Take a Break and Carry On: Adjust Your Mindset and Messaging During Coronavirus Pandemic

Timing is everything, perhaps now more than ever during this pandemic. As we watch the world around us change drastically, on a daily basis, it’s hard to know what to do. Do we ramp up advertising and customer messaging? Do we push out more offers? Do we create new discounts to keep sales coming in? If there was a crystal ball we trusted at times like these, what would it tell us to do?

Timing is everything, perhaps now more than ever during this pandemic. As we watch the world around us change drastically, on a daily basis, it’s hard to know what to do. Do we ramp up advertising and customer messaging? Do we push out more offers? Do we create new discounts to keep sales coming in? If there was a crystal ball we trusted at times like these, what would it tell us to do?

Nothing.

Yes. Do nothing different. Instead: “Carry on!”

No, I’m not in a state of denial, or naivete. Hear me out:

When everything around us seems to be in a state of chaos and uncertainty, we seek something solid to assure us that not all we know is pushing the “cancel” button, and that some parts of our lives will continue as normal.

When we see brands or businesses or organizations doing “business as usual,” or messaging positive news and actions, we find hope and relief and start to gravitate toward them. Whether they are right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. We need hope, assurance, and a little bit of our current normal, or we fall into states of despair and paralysis.

When we see the organizations or brands in our daily lives panic, we want to avoid their same dilemmas and tend to distance ourselves from them and find alternatives. Our trust in those organizations to be beacons for us during hard times and good times is forever changed.

Not only is our trust changed for those that panicked and gave up during those tough times, so too often is our loyalty.  We find alternatives and quite often those alternatives become our new normal. And when stability comes back to our lives, we stay with that new normal quite often vs. go back to those that panicked and let us down.

As long as you are able, stay the course in terms of keeping stores open and services available, while also abiding by what local and federal mandates require of you, of course. And most importantly, keep communication relevant and timely, while also avoiding overwhelming those you’re messaging. Remember, we’re all receiving a lot of information now, and it can be a lot to digest.

So, how do we “do nothing” effectively? Stay in touch.

Here are some thoughts on staying connected during uncertain times in ways that keep customers aligned with your brand, trusting your position, and ready to come back when life resumes as usual, once again.

Consider:

  • Keep communicating: If you send out weekly emails with product ideas, promotions, account statements, keep doing it. But instead of trying to sell to someone who is scared of life as they know it is over, peddle sincerity, compassion, and interesting stories.
  • Don’t make light of the situation: There is nothing funny from any angle so remain sensitive and stay real. Coors had plans to run an ad on being the best “work at home” beer, originally positioned for March Madness, but pulled it (ahead of the announcement of the tournament being canceled). While the ad was never intended to make fun of the current situation, it could have easily been taken the wrong way, if Coors had not pulled it.
  • This is not an opportunity: Don’t offer coronavirus specials, and don’t push to get in the news by giving away free toilet paper or make shift masks. Don’t use social media to increase impressions with insights about the situation unless you really have helpful information that makes a difference, and you are a credible source for the topic at hand.
  • Provide a healthy distraction: Stressful times are not prime for promoting sales, as efforts are not likely to achieve as much as they would during less uncertain times. It is, however, a great time to tell stories about your brand, your employees, your community causes, your vision. Take this time to be uplifting, again, where appropriate.

Regardless of what business you are in, take a break. Take a break from the routine of pushing sales and counting acquisitions. It’s not going to pay off and your frustration level will just elevate. Stay focused on what you can continue to have a positive effect on: relationships. Keep your brand relationships alive with positive communications, stories of hope and community, and more.

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight Series, sheds a good light on this situation: “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

Embrace the dark. Look for the stars. And “Shine on!

 

When Marketing and Politics Collide

America is politically obsessed right now. Each day there is at least one and often several news items that lead to a cycle of finger-pointing, name-calling and outrage. It doesn’t matter which party or candidate you endorsed, where you live or where you get your news — emotions are running high all across the land. What does this politically and emotionally charged climate mean for marketers?

Politics and marketingAmerica is politically obsessed right now. Each day there is at least one and often several news items that lead to a cycle of finger-pointing, name-calling and outrage.

It doesn’t matter which party or candidate you endorsed, where you live or where you get your news — emotions are running high all across the land. What does this politically and emotionally charged climate mean for marketers?

There have long been companies and business models defined by a cause or a philanthropic purpose. For instance, Tom’s Shoes is one of a host of buy one/give one modeled retailers that have a clear purpose built into their brand. But that’s different than consumer brands taking a stance on a timely and divisive political issue.

Well known corporate entities and brands like Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, Lyft and Amazon have all taken recent public, political positions — up to and including boycotts and legal action. Research from Morning Consult reveals the support behind that kind of activity — at least among young adults. Another study from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence further validated and quantified that finding, citing “Americans are […] overwhelmingly supportive of brands that take stances on issues: 78 percent agree that companies should take action to address the important issues facing society, while 88 percent agree that corporations have the power to influence social change.”

Does political activism help a brand with conventional brand metrics? Maybe. The Super Bowl LI ads that had a political message appeared to create more buzz, engender more sharing and had higher recall than non-political ads aired during the same game but reviews are mixed on whether these ads were effective at creating emotional connections, building brand favorability or purchase intent. Longer or deeper commitments to that strategy would presumably produce different results but that is not clear as yet and different, additional metrics must be considered when examining the effect of a political stance.

The decision to embrace a cause or take a political stance has potentially significant impact on market perception and brand performance. That impact could be positive or negative and requires a thoughtful approach to what must be a long term commitment.

Know Your Audience

We’re a nation split right down the middle on many critical issues so taking an action or position is a chancy endeavor unless your audience is well understood and unified on that particular issue. Even so, the threat remains that some will see a vocal and public position as unwarranted, in poor taste, or simply outside of the realm of a brand’s responsibility or authority.

For some niche or lifestyle brands it’s natural to take a stance on social or political fronts that relate to the brand’s value proposition. Their audiences accept and even expect it. That assumption should be validated with prior research of course, and be sure to factor in any potential backlash from broader populations exposed to ads. In general, the universe of active, political brands is expanding as consumers increasingly look for more than a transactional relationship with their favorite brands. If a consumer is going to emotionally connect to a brand, they want to know they are in sync on important matters. Social media has given both brands and consumers the tools to connect on multiple levels.

That deepened brand relationship tends to happen after brands have done the hard and time-consuming work of establishing a clear brand voice and messaging platform based on consumer information, insights and feedback. In the future, more of that work and messaging will likely be around issues, causes, and policies to help develop recommendations around social and political activism. This is not familiar territory to most marketers and they may need to reach out to consultants to help them understand and frame their options.

Corporate Responsibility

What is a brand’s obligation to enter the dialogue? There are a dizzying number of issues to consider as the link between politics and business issues is becoming more direct and more visible to consumers. The decision is unique to each company but colored by an inherent lack of control over the final message.

Brand messaging is picked up and replayed in both traditional and internet media outlets and then by consumers themselves. Consumer statements are often laced with approval or condemnation and then further exaggerated by the bubbles of self-validation that social media networks and news/opinion curation encourages. This generates an exaggerated reaction to any action or statement as the sling-shot effect of the Internet magnifies both the reach and impact within certain, connected populations. So a little potentially goes a long, long way but not always in a predictable direction. Corporate responsibility and communication officers have never been more challenged.