Brands in COVID

COVID-19 South Africa

Brands in COVID

From saying stuff to meaning stuff.
We will move out of this healthcare nightmare (or we won’t for some time to come) and go straight into the financial pandemic. In fact, we might be there already but the line between ‘pandemic’ and ‘recession’ has become a little blurry. Do we throw the Marketing budget overboard and delete the brand strategy? If you want to come out of this stronger, the answer is a gentle “no” because you now really have a chance to be really heard by your customers.

The mind tug.
We have this fear and constant tug. Want to go back to the office. Don’t want to go back. Want to eat at our favourite restaurant. Don’t want to eat out any time soon. Not scared of dying. Scared of dying. Somewhere between these extremes lies the New Norm. And that’s where you need to help your customers get to so that they can meet you there.

The New Norm, and all that it entails, will be created by the Innovators who, as early movers, back themselves to adapt. Unfortunately, most people don’t fit into the Innovator or even Early Adopter cabals. Marketers will have a role in shifting them, creating tomorrow’s heroes who step into the bold new future. Truth is, we’ll all need to be heroic. But in a time of such tug, it’s not that easy to follow even the most convincing of Innovators. It will take loads of trust.

Understanding what our customers are feeling.
In order to lead and encourage change, our brands will need to say less and mean more. We’ll need to start understanding how our customers are feeling; clear on new needs and wants; sense their insecurities and fears and what keeps them up at night. Our brands need to have meaning because the only reality is how customers are feeling right now.

How strong is corporate brand loyalty at a time like this?
Often stronger than the government. Trump said a disinfectant brand will cure COVID-19. The brand says it won’t and the consumers thankfully trusted the brand more than Donald. That’s a tough one to swallow, excuse the pun – the President losing a debate to a disinfectant brand. Locally, the government bans the purchase of cigarettes and the consumer – even the non-smokers – supports the big tobacco brand. Yet both the government and the corporates state that smoking can kill. But one party denied us the right to kill ourselves. People look for brands which they can believe in. Brands which present a trusted, reassuring voice.

Brands should be empathetic, reassuring, authentic and practical.
Harvard Business Review research looked at the psychology behind changing customer behaviour during a recession and found that rather than simply slashing marketing budgets, they should nimbly adjust their strategies, tactics and even product offerings to respond to shifting demand and attitudes. Kantor’s South African COVID-19 Barometer study found that only 2% of South African respondents believed that marketing should stop. The majority felt that the brands should be more empathetic, aiming to be more authentic, reassuring, and practical in their communications rather than just pushing sales (KFC’s “Finger Licking Good” moved from iconic to chalk-on-the-board stuff overnight).

The brand strategy
Don’t cut your budget entirely if you can help it. Refine your message and make sure that it’s relevant. Share how you’ve been through tough times before, persevered and made it through (and so will they). Encourage people. Advertise webinars where your specialists (e.g. HR, Marketing, Finance) share corporate expertise – one seemingly mundane snippet can keep a business afloat. Look for innovation. We’ve seen doctor-patient video consultations accelerate to market within two short months. Above all, do not throw your brand strategy out of the window. The brand strategy and brand values should not change. Perhaps for the first time in ages, your brand will be closer to your customers than ever before. In launching Apple’s Think Different campaign, the late Steve Jobs said:

“People forget what they saw; they forget what they have heard – but they’ll never forget how you made them feel”.

Gary Hendrickse
CEO Sherpa
+27 83 6777342

Sherpa Brand & Design Agency
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