BRAND MARKETING IN THE TIME OF CORONA VIRUS
April 1, 2020
There’s been much discussion about how this crisis is unprecedented, unpredictable and seemingly impossible to navigate. It’s enough to paralyze even the best marketers and strategists. While we’ve never seen this exact scenario before, there are previous events that we can look to for clues as to how marketers should respond.
Essential Guideposts for Brands to Consider
In the US, we can look to how international brands have navigated the preceding course of events in China. We can refer to the many examples of how the tourism industry rebounded after natural disasters or terrorist attacks. We can remember what we learned from the 2008 recession. Here are a few guideposts we believe are essential for brands today:
Authenticity Drives Brand Clarity
It’s been said that during times like these, people’s true colors emerge and the same is true of brands. If your brand does not have a clear mission and an articulated brand purpose, everything you try to do during this time period will seem difficult or impossible. Check in and be sure you can answer these key questions: How are we better? How are we different? What are we known for? The answers to these questions should lead you to answers that are well beyond your physical product or service. They should help you understand who you are as a company. It is from that place of clarity that the best and most appropriate marketing messaging is created. Here are a few examples of how some very well defined brands are responding:
The brand slogan for Guinness is “Good things come to those who wait,”referring literally to the time it takes to properly pour a pint. That spirit has taken on a whole new meaning in today’s world. As St. Patrick’s Day parades were cancelled and staying home became the prudent decision, Guiness released a series of social media videos that reflected that spirit of patience, spoke to a 260 year history, and also provided a hopeful message. They’ve continued to lean into their messaging furter in recent posts reminding followers that a toast isn’t “just about raising a glass, it’s about raising each other up.”
Since 2012, Hedley & Bennett’s slogan has been “Wake up and fight,” but in 2020 it’s taken on a whole new meaning. The apron company has always had a rebel attitude, reflecting the style of the restaurant chefs who wear their aprons. Applying that same spirit to the fight against COVID-19, H&B repurposed their LA factory and created the “Wake Up and Fight Mask.” For every mask that is purchased, one is donated to those working on the front lines. Their website states: “We have the material. We have the know-how. We have the hustle. We are ready to wake up and fight. Now we're asking you to join us.”
The iconic automaker leaned into its
positioning of “Go Further” by putting together a reassuring series of ads called Built to Lend a Hand. The messaging focused on Ford’s relief program, designed to extend deadlines on auto payments. The program and the ads themselves speak to Ford’s commitment to their customers and to America.
yThe message of the ad and the program itself also supports Ford’s mission to become the world’s most trusted company
Keep in Touch
“Out of sight, out of mind.” It’s true even in a time like this. Your customers and guests will understand why you’ve closed your doors, but if you go completely dark in your marketing efforts, your guests will form relationships with other brands. That’s not to say you won’t be able to win them back later, but you will have created an additional challenge for yourself. There is a well-known behavioral principle of reciprocity. It says that people are likely to pay back what they receive from others. Thoughtful, meaningful communication now is the marketing equivalent of providing comfort; and this type of connection will help brands build and strengthen connections with guests. Those who can build virtual relationships will maintain or even grow their market-share in the future. So what does this mean for the marketer who has no budget or maybe even no in-house team now to execute on this? Get scrappy and use your social media channels creatively. Consider a limited scope with an agency partner to help you execute, if needed. Showcase your team members, share recipes that can be made at home, raise awareness for anything important happening in your community. Here are a few to follow for inspiration.
Canlis (Seattle) uses instagram to communicate their daily menu offerings and other offerings, like their live streamed soundtrack on YouTube. (Canlis has also done a great job of completely revamping their website.)
Chef Massimo Bottura’s Kitchen Quarantine series on Instagram Live.
Relevance Has Never Been More Critical (or More Difficult)
How, where and when you deliver your message is always of utmost importance, but in this time of heightened emotions, this is particularly true. No matter if you are purchasing advertising, promoting your offerings through your own email blasts or have a PR firm generating earned media, thoughtful execution is essential; both content and context matter.
Be Overly Cautious
This may seem obvious, but the message matters. People will react negatively to what they believe to be misplaced humor or even worse, self-serving offers or acts of charity. For example, you may have referred to your restaurant as a “hot spot” prior to this outbreak, but that phrase has now taken on a very different meaning. Refrain from using photos of crowded dining rooms and consider showing food being handled with gloves. Luxury brands in particular need to re-frame their offerings. While you may have focused on indulgence or your brand as a status symbol, in today’s world you may re-frame that positioning to be about quality, heritage, wellness or self-care.
Time & Place
Take into account where your message is being received. A video that is viewed in the evening while someone scrolls through social media may make someone smile, but the same video delivered by email in the middle of the day may feel intrusive. This is true of B2B marketing as well. If there is a low likelihood of someone purchasing your product right now, consider focusing your efforts on relationship building versus sales tactics. Know your audience and meet and support them where they are.
You Cannot Afford to Delay Long-term Planning
In a time with so many unknowns, long-term planning may feel very overwhelming, especially for hospitality brands. How can you possibly create a plan to get people into your restaurant or hotel when you have no idea when you can actually open?
You don’t have to have all of the variables to be able to chart a course of action. You may very well have to develop three or four plans to have at the ready. Start by thinking of all the “what-ifs.” List all the things that can possibly happen both externally and internally. Then create a second column of all the “if-thens.” How would you respond to each potential variable? What you’ll likely see is that a number of your “if-thens” will form groups of similar action steps. In the end, try to find between 2 and 4 “if-then” paths of action to plan your marketing efforts around.
Creating an Adjusted Brand Message
Perhaps the one thing we know is that the world will be different when all is said and done. Consumer Insight firms are busy with surveys in the field trying to understand how consumers’ behavior will change. It’s still a bit early to tell, but it’s likely people will need your brand in a different way than before. Your marketing efforts will need to be re-framed. For example, a boutique hotel with a potential drive-market audience may focus more on “an escape without leaving home” as opposed to focusing on destination travelers. Fine dining restaurants may focus more on spacious restaurants, escape, and simple indulgences as opposed to run away luxury and expensive ingredients.
As of the writing of this, we still don’t have a clear timeline for controlling or eradicating the virus. We seem to have hit a “waiting period” where we know we’ll be for a while. But, we also know that when this time passes, people will look for connection. Those who rebound the most quickly will be the ones who kept their marketing engines in motion.