Best Brand Practices in a Global Crisis
When pundits overuse the phrase “unprecedented times,” they are not thinking about all the other unprecedented times our world has lived through, including the last recession, which was just over 10 years ago. Other unprecedented times include 9/11 and previous pandemics such as Swine Flu, Polio, Spanish Flu, and too many wars around the world.
During those times, the companies that came out stronger were the ones who remained focused on their customers and saw the crisis as an opportunity to strengthen their brand(s) and organization to be ready for what was next. This document outlines some possible strategies that companies could implement during the current crisis to ensure their brand or organization is as prepared as possible for whatever comes next.
Maintain Company Values
In a time of crisis, people rely on the products and services they trust. You can define “people” as employees, customers, or the general public (e.g., future customers), but they are all important. Protecting and demonstrating your company values is critical during uncertain times and will help solidify your brand’s perceptions as you get past the crisis. For many organizations, this may be all about transparency, integrity, or putting customers first. What does this look like? As you think about how to keep your organization going, are there changes to policies that you can make to help customers, such as longer terms for payment, expedited production or shipping, or reduced pricing on core items to help them get through it?
Communicate with Empathy & Clarity
Even if you are not in a position to change policies or pricing, you can change how you communicate with customers and employees. First, you must change your tone to demonstrate empathy for what they may be experiencing. Perceptions are often made up of feelings and emotions toward a brand or company, so how you make your customers feel about your brand may be as important as what they rationally think about your product or service.
You should also speak with clarity in any communication. During a crisis, we are overloaded with information – negative news, too many emails, and lots of noise. Brands that speak with clarity and brevity about any temporary or permanent changes to their products or services are more likely to get their message through and to have it be remembered. Less is more in times of crisis.
A best practice method of delivering empathy is to provide executive communication through video. Seeing a leader in person (either live or on recorded video) is a great way to convey strength, resolve, and a personal commitment from an organization or brand.
Voice of the Customer
Another way to demonstrate empathy is to ask your customers about how they are feeling during a crisis. This is not the same as asking them if they plan on reducing purchases, etc. This could be done formally through an online survey, informally through your sales or distribution channel by personally contacting your top clients, or some combination of the two. By asking your customers about their business and needs, you will be able to understand how you can help them in some way. Most purchase decisions involve both emotional and rational decisions, and the more you understand your customer’s mindset in a time of crisis, the more you can provide comfort or tangible goods to help solve their problems. If you have not conducted any voice of the customer research in the last year, now would be a good time to get that done.
Optimize Your Brand
When the rest of the world (and your competitors) are retracting and preparing for the worst, it may be the best time to be proactive and optimize your brand. Are there new products, line extensions, or services that you could develop during the slowdown? Are there processes in manufacturing, sales, distribution, or marketing that can be reviewed and improved? Now is a good time to challenge your team(s) to review every process along the customer journey to find ways to reduce expenses, improve efficiency, and enhance the customer experience.
Go On the Offense
Many brands have already put their advertising and marketing on pause during this crisis, but when is the right time to start investing in your brand again? The timing may depend on your customer purchase cycle or your industry, but the best time to start investing is before your competitors do. Some brands are leveraging the fact that there is a captive audience at home in front of the computer and TV. Nielsen is reporting U.S. media usage is up over 50% since early-March. With so many people engaging in digital and traditional media, there may not be a better time to launch a campaign for the right product category.
For some brands, it might be more appropriate to save above-the-line marketing dollars for when customers may be more willing to make a purchase or hear your message. And for global companies, the timing may vary by region, depending upon when the crisis is resolved locally, so having a pulse on all regions and sectors will be necessary.
In summary, the only thing you cannot afford to do during a crisis is inaction. Growth will come to brands that use this time to maintain their brand values, get closer to their customers, improve their efficiencies and offerings, and invest in their brand at the right time.