Words by Deane Miguel-Cruz
Illustrations by Ross Du
With the coronavirus pandemic on everyone’s minds, brands are facing the challenge of keeping businesses afloat amidst fears of the virus. While some brands find it more convenient to simply sweep things under the rug and to downplay the gravity of the situation, we believe that smarter brands should use this time to directly talk and empathize with their consumer more than ever.
1. Show your concern, and provide a solution to ease their anxieties.
Assure customers that you are handling the situation pro-actively by describing your cleaning protocols, and offering services that can help minimize direct contact. For example, Walmart shared a memo on how they are keeping their stores clean, and going as far as closing establishments earlier than usual to allow for thorough disinfecting. Chipotle took it a step further by encouraging delivery, allowing customers to provide special instructions to limit contact, and even creating a tamper-proof seal to take safety assurance to the next level.
2. Provide support as much as possible.
The transportation and tourism industries are two of the business sectors that this virus hit the hardest. The vulnerability of tourism is that people don’t really need to travel. They choose to. But instead of being insensitive about the issue, JetBlue was the first US carrier to waive changes and cancellation fees. In the midst of a crisis like this, JetBlue’s move will help them gain loyal customers while attracting new ones in the process.
3. Be sensitive about your messaging.
Learn to adapt your messaging to what currently matters. Acknowledge how perception of your brand will be affected by current events, and use your words wisely. Time Out New York has temporarily rebranded to Time In New York— a good PR move that will keep their brand relevant during this time of uncertainty. In contrast, KFC had to pull out a UK campaign focused on “finger-licking” due to the ad’s currently inappropriate nature. Now is actually the best time for the brand to promote “responsible licking” instead.
4. Open a conversation with your community.
Sometimes all it takes is being more direct. Sustainable fashion brand Reformation did this by posting on social media, “What’s resonating with you? Do you still want to hear about new collection launches and sustainability-related stuff? Or do you need a break? Please let us know.” A brand can benefit from transparency and sounding ‘human’ versus simply going after a sale without acknowledging what their audience is going through.
5. Get involved.
The fight against this virus is one that we must pursue as a collective and one that we must pursue wisely. Doctors, nurses, and other medical front-liners are dedicating their time and effort to help ensure the safety of our people. Brands can do the same or assist them in doing their heroic work.
When your brand’s intention is there, the next step is to find opportunities to provide such help and support where they are most needed. Some food brands and restaurants have offered their support by sponsoring and distributing meals in partnership with hospitals. NBA players have donated money to cover salaries of arena workers.
Think about what you can offer, and don’t hesitate to ask what these hospitals and health centers need the most help in. In times like these, it is important to give intentionally rather than giving just for the sake of.
With the health of the world being a primary issue, businesses’ mindsets should shift not just to caution but to concern. Ultimately, there is a way to lead your business through this global challenge, and one is to start with genuinely listening and engaging with your customers, pushing everyone to be part of a broader solution to this crisis. Once this tide passes, it will be loud and clear which brands people resonate with, and would like to keep supporting in the long run.