POV (Perspective)
Love is Earned When Times are Tough. Is Your Brand Putting in the Work?
  • Monday, Mar. 23, 2020
Scott Harkey

It’s no secret that all brands want to be loved. The loyalty, adoration and icon-status of  juggernauts like Nike, Apple and Disney is something that brands across the globe aspire to. However, what many of those brands fail to recognize is that building brand love is a process – and not an easy one. Advancements in social media and experiential marketing have played an enormous role in bridging the gap between brands and consumers, but the truth is that one of the best ways to build trust is to demonstrate leadership and support during times of turbulence and uncertainty. Right now, amongst the global outbreak of COVID-19, brands have an opportunity to create and expand on consumer relationships that will go a long way after the dust has settled.

For marketers, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed them, and the rest of the world, in uncharted territory. Already, we are seeing a rapid rise in client consulting, pivoted messaging and, for many, reworking, in a matter of days, campaigns that took months to build. Throughout all of this chaos, one thing became abundantly clear: if you’re still using the same language, creative work, and tactics you were using just two weeks ago, your strategy is already outdated. The best in-house teams and agencies are the ones that realized this immediately and have been working at warp speed to update messaging, mobilize employees, manage their response and ensure customers that they are putting their best interest forward.

In most, if not all cases, brands should be turning away from blatant sales messaging and instead embrace the opportunity for brand building. In order to build and preserve trust with consumers, it’s critical to take stock of all current marketing initiatives, assess tone and voice and immediately cut out anything that may come off even remotely insensitive or misguided. Commercials touting luxury cars as the unemployment rate soars, for example, show a troubling lack of empathy and the digital banners advertising vacation getaway that we’re still seeing despite global health leaders calling for limited travel, are remarkably tone deaf.

With stateside shutdowns, the spread of misinformation and a looming sense of existential dread, this is a time where people are desperately in need of truth, transparency and security. These values are the very foundation for the most solid relationships, and brands are currently in a unique position to offer that to consumers.

But how do you do that the right way? How can you, as a brand, offer reassurance and safety to consumers without coming off opportunistic and insincere?

Well, for one thing, you cannot go dark. With advertising rates down as much as 30% and media consumption on the rise, brands should maintain a strong ad presence now to avoid trying to get back into the market when every other brand is rushing to spend during the presidential election. Additionally, brands that go into hiding during crises forego an incredible leadership opportunity and run the risk of consumers feeling abandoned, which can cause irreparable damage to the brand-consumer relationship. This is a time when communication is more important than ever. Rather than pausing advertising and communications efforts, we have to work with clients to increase charitable giving, deliver real human value outside of just what the product is and provide entertainment to consumers. 

Many brands have already shown us how it’s done: LinkedIn, for example, has opened several of its online learning courses for free, a move that not only gives people something to do while quarantined but can provide tremendous professional development value to those who have lost jobs during the crisis. Elsewhere, Dish Network’s Sling TV is providing free news and entertainment content amid the coronavirus outbreak, giving access to free coverage around COVID-19 from ABC News, and on-demand access to kids, lifestyle and entertainment programming, and Uber Eats has waived delivery fees for independent restaurants, a move that stands to lose the company money but that supports local businesses as revenues fall. The Dallas Mavericks have already donated $100,000 to North Texas charities in need and Kraft Heinz Co. says it will donate $12 million in cash and food globally to help address the coronavirus pandemic.

Making these changes quickly and effectively requires teams without silos or egos. Departments all across agencies are in lockstep to shift tonality, update brand priorities, and ensure media strategies align with the unprecedented increase in broadcast and social media consumption. The brands that are doing it right, acting as the generous neighbor and giving back to the community when the chips are down are the ones that will see a wave of brand love.

So, if your brand is looking to break through and earn consumer loyalty – you have to put in the work through good times and bad, for richer or poorer, et cetera, et cetera. If you can come through for your people during those times, you just might find your brand earning a place in people’s hearts – right next to the big guys.

Scott Harkey is founder and managing partner of OH Partners

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