Marketing professionals around the world are often fond of using fancy terms and jargon, but once in a while something happens that jolts us all out of our complacency. The current pandemic is definitely a perfect example of this. Marketing is generally not a proactive function but rather reactive to changes in consumer behaviour and economic conditions.
Coronavirus means it’s not business as usual. With the world literally at a standstill, how do brands navigate the crisis? How do they decide what to do, what to say and most importantly how to say it? Last week my boss sent me an informative PDF document and asked me to prepare a communication strategy for our company, Bogo. The PDF, by Carly Gibson (Strategist) and Renata Mittnacht (Associate Director) at Ogilvy New York, enumerates five steps that brands should follow in order to decide how to communicate and respond to their customers on social media during the current pandemic. These steps may appear to be common sense but in times of crisis, people don’t default to common sense but to extremes or inaction or panic (the writer does not recommend ceasing social media communication or going ‘dark’ as they call it).
Brands that try to profiteer or sell will face adverse reactions. Each brand needs to get a pulse on the emotions of their audiences. Ten years ago we were told that the best part of social media was the fact that we can have a conversation with audiences; yet, even today brands globally and locally struggle to listen to their audiences. Gibson and Mittnacht outline three trends: panic, solidarity and levity (the need to laugh) and to start off they recommend tracking hashtags related to coronavirus in the social media space, detailing how and with what emotions/reactions their brand is being talked about.
2. Be Sensitive
Brands often struggle finding the correct tone and voice to use on social media in normal times, and given the current cocktail of fear, panic, stress and boredom, audiences are susceptible to misinterpreting brand messages. The tone should be sensitive and this is definitely not the right time to push irrelevant products or over sell relevant ones. Gibson and Mittnacht provide a checklist to help brands avoid appearing as profiteers or unintentionally encouraging behaviours such as going out or touching one’s face, is the tone making light of a serious subject.
3. Be Transparent
Transparency is critical. Brands need to communicate openly and take on the feedback from their audiences. Brand managers and agency partners managing the social space need to learn how to respond to angry comments and provide customers with accurate information without appearing to be patronising or tone deaf.
We all are familiar with the expression adapt or die. Simon Sinek (the motivational speaker) in a video talk spoke about the need to reinvent. Brands and companies need to reevaluate processes, thinking and very importantly, how they communicate, what they say and where they say it. To do so effectively brands need to be aware of changes in consumer behaviour.
5. Rise to the Occasion
Gibson and Mittnacht have succinctly expressed the situation: “a global crisis at the scale of coronavirus can be a make or break moment for brands — testing not only their values and commitment, but also their agility, creativity and spirit.” Put simply, it’s time for brands to walk the talk. Many brands have decided to champion the stay at home message. Others have focused on trying to diffuse the panic and disseminating facts. Another area of opportunity is to collaborate with medical associations or health professionals. A third area is new products and offerings that are relevant at present.
Every brand needs to soul search and decide what role it can play and how it can still be of value to its customers as well as perform the best and most responsible marketing in the time of coronavirus.
You can view the official Ogilvy New York document here.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org