By Dave McCaughan and Faiyaz Ahmed
LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT BRAND COMMUNICATION IN A CRISIS
As we write this, the world, Bangladesh, all of us, are in deep crisis. Four months into 2020, it has been challenging everyone everywhere, forcing many businesses to reconsider how they survive, and demanding more from brands; forcing them to adapt and stay relevant while showing their compassion. It is also a time when we have felt the need to come together, even as we try to maintain various degrees of social distancing.
IT’S A DIFFERENT WORLD, AND THAT DIFFERENCE IS STICKING
Ahhh, social distancing. Can you imagine even a year ago explaining the concept of working from home and trying to go about everyday life within the confines of our homes? What about trying to avoid physical contact? How do you tell your staff that, effective immediately, everyone is expected to work from home, not travel, and conduct meetings digitally, all for an indefinite period of time? A year ago many of us saw Zoom as an irregular substitute, but now it’s practically a necessity.
But let’s not forget all of the above are new experiences and maybe inconveniences for those of us lucky enough to have jobs and companies that can afford to let us live this strange alternative life. For billions of people around the world, social distancing and work-from-home are impossible concepts. As one commentator expressed to us they might be considered a Western or Developed world or Elites sacrifices that the majority of people literally can not afford. Daily wage earners, day workers, the poor, those that live day to day face a daily struggle: do they risk getting COVID-19 or risk starvation?
SO HOW WILL BRANDS BE AFFECTED IN THESE NEVER BEFORE EXPERIENCED TIMES?
“During this turbulent time, as a brand, while remaining agile, we must combine empathy with solution-based marketing, as the brands needs to reach out to the customers to give them assurance that they are present in their moment of crisis”
– Nazmul Karim Chowdhury
We have all lived through crises before. Certainly, your authors have lived and helped lead companies in countries hit by major economic crises, by pandemics like SARS, by natural disasters. So we started to think about what we learned. One rule for all marketers is that collective wisdom and experience is always golden. So at Marketing Futures, we decided to start sharing and receiving ideas with small groups of marketing leaders. Working with ICE BUSINESS TIMES we have developed a virtual version of our Lead Talk series where we bring together half a dozen marketers on virtual panels to discuss ideas, share initiatives and think about what brands can and should do. See below for the list of marketers who joined our first virtual Lead Talk. Here are some key takeaways:
– Life is shifting in unexpected ways. We are all seeing the change in people’s lifestyle and the need for brands to recognize new levels of compassion, realization, resilience and how to help. Media habits are under great change as online culture has increased dramatically and brands are having to find new ways to help entertain and inform a locked in the middle class and still reach those who cannot afford to do so. The fact we are quarantining — not for days but for weeks. and possibly months on end — means new habits will harden and change the way we do things in the long term. Brands need to adapt to this new reality, not short term fads.
– Digital events and entertainment continue to boom as people explore how to fill in time at home. For example, the rise in eSports like Formula 1 eSports is creating a boom in what had been a steadily growing niche market. Brands that are now thinking for the first time about gaming as a major medium need to act fast to establish their connection and role, and learn new techniques to maintain relevance. As we use internet connection formats like Zoom, Skype etc. to socialize, work brands will need to find ways to make those experiences better, more helpful, more entertaining and more aligned to what their brand is trying to say and sell. For example, food, beverage, entertainment, delivery and e-commerce brands are doing more to make online meetings and events a more 360-degree experience. Entertainment is changing, brands are having to find new relevance and ways to communicate within new formats.
– The financial sector is going through a massive change as contactless payment options gain traction during a pandemic that severely restricts physical contact. As more people adapt to such payments, both the provider brands and others scramble to find a way to reward loyalty. Brands need to look for new opportunities to make e-payment easier but also to make experiences more aligned to brand positions.
– We will also see a downfall in the hard retail business as we see a shift in consumer behaviour. Once a novelty, e-commerce is now a part of daily life. No longer just a place to buy fast food and peripheral goods, it has quickly become a habit for everyday items. This will not change. Yes, people will return to shops when they open but they will after weeks of getting more used to doing everything online find it a habit and convenience hard to reverse. Online/offline brand experiences must be of equal quality but aligned to the uniqueness of the format and where people are shopping from.
– Of course, this means a great deal of internal change for companies and marketers. IT infrastructure is being challenged and brand owners must quickly adapt their internal systems to being “hands-off” and remotely managed through better communication. Working-from-home raises many challenges for companies but also for employees — learning new skills, new ways of working, new demands. As always the number one target market for any marketer MUST be the staff of their own company. So marketing directors must put in place new campaigns directed at staff of their whole organization that brings alive what the brand stands for and how it can help their lives. The last thing any brand needs now is for members of its own team to feel dissatisfied, or feel that the brand is not living up to what it stands for. Internal branding is always key to ongoing success, especially to ensure that brand equity is reflected in how staff are treated.
– Many non-middle-class groups (senior citizens, factory- and day-workers) could opt out of digital platforms, but now it has become a necessity as the financial transactions shift to digital platforms. Consider the growth of online services that not only allow the elderly, for example, to easily order, pay for and receive goods and services, but also help them stay in touch with family. How can brands play a part in this? Large sections of the population are being forced to open up to digital life in ways brands have not dealt with but can now be of great help.
“Brands should concentrate on digital marketing platform and be visible online”
– Aftab Mahmood Khurshid
What about brand communication?
When the COVID-19 crisis became more real in the west, especially in the US, we saw a raft of brands communicate proper safety measures. For example, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Audi, and Volkswagen all spaced out the letters of their brands to signify the importance of social distancing (with McDonald’s separating its arches). An initial reaction that might have been a nice, symbolic gesture but clearly also a gimmick. Our Lead Talk discussion quickly pointed out that brands of all sizes needed to be seen to be doing more, to actively and visibly help their staff, retailers, suppliers and current and potential consumers cope and make life easier.
THERE ARE TWO GOLDEN RULES FOR BRANDS IN TIMES OF CRISIS.
01. Don’t sell, help solve problems
Be a good citizen. For start brands and organizations should first think about how they can help society in general. Engage in CSR, use brand messaging to support key social and government messaging.
Work together with other brands and use your combined resources to deliver essentials.
Come together within and across industry groups and put aside your own branding for the greater good.
Most importantly focus on how your brand can help people solve issues. Remember the difference between sales and marketing. Under any circumstance, marketing is always about finding out what people want/need/fear and developing ways to help through your brand. Now is the time for the hard test. What problems do your brands help solve? What new problems can they help with?
The answer needs like, “how do I stay healthy,” “how can I cope with social distancing,” “how can I get my work done from home,” or “how can I home school, entertain, explain what is happening to my children?”
The challenge lies in the mass level and upcountry where people are reluctant to adapt to this new norm so while we are seeing some of the biggest brands of Bangladesh working together to make it easier, every brand should consider coming together and working with the government to form an ecosystem of communication and activation.
Sales will come but giving back to the market and being charitable are far more important as a citizen and also as a business that wants respect.
SUGGESTION: unite Put egos and market share aside and work with your competitors to use combined power to bring answers, services and supplies to all that need it.
“It’s the time for the brand to give back to the vendors, consumers and the society and be a trusted partner who gives back during the time of crises, which will make brand eventually grow in long run”
– Ehsan Sarwar Chowdhury
02. Don’t cut marketing, use it to create greater value for your audiences
According to research and scientific studies of brand behaviour in times of crises, for nearly 100 years, brands that cut marketing spending suffered both short- and long-term effects. Most importantly those that maintained spending during the crisis not only recovered quicker but were more likely to pick market share and sales later.
But do not be selfish. A crisis is not the time to advertise to sell. It is time to advertise and illustrate what your brand stands for. Yes, think about changing communication routes like the fast increase in digital-based entertainment, transaction, buying and selling, communication, and think about how your brand fits and can use these trends to help people in line with your brand values.
Indeed take the time to really reflect and understand and share with your employees what those values are, how to articulate and exemplify them in what the brand is doing to help. For example, consider what your brand is and can do in line with three basic needs in the community now:
MAKE SURE ALL MESSAGING ALIGNS WITH HELPING, PROVIDING HOPE OR OFFERING MUCH NEEDED HI-JINKS
HELP: what activity can you undertake that will help people with real problems? Whether they be public health support, helping the government and authorities overcome everyday issues, helping cope, helping people of all kinds deal with changing lifestyles; don’t go heavy on selling a solution, go heavy on offering free services, advice and support.
HOPE: people are worried, they don’t know the future but they want to know it will be OK so think about how your brand can bring hope. Work with other brands to create new services that allow people to understand what will happen next, to connect with others and share compassion and hope, to produce new ideas and offerings that tell the population that positive developments are happening and will be a part of a good future.
HI-JINKS: these are stressful times and people want the distraction. For those who have access to Netflix and other entertainment vehicles, distraction comes in the form of binge-watching. For many, distraction comes in innovative ways to communicate with friends and neighbours. The simple idea of giving away multiplayer games on phones will help millions de-stress. Offering colouring-in competitions for children, recipes for adults not used to cooking at home, providing free online concerts, or having your brand representative running campaigns that also help raise money for the poor. Hi-jinks (fun distractions) matter in times of crises. They are the reason musicals and slapstick films rose in popularity during every major economic downturn of the 20th century. They are the reason you should think about how your brand values allow you to be a provider of some distraction in stressful times.
Our Lead Talks will continue as we continue to study, learn, copy and build new ideas of how to Help, offer Hope or create Hi-Jinks to help people get through this crisis.
STAY SAFE AND WELL.
are the Founders of Marketing Futures – A knowledge platform where Training, Mentoring and Brand Consultancies Are carried out by international marketing veterans.
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