Brandspeak in the time of COVID-19
We can never deny that the past year has upended our lives, no thanks to the global pandemic brought about by COVID-19. During these days, it is not uncommon to question whether human and business resilience are enough to weather this perfect storm: What do we do now? Why do we exist? How do we manage the radical changes accelerated by this global crisis?
While I refuse to succumb to the general notion that this crisis is the “new normal,” notwithstanding its impact in our daily lives, we all feel the need to face this current reality with a clear sense of determination to adapt, to be more creative, compromise, even improvise, to achieve some normalcy in the way we conduct our business. While it is and will continue to be a struggle, it has become imperative to manage this crisis by coupling resilience with a sense of purposefulness and authenticity.
And consumers are demanding brand activism. Accenture Strategy’s most recent global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers found that 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.
Interestingly, the call is being heeded. Commercial brand messages are transforming into goodwill messages as the pandemic wreaks havoc on global economies including the Philippines. During this health emergency, we are seeing traditional marketing communication campaigns—designed to sell products and services—being informed by a social marketing communication strategy which appears to be working as the best option for brands. Through this approach, we see that more than just selling products, brand messages are now being designed to generate social gain as well—some of which are targeted to reach target audiences with a view to change their behavior in relation to the pandemic.
Thus, we see brands and organizations realizing that the attention economy riddled by the obsession for likes and engagements should be accompanied by messaging that promotes brand trust. With the proliferation of data manipulation, fake news, deepfakes and the likes, trust is playing a deeper role in generating consumer confidence and customer attraction rather than mere product fluff and gimmicky advertising materials.
Thus in the era of COVID-19, brands and organizations are learning not just to be concerned with conversion to sales but also to amplify conversations. It is not unusual these days to hear more companies adding more budgets to social listening, sentiment evaluation, audience and consumer research to know and understand the pulse of the market.
In this period of heightened emotion, fear and uncertainty, one can’t help but ask what brands and organizations can do to help manage the crisis situation. I list here some:
More accurate and reliable information—As we all experience, during times of crises such as this health pandemic, we all want credible and fact-checked information. We all want to hear from credible and authentic sources to help us navigate this normalcy-shattering phenomenon.
Better customer service and support—A bad customer engagement is a major irritant during crisis. When brands and organizations do not provide immediate and quality service, consumers are quick to negatively react. During crisis, it is extremely important to listen and understand the concerns of customers and to address them as best as you can. Demonstrating that you are doing your best during uncertain times can go a long way. Offering meaningful benefits that your brands can do during crisis situations can also help in brand building (e.g. health/well-being tips or providing opportunities for those displaced by the pandemic will generate brand goodwill).
Promoting community and positivity—Brands should incorporate a sense of community and a healthy dosage of positive messaging in their marketing and PR activities. This will help ease the feeling of dissociation and separation due to the mandatory physical distancing measures. Celebrate positive community stories because these attract positive vibes from people despite current conditions.
Show care for your employees—Your worker-partners are some of heroes of this pandemic—the vital cog that keeps the economy rolling. They continue to put themselves at risk to ensure we reach our homes and offices, deliver social and health services and fully stock groceries and supermarkets. Show some love by helping build positive support through adaptive work arrangements and incentives. Employee engagement is key to survive this pandemic.
Provide support to the vulnerable—Whenever your brands can afford and have access to benefits that can be extended, help out those with preexisting conditions, those with comorbidities and the elderly who are forced to self-isolate. This is your way of building community spirit which can help maximize your efforts to highlight your brand purpose.
Create more digital touchpoints—With access to physical stores continue to be limited and people continue to fear going out, your brand will benefit more by exhausting all possible digital touchpoints to reach consumers. Coupled with the cancellations of in-person events and trade shows, brands can no longer depend on face-to-face interactions with landing prospects, customers and partners which in turn impact customer experience. Thus, brands had to find other ways to maintain customer communication and stay connected to their audience. Brands need to double down on their digital strategy, and maximize the ways consumers interact with them online. With people continuing to suffer from isolation, they crave for information, belongingness, and interaction and brands should step up and fulfill this need.
Let us always remember that while consumers may have always been aware of how brands behave, during the pandemic, they are more vigilant. Consumers are actively scrutinizing and analyzing every detail of our brand’s actions. Thus, the key to addressing the current reality and the shift in the essential needs is to activate brand’s purpose as a means of engaging consumers.
Staying true to purpose, even when it gets difficult, is critical.
The author is CEO of PAGEONE Group, which just won its fifth Agency of the Year Award from the Public Relations Society of the Philippines. He was recently named Communicator of the Year in Beijing, China.
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