Perspective is an interesting beast. For most Kiwis, our perspective on life has been drastically altered in the last few weeks due to COVID-19. Given our physical isolation as a nation, we are often in the fortunate situation of watching major global crises as a five-minute slot on the 6pm news. This has given us limited context when it comes to the actual impact these events can have emotionally and behaviourally for people, communities, brands and businesses.  

Now that the threat is on our doorstep, it’s an important time to first look after each other, whilst also observing how these uncertain times will continue to change the way we live, work and consume. The ability to draw lessons from these changing times and allow ourselves and our businesses to respond accordingly will help in the weeks and months ahead.

There is no doubt that today is a time of uncertainty, but it is also one of opportunity. Right now, understanding how human behaviour is shifting in relation to your brand, services or products should be at the forefront of your marketing strategy. Without this knowledge, it will become increasingly difficult to make decisions about how to respond.

So what are some of the things that are going on for people today? 

Physical, behavioural changes – The lockdown has reduced our social contact and freedom of movement down considerably, as we grapple with the shift to working from home and living almost exclusively in our local community. 

Psychological challenges – Fear, collective social anxiety and concern for loved ones are dominating our thoughts. Also, the pressure on family units is maxed out, with kids at home and the uncertainty of the current or future financial impacts of the global pandemic.

Right now is the time to be sensitive to the needs of people, first and foremost, with a focus on what your brand or business can do to help. This is a time for action, not vacuous statements (your audience knows the difference). Brands need to determine what value they can add in the current climate, while also looking to the future. 

So how do you do that? 

Focus on your business model – Looking at how you can adapt your services or products to digital formats will not only help your customers access what they need right now, but will also prepare your business for the potential change in consumer behaviour post lockdown. Level 4 restrictions have fundamentally changed how people are interacting with brands. Unable to physically go shopping, people who once were uncomfortable with exclusively shopping online may be quite happy to continue to purchase and interact online. So how can you sell, teach, and deliver your product, service or experience digitally?  

Don’t go dark – Why is going dark with your comms a bad idea? Because it is a panic response (although one that may feel natural) to these uncertain times, and if your audience is anxious, ‘keeping going’ signals a semblance of normality and control over the situation. In 1939, the British government launched the comms proposition “Keep calm and carry on”. This was intended to raise the morale of the British public, facing predicted air attacks. This wouldn’t work on many levels today (mainly due to our access to information), but the sentiment was right for the time. In the same way, you need to keep your brand’s communication going, while ensuring you get the message right for your audience and what they are facing.

It has also been shown that strong brands recover faster after a recession than weak ones. Millward Brown’s Strong Brand Index tracks performance against the US sharemarket. This portfolio of brands consistently outperforms the sharemarket, and during the GFC it clearly demonstrated that the brands on its index recovered faster. In fact, they recovered in 6-12 months, while it took the general sharemarket 3 to 4 years to recover the ground lost. Mark Ritson also summarised this research in his recent article for Marketing Week.

Build your Community Online – Using digital platforms to build community, and give something back to your audience, addresses some of the real human issues they are facing, such as isolation. People are finding themselves with more time on their hands and are returning to social networks for information, distraction and entertainment. Think about how you can open up the channels of communication to reassure and connect with your audience, helping them to build new healthy habits, access information, adapt to the changes in their working environment or cope with having kids at home.

We have also seen brands pivot from their core products and services to help solve more immediate problems, like alcohol brands producing hand sanitiser to meet the overwhelming demand. This reassures your audience that you are there and care about what they are facing. Looking to the future, a new behavioural context will emerge out of our current challenges. If the cycle of outbreaks continues, we may be in this scenario for an extended period. Brands can become a consistent platform for escapism, creativity and self-improvement for their audience. 

So remember, now more than ever, it is essential that you listen to your audience and adapt your brand strategy in response. They still want your brand in their lives, but you need to be aware of their current and future needs. And as demonstrated by Millward Brown’s Strong Brand Index, investment in your brand right now will minimise your recovery time as New Zealand, and the world emerges from COVID-19. 

For more from the YoungShand Team, look out for the upcoming posts in our COVID-19 Series, as we delve into the new media landscape and why necessity is the mother of invention.

Claire Backhouse has over 17 years of international strategic marketing and campaign planning experience, both client and agency side. She has worked on brands such as Red Bull, Universal Pictures, Sony PlayStation, Cadbury and Air New Zealand.

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