News | 01 April 2020

How can we approach marketing during the coronavirus crisis?

Authenticity, tangible responses and community building are key to adapting and surviving

With the coronavirus crisis impacting every business sector in different ways, the marketing world has turned upside down. Ad budgets have been slashed, campaigns shelved, events cancelled and consumer behaviour unrecognizable from what went before. As we all adjust to the new normal, we know at Embrace, we’re not alone in grappling with how to keep business running and support our clients.

Many corporate heroes have emerged with practical responses to the crisis, from Brewdog’s early move to produce free hand sanitizer to Facebook’s $100m pledge to help small businesses weather the storm and the BBC offering a fifth of its ad inventory for public health messaging. Countless other brands have reacted with empathetic emails and reactive social campaigns supporting the collective effort needed to get through this. Still others are unsure of their next move, fearing they might come across as opportunistic or tone deaf to what others are going through.

Drawing on new research from insight agency Opinium, we’ve put together some guidance and encouragement for brands marketing in these unprecedented times.

 

1) People still want to hear from brands

Brands may feel unsure about speaking up during the Covid19 crisis, but their customers want to hear from them. Opinium found that a large majority of people in the UK would like to hear either the same amount, or even more, from brands across a wide range of categories at this time. Consumers particularly want to hear more from companies that provide the essentials: healthcare, supermarkets, food and drink and household goods. But most of those asked also said they’d be happy to continue hearing the same or more from brands that may feel on the outside the crisis, such as automotive, fitness/gyms and fashion and beauty. In fact, more vocal brands are perceived to have responded better to the crisis. So this is not a time to ‘go dark’.

 

2) Focus on the front line

It seems in the last couple of weeks that the CEO of every company we’ve ever had anything to do with has sent us an empathetic, worthy email. With people’s lives and livelihoods under threat, these communications are coming across as superficial. Opinium found that people would rather hear from employees on the front line than from the founder or CEO. And only 4% were looking for communications from celebs, who have been among the most tone-deaf in the Covid19 crisis, including Madonna pontificating on COVID 19 being “a great equalizer” from a rose-petal bath.

So rather than a top-down communications, this is a time for community building and keeping your company and your wider network healthy through difficult times. With the prospect of £20m worth of food lying unused in warehouse after the government closed all restaurants, fast food chain Leon reacted quickly, bringing together restaurants, food distributors and suppliers to deliver free daily hot meals to NHS critical care staff. Now that’s something worth tweeting about.

Even if you can’t co-ordinate a huge response like this, smaller scale initiatives that support those you regularly do business with will put everyone in a stronger position when conditions change down the line.

 

3) Support the workforce

Much noise has been made about purpose-led business, with companies pledging to run their operations not just for shareholders, but for their employees and society, and now’s the time to prove it. Investing in communications and initiatives that support your workforce and that of your network is vital at this time and can strengthen your brand in the long run.

Guinness has pledged £1million towards bartenders wages across the UK, along with free online training courses while they are trapped at home. And Budweiser is helping the pub industry’s cash flow with their £1million Save Pub Life gift card scheme.

Even without huge budgets, every brand can find appropriate ways to support workers, and sharing stories on these initiatives can foster solidarity with everyone else going through their own challenges. While the tech and design sectors can slide easily into Slack or Teams meetings and working from home, for some industries, like financial services and newspapers, it’s a huge culture shock, and workers will need support to make the transition. Others in retail, hospitality and manufacturing have had to press pause on their working lives and face an uncertain future, and need help from their employers like never before.

 

4) It’s ok to talk about something else

There is life apart form the coronavirus. There are people with other health conditions that may be feeling overlooked or worried about their care. There are vital services that need to keep going. And there are a whole lot of housebound people looking for some escapism from all the gloom.

In the Opinium survey, 59% of people said they miss having conversations that don’t involve the current pandemic. Over a third of respondents would prefer for brands to talk about something other than the coronavirus, and the same proportion of them have actively begun to avoid the news. A whopping 85 per cent said they could use a bit more good news.

People are open to brand communications not directly related coronavirus if they are from the authentic space your brand is operating in. For companies close to the crisis, such as healthcare and supermarkets, there’s naturally an expectation of updates and content to help deal with the crisis. Other brands such as those in entertainment and fitness can communicate in a more lighthearted zone. Throughout the crisis you can and should continue to talk to your clients and customers in a way that reflects your organisation’s core values.

 

5) Less comms, more commerce

The initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic has been in dealing with the threat to life, but as the crisis deepens, the threat to livelihoods will come to the fore. This is where as marketers we can make a difference. Rather than focusing on empathetic comms, we can use this time to make tangible or strategic responses to these new conditions. In the words of Mark Ritson “You don’t have to feel the nation’s pain, you just need to ensure the wheels of business keep turning”.

Finding smart responses that help the situation while also making money is the ideal, such as Iceland’s dedicated hour devoted to vulnerable shoppers. But brands shouldn’t be paralysed in their commercial activities by the fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Making money, saving jobs and helping businesses adapt and survive to the new conditions is vital work that we need to keep doing, for everyone’s sake.

If you want to discuss anything, in need of advice, or just want to talk about anything other than COVID19, please don’t hesitate to get in touch

Author
Simon Davies,
Managing Director