped its ads that depicted people enjoying fried chicken and licking their fingers. Coors Light was planning to broadcast an ad — “Official Beer of ‘Working’ Remotely” — but called off that plan. Hershey’s pulled down an ad that showed too much hugging and handshakes.
Review all the creative and campaigns that you’re running or planning to run. If there’s the slightest chance that the creative could be misinterpreted, it’s better to press pause and rethink the plan before taking any next steps.
5. Plan For Staggered Recovery
When recovering from a crisis, there’s a chance that things won’t be the same, at least not for a while. Social distancing norms will likely continue, and it might take a year or more for life to get back to normal.
It might be sensible to invest this time in strategic planning and designing adaptable branding initiatives. By building scalable plans that are customer-centric, you can meet the needs of today’s problems and struggles.
Finally, it’s completely OK to feel stuck and uncertain. But don’t let these unsettling times paralyze your creativity. Keep adjusting your branding and marketing strategies with time. Be there for your customers. Show them your support, and win their hearts.