The Coronavirus has caused chaos for many brands - what is the best way to stay connected?

Roger Barr

Chief Digital Officer

There is an important role for brands amid the panic and confusion. An opportunity to play a more meaningful, valuable and authentic part in people’s lives.

  • Brands will only get one chance to get it right during Covid-19

  • Planning ahead and continuing the conversation with consumers is critical

Multinational brewery BrewDog is making hand sanitiser. Fashion retailer Zara is sourcing material for masks and hospital gowns. Nivea is producing medical-grade disinfectants. Rolls-Royce is making ventilators. These are strange — and scary — times indeed.

Yet many brands have pivoted quickly and elegantly in an effort to help stem a grisly global crisis. They have taken stock of their resources, assets and expertise, evaluated where these can be most effectively redeployed, and moved determinedly onwards. It is nothing short of heroic, in many cases.

Because the world has changed. As consumers, our needs have changed, our behaviour has changed. Uncertainty prevails.

Keep on moving; don’t stop

For brands, it presents a new challenge, and the exceptional nature of the place in which we find ourselves means there is little past experience to draw on. Some are paralysed, and do nothing. Others are hurriedly rolling out ill-thought-out digital marketing campaigns and messaging based on rules belonging to yesterday. The effect can be hugely damaging.

Yet there is an important role for brands amid the panic and confusion. There is an opportunity — arguably more than that, a need — to play a more meaningful, valuable and authentic part in people’s lives.

A survey of more than 35,000 global consumers carried out by Kantar at the end of March shows that just 8% of people thought brands should stop advertising in the current climate. Tellingly, 78% of consumers also believe brands should help them in their daily lives.

Understand people’s needs

The opportunity for every brand is different. While some are well-positioned to help people in highly practical ways — from Uber giving free rides to NHS staff to The Body Shop donating products to NHS workers — others are better placed to offer emotional support, lift spirits, educate, entertain or become trusted sources of information in a time of confusion and fear.

The fallout from the current crisis reaches far beyond our medical services and the many selfless NHS staff on the frontline. It impacts every single aspect of our daily lives.

The majority of people are working from home, often in environments not conducive to work. Parents are forced to home school, many while simultaneously juggling work commitments. Job losses and salary cuts are common, and long-term employment is precarious.

People are isolated from friends and family, stress levels are high, and the need for connection and community has never been greater. Indeed, Facebook alone has seen a 70% increase in Messenger group video calls week-on-week since the coronavirus outbreak, while the Houseparty social networking app was installed an estimated 17.2 million times in March, compared to 533,000 times in February.

Play to your strengths

Brands must self-examine, and be honest about what they can give and where they fit in today’s new order. Take Microsoft, which has created a remote learning community to connect teachers around the US. Or Adobe, which has made its Creative Cloud desktop apps and distance learning resources free to students until the end of May.

The need to exercise has also come into sharp focus, and live workouts that engender a feeling of connectivity through group participation — albeit virtual — are booming. The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, added almost one million followers to his YouTube channel after the success of his free PE lessons amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Others have thought even more laterally. Iconic guitar brand Fender, for example, is offering free online guitar tutorials. On its Instagram page, it states, quite simply: ‘We’re all going to be spending more time inside — so we might as well make some noise.’

The Telegraph has tapped into readers’ need to engage and connect socially, with the launch of its You Are Not Alone section, sharing advice and tips, from gardening to cooking and caring. Critically, its content will be led by readers, allowing it the fluidity to deliver what people want and need, both of which will continually change. That much is certain.

Others are being clever with their messaging. Nike has been characteristically on-brand with its simple yet inspirational sentiment on social media: ‘If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now’s your chance. Play inside, play for the world.’

Rolls-Royce was classy and consistent on Instagram, posting an image of its distinctive Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet mascot with the simple words: ‘Stay safe and keep your spirits up.’

Now is the time to think — and get — ahead

At iCrossing, we are working closely with a number of brands on their content marketing strategies, from gyms to financial institutions and automotive manufacturers. These brands see the opportunity, the need, and are already planning ahead. Because the world won’t stop — it will just continue to a different beat.

Look at Amazon. Its sales grew by 28% in 2009 during what was dubbed the ‘great recession’. The company continued to research and develop new Kindle products, growing market share. It remained visible when other brands went quiet, and strengthened its position as an innovator.

As Jane Ostler, Global Head of Media at Kantar Insights, told Marketing Week:

‘Brand health becomes vulnerable when companies stop advertising. If they do this for longer than six months, it destroys both short- and long-term health.’

-Jane Ostler

In the coming months, brands must closely monitor shifting moods, gauge changing attitudes, notice new behaviours and understand real needs — while staying mindful of wider content marketing trends. They must re-evaluate how they fit into consumers’ lives, strengthening the existing value they offer and exploring new ways to make a difference. And they must keep communicating.

People need you. Don’t let them, or your brand, down.

Talk to the content marketing specialists

From analysts and copywriters to strategists and creatives, iCrossing works closely with businesses to unlock their creative potential and respond to changing customer needs in an uncertain climate.

We are working with brands to better understand how they can spend their budgets most effectively to maintain a presence at the current time. We can work with you to tweak the dials and drive reach and engagement, planning for the future and fast-tracking growth.

Get in touch with Roger Barr, our Chief Digital Officer, to talk about how you can put the right plans in place to ensure your future.

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