Leading in Time of Crisis — Are you Winning or Losing the Brand Battle?

Do’s, Don’ts, Hits and Misses — We are in unchartered waters when it comes to Brand Marketing

How quickly things change. Saying the world is in a bit of turmoil is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has detonated, and we are months if not years away from seeing the total fall out. We’ve gone from gearing up for a full-scale marketing campaign, kicking off 2020 in grand style to retreating to emergency survival mode just mere weeks later.

The world is watching! How brands and brand leaders respond now and in the near future will have lasting effects on consumers and employees alike.

Before COVID-19, Purpose-Driven Marketing, highlighting a company’s social purpose and impact, was well established and a key component to many successful brand strategies. A critical differentiator and a way for businesses to create loyal connections with consumers and with their employees, especially millennials and younger generations. A great plan as more and more consumers see the world as a community that has to look out for one another and to show the world your company cares. However, these campaigns can and do backfire, especially in times of crisis like the one created by the current Coronavirus pandemic.

We are still in the adapt and triage phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there have already been several HITS & MISSES from where I sit:

MISS: Adidas

“We have to keep the company going and open for business to ensure that we can pay our monthly bills and salaries to everyone,” Adidas Group CEO Kasper Rorsted wrote. “Closing down is easy; staying open in a healthy environment requires courage, persistence, and focus.”

Twenty-four hours later, that decision was reversed.

HIT: Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company’s response to the coronavirus health crisis ‘Built to Lend a Hand’ program is one of the most aggressive among global automakers. Existing customers can call Ford Credit for payment extensions of up to 90 days and eligible new purchases of most 2019 and 2020 models financed through Ford Credit receive up to six months of payment relief; three months of deferred payments, and three months covered by Ford of Canada

HIT: Burger King

Burger King was quick to shift it’s marketing in North America to address the safety precautions that have been implemented like contactless payments at all drive thrus.

In France, where all Burger King’s are closed, they have released instructions on how to make a Whopper at home. The “Quarantine Whopper,” or “Le Whopper de la Quarantine,” requires just 8 ingredients in this order: top bun, onion, pickles, ketchup, beef patty, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, followed by the bottom bun.

MISS — Canadian Chartered Banks

March 18, 2020: Neil Parmenter, president of the Canadian Bankers Association, announced via twitter that effective immediately all major banks in Canada would offer support for those impacted by #COVID19, including a 6-month payment deferral for mortgages, & opportunity for relief on other credit products. All one needed to do was to contact their bank.

April 11, 2020: CBC Headline Big banks slammed for charging customers interest on interest for deferred mortgage payments

Democracy Watch, a watchdog group for corporate and government ethics, says Canada’s financial institutions need to take more action to help people hit hard by the pandemic.

“The banks are doing the minimum now,” says Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “And the federal government should require them now to do much more.”

Potential HIT: The first of the major banks to act before the government pushes the issues at hand.

MISS: American billionaire David Geffen

Geffen sent Instagram love and well wishes to his 84,000-plus followers, saying he hoped they were ‘staying safe.’ Charming message but tone-deaf when its sent from a US$590-million, 454-foot luxurious superyacht.

HIT: Ontario premier Doug Ford

A recent survey published by the Angus Reid Institute found 74 percent of respondents in Ontario reported that Premier Doug Ford’s government was handling things well, even receiving praise across political lines including from Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Ford’s leadership has been described as being straightforward, transparent, and compassionate. One of the few leaders that believe in complete transparency with the public during this time. He even jumped in his truck to pick up 90 000 masks donated by Dental Brands without even notifying his staff.

Dos and Don’ts of Marketing & Branding During the Coronavirus Pandemic

DO: Keep it human.

Now is the time to treat your staff and customers as fellow human beings, not like a wallet or a means to an end. We all know how important word of mouth is, and employees, their families, and current clients have big megaphones.

As impactful as brands can be day-to-day, in times like these, that power can wane drastically. During a crisis, people need human connection, especially under these circumstances where we are being forced to stay apart, laid off from work, and, for many, facing economic uncertainty, the like of which the world hasn’t seen in generations. Customers are not wallets right now; they are human beings going through a worldwide phenomenon right alongside you and your family, not your brand.

DO: Put the health of your employees and their families first.

As talk shifts to when people can get back to work Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban warned companies against sending employees back to work too soon during this time.

“Not only is it a safety issue, it’s a business issue,” Cuban said on CNBC’s “Markets in Turmoil” special.

“How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company,” he added.

Do: Speak from the heart.

Speak to the fact that you understand it’s a difficult time, that we are all in it together and that you wish for everyone to get through it safely. Talk about what actions your organization has taken to keep everyone safe.

Relay important information on how best to interact with the company and what can be expected from you and the company moving forward. Reiterate the central values the company is known for and re-assure that you will continue to stand by them faithfully.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, don’t shy away from sharing milestones. Not only are we all craving good news, but it also conveys a sense of solidity and hope — a feeling that everything will be okay and that things will get back to normal in due time. Just be mindful of sharing information appropriately for these times.

DO: Change your brand messaging.

Depending on what product or service you sell, chances are you need to change your messaging. Whether its changing advertising content loaded with social interaction to that which more resembles our current situation or fine-tuning headlines from the hard sell to the soft sell, you need to ensure your messaging resonates with what’s happening now.

Do: Communicate honestly.

How you are operating at this time, what adjustments you have made to ensure safety, and that you will continue to provide a high level of customer care during this time. Now it is incredibly important to let customers know how to interact with you. It is an excellent time to make sure you are listening and responding to messaging on social media and other customer service channels. Be there. Be available.

DON’T: Get aggressive with qualified leads that are already in the pipeline.

You have to assume everyone you try to connect with has also been heavily impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic and are in triage mode just like you are. Communicate first about your company’s response and emergency protocol — how you are taking care of your employees, ensuring safety, etc. Follow up with communication around how you can help during this time. Depending on what the future brings there may be an opportunity to host a virtual coffee or lunch with potential prospects.

DON’T: Push the hard sell.

Today I received a direct message in regards to a deal on a hot-tub. Don’t do this. Luxury items and big purchases are going to be put off for the bulk of the population. If you re selling a luxury type product or one that does not have a solution for our current crisis, then now is not the time to run aggressive sales campaigns. Focus on existing clients and employees, ensuring they have what they need to survive this crisis.

Don’t push. Stay connected through social media channels and be helpful, thoughtful, and genuine.

DO: Consider sponsored content.

If you have a product solution that can help in current times, and you have good storytelling content, then do consider paid campaigns on social media channels to get that story in front of the right people.

If there is a learning curve for your product and or solution or it’s not yet mainstream, now is a great time to educate potential clients through content. Now is a great time to preach outside your choir.

Do: Focus on video.

With consumers spending more time at home in front of some form of a computer screen, video marketing can have a more significant impact now more than ever. Whether it’s a five-second bumper ad on Youtube, a great DIY, or a video tutorial on how your product or service can be of great use at this time, take a good look at your video strategy to see where it can be amplified. Just remember to focus on being of service during this time.

DO: Review your digital marketing strategy.

Though sales are down, your instincts may be to cut your digital marketing budget, the opposite is true. Now is a great time to strengthen your SEO, clean up website technical errors, update CTAs, and utilize analytics. This situation will end, and you will want your digital strategies ready to go.

Do: Speed up your enterprise digital transformation.

This crisis has created the most significant need for business transformation in recent times. Everything was already shifting to digital and virtualization before COVID-19. This global crisis has sped up its adoption.

Twenty years ago, the idea of working from home was almost unheard of with most professionals preferring the traditional face-to-face model.
That has all changed. Switching to cloud-based digital systems powered by AI and machine learning can address cybersecurity, data management needs, and enhance remote team collaboration.

The stakes for digital transformation are high. Those that implement the latest in next-generation technology can gain a tremendous competitive advantage to those that don’t.

DON’T: Stop marketing altogether

Now is not the time to stop your marketing efforts; it is just time to shift where and how you advertise/market. There is an opportunity right now to get your message in front of the right people. If you are looking at Account-Based Marketing, target those individual accounts on Linkedin, Reddit, and or other social channels with boosted content on how you’re the perfect solution for our current circumstances. If you can offer hope, education, the silver lining, the workaround, or the ideal remote tool through well-crafted storytelling, promote it through social media channels.

Do: Support your team.

Now more then ever, it is crucial to support your employees by providing motivational leadership, empathy, and clear direction for how you are uniting everyone as a team and navigating the company through the rough waters ahead. Show that you are willing to adapt to your team and their challenging circumstances and that you will be there for them.

Advice from Senior Financial Services & Fintech Executive Chris Whyte, Founder, and President, The Freestone Group Inc

I spoke with Senior Financial Services & Fintech Executive Chris Whyte, Founder and President, The Freestone Group Inc who consults with companies on how to zero in on opportunities for growth, operational effectiveness, client engagement, and digital transformation and here is what he suggests:

  1. Focus — this is always important but critically so in challenging times and difficult for some companies to achieve. Have a difficult discussion around what is critical to your business and eliminate all non-critical efforts and expenditure.
  2. Economize — this will be a marathon, not a sprint. The sooner you have control over your costs and eliminate unnecessary spending the more “staying power” you will have to weather the storm. Understanding your priorities and eliminating non-critical expenses will buy you more time (see focus point above)
  3. Communicate — now more than ever you should be communicating with all your stakeholders — your board, management, team members and customers. Communication should be clear, transparent, action-oriented (eg what are we doing not just saying) and practical.
  4. Manage expectations and ambitions — this situation is not going away quickly. Restrain your longer-term and larger ambitions (big sales and marketing campaigns etc) as they will not fall on the fertile ground while the market is dealing with these problems. Recognize that everything will take longer and that most companies have changed and/or new priorities.
  5. Look for an opportunity — everything has been shaken up and in chaos lies opportunity. Does this open up new market niches or new applications for your product? Can you use this time to refine your strategy, improve your value proposition or improve your product?

As Chris mentions above in chaos lies opportunity. Thinking and executing strategically is key to surviving the turmoil we are experiencing at this time.

Audrey Nesbitt

Audrey Nesbitt on Linkedin

@AudreyNesbitt11 on Twitter

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