One of America’s favorite pastimes is on hold. No, not baseball. Capitalism. We love buying things, like clothes, food and cars. We like buying things we need and things we don’t need. We build relationships with the products and brands we buy. We allow them to define and curate our lives.
Now that we can’t participate in the most American of traditions, where does that leave the brands we love? What should they be doing while all their customers isolate and socially distance themselves?
On a lush Spring day late last week, our account planner sanitized, covered her face and headed to the Arkansas River trails– a popular area in Tulsa for joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. There, she asked dozens of people what they want brands to say to them right now in a time like this. Three themes emerged from their responses.
1. Say Something, Not Nothing
Now is not the time for brands to go dark. It doesn’t matter if you make clothes or construction equipment. If you stop communicating, you will lose all the brand equity you’ve previously built. One study found that a six-month absence from TV will result in a 39% reduction in total brand communication awareness.1
“I like to hear from them because it makes me feel like I matter to them, like they care about me during all this.” – Ashley
70% of consumers say they are uncertain about the future, and the majority (56%) of them are cutting back on spending where they can.2 Brands need to respond to this shift by trying to build and maintain meaningful relationships. Think about your customers and how our new global reality is shaping their lives. Think about what they want to hear right now. Depending on your business, it might be about core products and services or what your next big idea is. However, you also have an opportunity to engage your customers in more emotional ways.
65% of Americans say they’re looking to businesses to lead the national response.3 Using your brand purpose, think about what personal need you fulfill in your customers’ lives. Highlight that in the current climate. If your products give people a sense of safety, your messaging can highlight how important that is right now. Traditional brands can remind customers the difficult battles you’ve faced before and how those shaped your company. Tell your customers how your purpose is shaping your contribution to this battle and what it means for them.
“I want to know that they’re in this just like we are.” – Maggie
It’s important that you know who your customers are and tailor your messaging to them. They might want reassurance that you’re staying open. Tell them how you’re making that happen. They might want to know that you’re doing what you can to keep your employees safe. Tell them about all the precautions you’re taking. Let them know you’re there for them and still will be when it’s over.
“They should be telling us what they’re doing to protect everyone— their employees and customers— and what they’re doing to help stop all this.”
On every platform— website, eblasts, social media— your personality, tone, and messaging should align with your brand strategy and be written with your customers in mind.
Three out of four Americans are home right now and hungry for engagement. Now is the time to strengthen your relationship with your customer base.
2. Tell Them What They Need To Know
The majority of American citizens are under orders to limit social interaction. They’re forced to stay home and can only make necessary trips out of the house. A lot of businesses are closed, and those that are still open have changed the way they do things. Think curbside pickups and alternate business hours. Customers need to know about these changes. Tell them. Don’t assume they already know.
“Tell me if you’re open or not and if I can come inside. There have been a few places that closed without saying anything, and I showed up. That’s frustrating.” – Melissa
No one has gone through anything like this before, so naturally, people are nervous. 88% of respondents to a recent survey4 think it’ll be more than two months before things start to return to normal.
We’re all trying our best to figure this out together. It’s okay to admit you’re not sure what the future holds. A lot of people share that sentiment. Be honest with your customers and tell them you’re doing the best you can, even if that means you’ve been forced to shut down for the time being.
“Let us know about any unforeseen problems that are on the way so we can be prepared. If the company is shutting down, give us time to get the things we need. You know, we want forecasting.” – Kyle
As long as you’re transparent and give updates when new things happen, your brand equity will remain strong and consumer loyalty will stay high.
“I want common information: when they’re open, their hours, their sanitizing efforts, things like that. It’s really nothing extravagant that the consumer needs. Just basic information.” – Will
Before the pandemic, brands emailed customers about sales, merchandise arrivals, and new services. The same principle still applies. Make sure you’re also telling people how you’ve adapted to the current climate. Understandably, companies are hesitant to appear like they’re profiting from the crisis, but if your company is doing something to help the community, tell people about it. It’s not marketing; it’s a public service. Don’t manufacture anything. Be authentic. People know when companies are being fake.
“As someone who comes from a family of medical workers, I want to know that companies are doing what they can to help doctors and nurses. If they can help make masks, they should. Companies need to help those on the front lines.” – Tegan
Communicate what is going on with the brand that your customers have come to know and love – the good and the not so good. The transparency will go a long way to solidify your brand equity.
3. Don’t Pretend The Pandemic Doesn’t Exist
There probably isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t know about coronavirus. Ignoring the global pandemic appears tone-deaf. Don’t overcompensate by giving unqualified medical advice though. Stick with what you know, whatever that is, and remember a lot of people are afraid right now.
“I lost my job because of all this, so I want to know that brands are making products that are cost-effective; that their product isn’t going to fall apart after 3-4 uses. I want to know that what I am buying will last me a while.” – Kyle
People are overwhelmed with negativity and anxiety. They don’t know what lies ahead. They’re scared for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. Give your customers a reason to smile. They need it. But be careful with humor. It’s a tricky thing that can backfire easily.
Look at your company and think how you can uplift people. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding your customers that you’re there for them.
“I think brands should be encouraging people right now, not scaring people. I would like to see them tell people to still take care of themselves. Stay active because we’re all going to get through this.” – Jamal
Comforting people will endear you to them. When all this is over, and we all return to our daily routines, your customers will remember who and what were there for them. Your efforts to lift them up will be repaid with loyalty – the best payment out there.
The world is dramatically different than it was just a few weeks ago. Part of being a successful brand is the ability to adjust to change. You have a unique opportunity to take consumer engagement to another level. While keeping your consumers updated about your products, show your humanity. Let them know that you’re in the fight with them. Tell them what you’re doing and what it means for their lives. This is the time to solidify your customers’ loyalty. Strong relationships will pay dividends in strong brand equity
2 McKinsey & Company “US consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis” https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-us-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis
3 Global Web Index “Coronavirus Research | March 2020” https://www.globalwebindex.com/hubfs/1.%20Coronavirus%20Research%20PDFs/GWI%20coronavirus%20findings%20March%202020%20-%20Multi-Market%20data%20(Release%203).pdf
4 McKinsey & Company “US consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis” https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-us-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis