Brands Can Find an Opportunity During COVID-19 to Channel Their Human Sides

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We are now in the first pandemic of the digital age. It’s a global crisis, the effects of which will likely ring out for many more months yet. But how should we as marketers react to it?

Interestingly, the Mandarin word for “crisis” is represented by two characters: one meaning danger and another meaning opportunity. It’s certainly the mark of strong character to greet dire circumstances by recognizing the underlying opportunity. Still, for marketers, deciding the best way for brands to react to this crisis is tricky business.

On the one hand, there is opportunity. But it’s the opportunity—or perhaps the obligation we have as stewards of our own brands—to show up more human than ever.

There’s the chance for brands to take authentic measures to ease the burden. Amazon, for example, has pledged to hire 100,000 more workers and is giving raises to current staff. It’s a twofold effort, which supports the workers and quarantined customers that are online shopping.

On the other hand, however, brands that strike the wrong tone may be perceived as cynically exploiting a catastrophe. In these uncertain times, brands can be either destroyed or elevated. The outcome depends on their response.

The priority needs to be maintaining strong relationships with both customers and employees.

Today, brands’ considerations need to go beyond the health of their businesses. Instead, the priority needs to be maintaining strong relationships with both customers and employees.

So how best to go about that?

We’re all facing a lot of uncertainty. Circumstances keep changing on a daily basis, and it’s difficult to know what the next few months will look like. Leaders, including marketing execs, need to take a long-term view.

Crucially, any communications should resonate emotionally and be respectful of the context. Marketing about luxury products or exotic travel or even dining in restaurants will fall on uninterested ears right now, which is why I celebrate the brands in those categories that are using their own platforms to talk about the actions they are taking during these challenging times.

Perfume giant LVMH, for example, is making hand sanitizer in lieu of fragrances at three of its factories and is donating the cleanser to French hospitals. Dolce & Gabbana has partnered with Humanitas University to fund a coronavirus research project. Giorgio Armani donated $1.43 million to four hospitals in Rome and Milan and to the Civil Protection Agency. 

This is precisely the sort of message brands need to communicate right now. Not every brand needs to be a caregiver, but I urge my fellow marketers to operate with careful consideration. It’s not business as usual. In these trying weeks, marketers need to decide how their brand will best communicate compassion and, importantly, what they are doing to live up to their own advice.

In these uncertain times, I believe it is time for us marketers to do a few things. It’s time to seize the opportunities to connect with each other and our business partners and customers, thanks to the channels at our disposal in this digital age. We might feel disconnected, but let’s take full advantage of the ways we can stay close. It’s time for marketers to urge authenticity for brands, to be the voices of empathy, compassion and solutions that will help us all maintain optimism and plan for what’s on the other side.

And it’s time for humanity, in all its forms. Leading with and leaning into humanity, the intangibles that connect us all are right for right now. And my prediction is that won’t end when these times of uncertainty do.

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