Should I Be Marketing my Brand in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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COVID-19 has rapidly changed the ecosystem in which brands and consumers exist.  In the immediate aftermath of social distancing, brands have faced acute channel and supply chain disruptions while consumers have confronted a swift change in their day-to-day consumption needs and purchasing power. 

As the consumer economy absorbs these ecosystem changes, supply and demand issues have given way to a new set of challenges for both brands and the customers they serve.  For brands, one simple but powerful question continues to surface:

Should I be marketing my brand in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?

BCE believes two key considerations should guide brands as they pivot marketing strategies in context of COVID-19:

  1. Understand “if” and “how” your brand’s products/services can help meet the changing needs of the customers you serve

It’s more important than ever to know your customers.  The question “Should I be marketing?” rightly stems from awareness of the risk associated with appearing tone deaf to the challenges your existing and prospective customers currently face.  Understanding your customers’ needs – and whether those have recently changed – will not only answer the “if” but also the “how” for marketing in this environment.

“If”

        1. How have the needs of my customers changed as a result of COVID-19?
        2. Can my products/services play a role in fulfilling these needs?
        3. Can I evolve or position my products/services to meet any emerging customer needs that didn’t exist a few short weeks ago?
        4. If the answers to #2 or #3 are “no” – then proceed with caution
        5. If “yes” then you must certainly re-consider marketing plans that made sense even just weeks ago

“How”

        1. Once you understand the potential role your products/services can play in the lives of your customers given COVID-19, focus your marketing efforts on solving problems for your customers rather than simply trying to sell to them as if nothing has changed.
        2. While your customer targeting strategy is not likely to have shifted as a result of COVID-19, the messaging strategy must necessarily change to highlight how you are solving problems for your customers.

Case Study – Ford

Ford was one of the first large advertisers to appear in market with TV ads reflecting not only a COVID-19 messaging pivot but also announcing the changes they are making to support both existing and potential future customers.  Through these key messages, they have continued with a strong and consistent advertising presence ever since.  Two ads have featured prominently during this time:

Message to Existing Customers

        • Reaffirm their position: “Built to lend a hand”
        • Explain what they’re doing to solve customer problems: “If you’re impacted by COVID-19 and you’re currently leasing or financing through Ford Credit, we’re here to help. Offering special assistance to current customers around payment relief and delayed payments.”

Message to New Customers

        • Reaffirm their position: “Coming together makes us stronger, and Ford is built to lend a hand”
        • Explain what they’re doing to solve customer problems: “Especially now, with 6 month payment relief. Buy a new Ford, and we’ll defer your first three payments and make three payments for peace of mind up to 6 months.  Shop at Ford.com or contact your local ford dealer to find out more about home delivery and other vehicle service options.  You have a lot to take care of.  Let us help take care of you.”

Ensuring your marketing/messaging is grounded in this understanding of your customers’ current circumstances will ensure the message is both relevant and appropriate.

  1. Link your brand/product/service to the causes you are supporting in light of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has created massive challenges for people all over the world. Beyond the immediate shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) and other frontline healthcare supplies, many people throughout the world are also facing challenges related to meeting basic needs, like food and housing security.

As a result, it is more important than ever to have a clear charitable giving strategy that links the commercial value proposition of your brand’s products/services with the causes your brand supports in times like these.  Sophisticated brands will be able to tie these causes to a broader Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy that demonstrates the impact of the brand’s commercial success on its diverse set of stakeholders (i.e. customers, employees, shareholders, local communities, etc.).  But brands need not wait to develop this CSR in context of COVID-19 in order to be charitable and communicate these efforts to existing and prospective customers.

Giving strategies provide three enabling tactics for brands to continue actively marketing in light of COVID-19:

      • They are necessary to amplify the call for help among the brand’s charitable partners (new and/or existing)
      • They link traditional marketing efforts (selling) with the societal good that will be generated from consumers continuing to purchase your products/services
      • They allow brands to continue to message in contextually relevant and meaningful ways

Questions for brands to ask themselves in considering cause marketing strategies today:

      • What causes are most relevant to a) the needs that exist in society, b) the needs that have emerged among your current and prospective customers, c) the value of your brand?
      • What mechanism of action is right for your business and the need at hand (e.g. direct monetary donations or value-in-kind)?
      • How can you tell the story around why you’re supporting this cause in the most authentic way possible?
      • How are your supporting employees in context of any charitable donations?

Case Study – Brands x Better

Brands x Better is a coalition of consumer brands  that formed in the days following COVID-19 shutdowns to provide aid to COVID-relevant charities in a time of need.

      • Who is participating: More than 30 digitally native consumer brands in categories ranging from apparel to footwear to health & beauty
      • What they are doing: All coalition members have pledged to donate 10% of proceeds to charities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • How they are marketing: (Rhone example)

     

Changes in daily life seem likely to extend at least into the summer months, carrying with them adverse effects on certain aspects of consumer spending.  In the meantime, brands must continue to find ways to stay relevant in the lives of their existing and prospective customers.  Driving awareness via marketing will continue to be a critical tool for maintaining brand revenue during this time.  Those brands that can effectively link the relevance of their products and services to the evolving needs of their customers in light of COVID-19 – and place this value in context of the charitable work they are performing to address societal needs – will have permission to continue marketing, selling, and winning in their respective markets.

Authors

Walter Shepard

Walter Shepard

Principal, Yarmouth

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