According to a Brand Finance report, Covid-19 may cost 100 most valuable Indian firms a staggering $25 billion in terms of brand value. These are trying times. As people go into all-out protection mode, a dreaded sense of collective anticipation hangs over our everyday lives. Keeping socio-physically away from others and diligently following personal hygiene practices are even precipitating irreversible and lasting behavioural changes. Add to it the economic and income uncertainties and the psycho-emotional baggage that comes with them.
In such times of crisis, how do brands evolve their communication strategies to stay relevant and connected with their customers?
Reliability a top virtue
In a crisis, reliability and dependability are perhaps the top attributes that customers would expect in a brand. Brands must not only ensure that even in the face of crisis, they are there for their customers but must also communicate this message in time. Making consumers know that you are going all out to fulfil their needs and ensure their convenience at a time when they need you the most will certainly leave a lasting impression on their minds. Here both agility as well as brevity of response is important. When online grocery delivery service Grofers reassured customers through “Not to worry, we will still be key to your essentials,” it was an exemplary and reassuring communication at a time of crisis.
Make humanity quotient your differentiating factor
Instead of hard selling your product and brand through ultra-creative and loud advertising while giving that aggressive ‘buy-now’ call to action in times of crisis, your brand should radiate humanity and empathy. Through more sobering portrayals and actions, you should convey that you identify and relate to the ‘emotional disruption’ that people are going through and you are standing with them in this hour of need. The path ahead is to humanise your brand. Equally significant is that your altruistic action should not sound opportunistic at all. That you are taking responsibility in a time of need should shine through. After all, responsible brands mean responsible citizenry. For instance, when a leading hygiene brand while explaining how to fight the virus had exhorted users to use any soap they have access to and had even named competitor brands, it was responsible public service gone beyond individual branding. There are also several examples of brands pitching in to provide supplies and equipment meant for Covid fighters as well as patients. A popular biscuit brand had announced the donation of one crore packets every week during one phase of the lockdown.
Amplify brand integrity: principles above profits
While profit-making is a reasonable goal of companies, in extraordinary circumstances, the brand’s moral compass must show the way and not allow it to be driven towards blind pursuit of sales and profits. At a time when businesses and brands themselves are strenuously trying to remain feasible, it is not an easy task. However, in the long run it could yield a bigger pay-off than the short-term costs involved now. For instance, that Tatas and Wipro have not laid off a single employee during the Covid crisis adds infinitely to their already huge brand appeal. Or Google rolling out advanced Hangouts Meet for free to help businesses and schools during Covid times would have earned tonnes of goodwill for the technology giant.
Pivot to authentic & context-relevant messaging & product
At the same time, brands also have to show that they are acutely aware of the enormity of the crisis and clued into the state of affairs on the ground. Accordingly, they have to tailor their messaging with a view to project and place them as a solution within the context of the ongoing crisis. For instance, when QSR brand Pizza Hut adjusted its logo to Pizza Home instead of Hut, it was with an eye on conveying the ‘stay at home’ message. Similarly, when Fevicol came with the tagline ‘Ab sabse mazboot door – Indoor,’ it was to prod people into staying indoors. This tweaking adds to the authenticity of the messaging and the brand. Similarly, just as they alter the messaging, brands have to be ready to overhaul their production lines to manufacture new types of products necessitated out of the crisis. For instance, while several automobile companies switched to manufacturing ventilator and other equipment, many alcohol and personal care firms migrated to producing hand sanitizers and other related products. This brand resilience further connects them with their end-customers.
Adopt omnichannel tracking as well as engagement systems
With the whole family cooped up indoors, online, social media and OTT platforms would have been the ideal place to track as well as engage with customer conversations among the younger generations. However, the good-old television would still be the first choice of older generation customers. This requires for the brand to adopt an omnichannel customer tracking/engagement strategy which can take care of digital as well as traditional mediums of communication and sharing. Making good use of data analytics is crucial in this regard. While engaging, remember messages have to be very carefully designed and placed because in this age of instant social media and user generated-content, any slip-up can come back to haunt and hurt the brand for a long time in the future. This also implies that brands should communicate with customers more frequently providing regular updates on their positioning and offerings eliminating any scope for miscommunication or gap in communication.
So, standing up for a cause becomes as important as standing out for your brand during a crisis. In essence, spreading positivity while ‘walking the talk’ constitutes effective communication during a crisis. If you do it successfully through the crisis, it helps you build lasting brand equity.
Written by Ms Nikky Gupta, Co-founder & Director Teamwork Communications Group