Ideas + Insights

Steering your brand through challenging times.

Tess Robinson

Brands across the globe are at battle.

As well as the usual battles of fighting for market share, being heard amongst the noise or racing to permeate a gap, we’re now facing a battle of another kind.

The battle to simply stay alive.

It’s safe to say that most businesses, regardless of their industry have been hit by COVID-19 in one way or another and are facing great economic impact – just how severe, only time will tell. Whilst we’re all doing our best to simply stay afloat during these times, it’s important to not revert to primal instincts, but rather, to act with elevated consciousness.

I believe the most appropriate brand response to a cultural moment that shifts as dramatically as it has in the face of COVID-19, is a human one. We need to steer our brands through the eye of the storm with even greater empathy, tact and mindful messaging.

As Marc Benioff suggests in his recent book, “Innovation can’t advance in a positive direction unless it’s grounded in genuine and continued efforts to lift up all humanity.”

While every brand is different, we’re all facing the same reality – the only way out of this crisis is through. No matter what that journey looks like specifically for your brand though, I implore you to pack with you the deepest respect and compassion for the world around you.

While we’re all doing our best to stay afloat, put out urgent fires, make tough decisions and future proof our business for the storm ahead, we can’t forget the one thing that’s going to save us all.

Our customers.

Don’t let the battle to stay alive, dim your ability to serve your customer. Because, if there’s one thing that’s going to help you weather this storm, it’s those loyal customers who have enabled your success thus far.

I have outlined below a six step basic action plan that can help brands of all sizes make the move forward through this storm with as much grace as one can have when facing a pandemic and world-wide recession.

Find your angle, and then your soapbox

During crises, industry leaders emerge as those who willingly roll up their sleeves, acknowledge the situation and give sage advice or creative guidance to navigate the storm ahead. Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or a large organisation, if you want to be seen as a thought leader, you need to have a voice on the topic. In my opinion, the only way to be valued is to have something valuable to say. And whilst I don’t prescribe to the notion that your business needs to become wholly centered around coronavirus, I do think it’s imperative that you acknowledge the reality of the situation we’re in, in a way that feels right for you.

Your community is looking to you as a voice of reason or guidance – it doesn’t matter whether they buy shoes or sandwiches from you – you’ve become a trusted ally to them for good reason.

The one thing that I will remind you of however, is to find your angle before finding your soapbox. Make it authentic, make it genuine and make it of lasting value. Use your brand values to remind yourself what your brand stands for, and what that means in the context of COVID-19. Lean into your humanity, let empathy set the tone and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

Serve, don’t sell

Being in business right now, is simply put, tricky business. Going out and forcing your products on the world right now is insensitive, to say the least. But, the fact is, we want (dare I say ‘need’) our businesses to come out on the other side of this without becoming completely hijacked by it.

So, what does that mean for selling? It means you continue doing your best to focus on getting sales through the door while running it through this filter:

How does the service you offer up in an ordinary context make sense during an extraordinary crisis?

Ask yourself whether your product or service (or a variation of) could be of additional use or relevance in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, and adapt your messaging to reflect this.

Even if you can’t physically offer your service or product anymore, your aim is to offer exceptional value right now. Think about ways that you could offer up free content to ensure you keep your loyal community engaged. I would even go as far as to say that this could be the prime opportunity for you to win their loyalty on a whole new level by going over and above and delivering amazing value during this time.

Remember, right now we’ve been granted an incredible opportunity to connect with our customers – for the most part, a lot of them are sitting at home with more time on their hands than usual. How can you put time and effort into strengthening your ties with them so that on the other side of this they are your number one fans for life. As economist Paul Romer once said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Practice empathetic marketing

People the world over are feeling a heightening sense of vulnerability. The floor below us feels like lava, and our sense of security is unsteady to say the least. No matter how or what you share during this crisis, keep that in mind. Cross-check, double-check and triple-check all of your brand comms to ensure they are crafted with considerable attention toward any possible sensitivities.

The best marketing right now, will illuminate your values, tell compelling stories with a focus on helping others through the challenge of this crisis. This crisis is an opportunity for your brand story to deepen, grow, and evolve.

Hold your positioning, but bend to the notion

When facing a crisis there is a tendency for brands to drop everything and run in a whole new direction. And whilst I do believe pivoting is important, I think it’s equally important to not lose sight of your long-term agenda or entirely sacrifice your plans for 2020. I encourage you to see how you might be able to tweak and adapt your proposed positioning to the current climate, rather than abandon it all together. Perhaps there are ways in which you can evolve your positioning so that it bends toward the challenges we are facing, whilst still adhering to the messaging you had planned to run with. This way, you’ll better prepare yourself for life after COVID-19, because as we know, this too shall pass. I strongly believe that brands who are able to play both the short game and the long game right now, are the brands who will survive this storm and perhaps even thrive throughout it.

Don’t drop your standards

Now is absolutely the time to be nimble, agile and adapt quickly. ‘Tis true, brands who are slow to move and acclimatise to this crisis are the brands who will get left behind it. But, (and I can’t stress this enough), moving quickly doesn’t mean dropping the ball on your comms. It doesn’t mean sending something out that’s sub-standard for the sake of timeliness. Now more than ever, it’s important that you adapt your brand messaging strategically, carefully and with great care for detail. Just because you’re working quickly to recalibrate, doesn’t mean that you have license to drop your standards or create comms that are off-brand. Ensure that everything that goes out is to your normal standards – that means, no sloppy design, no spelling mistakes, no ad-hoc “this’ll do” work, just to get it out there.

Right now, more than anything, your customers need stability – provide that to them by remaining consistent and credible.

Keep it crystal clear

I am so curious to know how much brand engagement is up at the moment. I have no doubt that social media engagement is through the roof – global audiences suddenly have a lot more time on their hands (well most do anyways).  I also think brands are also working quickly and more aggressively to be seen and heard. Subsequently there is a lot of noise out there.

To think that we thought it was a noisy marketplace before! As brands now fight tooth and nail for market share, things just got even more heated.

The most important thing you can do with your messaging right now is to keep it crystal clear.

Remember, just because an idea is louder or flashier, that doesn’t mean the message is being heard. To be heard, we have to be smarter not louder. Expertly crafted messaging is what is going to cut-through, disrupt and connect.

Image credit: Vanessa Rees

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