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Protecting brand health during the coronavirus crisis: 5 tips

Thursday, April 2, 2020

It’s no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 outbreak is the toughest challenge most organizations will have ever faced.

As governments around the world have had to act quickly to slow the spread of the virus, the way some businesses operate has been changed beyond recognition in the space of days. In a whirlwind, companies have closed the doors on their stores and restaurants, travel has been halted, and working from home is the new norm for most office-based employees.

With no clear end to this situation in sight, it’s understandably left brands wondering - how can we protect our business and weather the storm?

To help answer this question, we turned to research published in Marketing Week conducted by Kantar. They surveyed 35,000 consumers on their attitudes towards advertising during the coronavirus crisis. The headline result is that only 8% of those surveyed thought brands should stop advertising. That’s a massive 92% of consumers who still want to hear from the brands they love! But the question remains, what should that advertising look like to protect brand health?

advertising pie chart

Immediate advertising changes due to coronavirus

Firstly, let’s address the biggest risk to your brand heath: insensitivity. At this point in time, a lack of awareness of how this situation is affecting people could do long-term damage to your brand.

It’s easily done too - your advertising campaign encouraging people to travel or meet up with friends and family that was harmless a month ago is now promoting a dangerous message. While this might be obvious for brands in the leisure and tourism sector, all organizations should revisit their communications to check they’re not overlooking insensitivity.

Similarly, brands should reconsider where they advertise. Given that lots of people around the world are experiencing some kind of lockdown, continuing to spend precious budget on billboards and public transport ads is unwise. That money is arguably better spent reaching people on the channels they’re currently using, for example TV, social networks, podcasts and radio, search engines or video streaming.

So we know what brands shouldn’t be saying, but what should they say? There’s a lot we can learn from the research conducted by Kantar. We’ve distilled these points into five tips for approaching advertising during the crisis.

How to approach advertising during the coronavirus outbreak

1. Focus on helpful and informative campaigns that support local health advice

When it comes to what brands should be talking about in their advertising, the research carried out by Kantar highlights the following key trends:

consumers advertising factors

What jumps out is the fact that consumers are looking to brands for help and information. We’re all concerned about the spread of this virus and how it could affect our lives and in many cases brands have some resources to help. Whether it’s donating supplies, sharing advice on how to navigate remote working, or just reinforcing the message that we should all be staying home to protect each other. Consider how you can use the strengths and knowledge in your organization to help others in your campaigns.

Another clear message from these results is that now more than ever consumers are looking for authentic brands who genuinely want to help. Which means staying true to your brand in your communication. A perfect example of this is IKEA’s stay home campaign. The Swedish furniture brand created an ad in their signature style sharing reasons why people should embrace staying home.

As this ad shows, video is often the perfect way to share this kind of message. Particularly if the updates or information you’re sharing is more complicated. With video you can clearly and easily communicate using visuals to support your message. That’s why we’ve created two new video templates to help you share important coronavirus help, advice and updates. Simply edit the text and images to suit your message and you’re ready to share with your audiences. If you’d like to use these templates, you can start a free trial of VideoScribe today. 

2. Trust that your actions will speak louder than your brand nameBrewDog hand sanitiser packaging

It might sound counterintuitive but plastering your brand name across your helpful content or initiatives can make your audiences question your motives. As marketers and salespeople we’re so accustomed to ensuring that our messages are branded correctly. Perhaps without even thinking, organizations are applying the same heavy branding principles to coronavirus communication.

Unfortunately, for brands like BrewDog this action has had a negative impact. The company started production of hand sanitiser which was celebrated by many. However, heavy branding on the sanitiser packaging drew criticism from consumers worried that the action was more self-serving.

Consumers are wary of brands that seem to be exploiting the current situation and so for the time being let your branding take a back seat. Trust that the good work you’re doing will be carried further than if it featured your logos!

3. Make employee health your ultimate priority

That good work should also include making sure your employees are cared for during this time. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because your customers are watching and it will greatly impact their perceptions of your brand. Of the consumers surveyed by Kantar, 80% believe employee health should be a priority for companies.

Some of the most highly publicized information during the coronavirus crisis has been focused on the way brands and their teams have responded. By offering your employees the flexibility, support and help they need you’re ensuring that your people and reputation are protected.

So for your advertising to be successful, make sure you’ve looked inward first and made employee health a priority. From this foundation, you’re in a much better position to protect your brand and reputation.

4. Don’t be afraid to lift the mood!Iceland Food proposal

While there’s no doubt that doing as much as your organization can to support front line workers, colleagues and customers through this difficult period is key, there’s also a place for good news stories.

Just watching the news on repeat isn’t good for anyone’s mental health and so if your brand can provide a much needed distraction, your audiences will thank you for it. Only 41% of those surveyed by Kantar said that they think brands should avoid humorous tones. We agree that humor is a fine line to tread at this time but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring a smile to your audiences’ faces.

We’ve seen some great examples of this from Iceland Foods and the start-up swimwear brand, Summersalt. Summersalt have adapted their customer service team to provide good news stories to those looking for a mood boost. When customers text ‘JOYCAST’ they’ll be sent a positive story from around the world.

By sparking positive emotions like this, your brand is more likely to be remembered putting you in a better place to recover quickly once this crisis is over. So don’t underestimate the power of being the bearer of good news!


5. Think longer-term and resist knee jerk marketing budget cuts

Despite the fact that consumers still want to hear from brands during the coronavirus crisis, research by Marketing Week and Econsultancy found lots of companies are cutting their advertising budgets. Of the 900 UK marketers surveyed, 60% said they’re cutting or reviewing advertising budgets.

While this might help cash flow in the short-term, drastically cutting advertising spend could do more harm than good in the long-term. If this crisis carries on for months more with your presence constantly slipping, it’s going to be much harder to build your brand up again afterwards.

Data from BrandZ supports this theory. After the 2008/9 financial crash, brands that continued to have a strong presence throughout recovered their stock market value nine times faster. With that in mind, a knee-jerk reaction to cut advertising spending is not the way to protect brand health.

However, if maintaining streamlined marketing budgets still isn’t an option for you then maximise your organic channels. With the right messaging that taps into what consumers want, content in your emails, on your website and social media channels can still help put you in the best possible position for recovery by staying front of mind.

What’s your advice for protecting brand health during this difficult time? Tweet us @SparkolHQ and let us know your thoughts.

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