Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2020

The Covid-19 Crisis Playbook

Syed Amir Haleem, CEO, Kueball, defines the new best practices for brands.

Last Monday, I was going through my wardrobe, getting ready to meet a client. I ended up choosing a blue shirt with a navy blue jacket – quite unimaginative for an ad guy. The only saving grace was the pair of red Hawaiian beach shorts I wore with the jacket. One of the best things about Zoom meetings is that you can be as creative/lethargic as you want waist down, and none will be the wiser. In fact, my mind was occupied by the single point agenda the client had for the meeting: “Do we stop marketing spend until the market recovers from Covid-19?”

While purveyors of essential goods are enjoying a windfall, the sale of non-essential goods and services remain suspended and consequently a large portion of the economy has been taken out of play. This is bad news because the overall health of an economy depends on a steady flow of cash. Making essential goods available but closing other businesses means that eventually a huge percentage of the population will no longer have the buying power to purchase even those essential goods. What we are facing today is an unprecedented marketing problem and there are no protocols to tell marketers what to do. Answers to basic questions such as should brands even spend to the more complicated ones of what they should say, are not found in the marketing manager’s playbook.

Nevertheless, I am an optimist and my glass of Coke is usually half full and like my red Hawaiian beach shorts, there is some saving grace in this madness. At the very least, I believe that these trying times are also a great opportunity for brands to focus on long-term brand building strategies as well as find resonance with the communities they seek to address. In fact, non-essential (and even luxury) brands should pay heed to what the French clothing brand Copern, said about the situation: “We remain optimistic even if the virus has strongly impacted our brand. Having more time has given us the opportunity to connect with our community through social networks.” Here is my Covid-19 Crisis Playbook. I hope that it will shed some light on how brands can build strategies for the lockdown.

Make the Messages Relevant

Covid-19 is a tragedy of epic proportions and in such times, being insensitive with the messaging and showing a lack of empathy is a great way to earn the wrath of audiences. A recent example was the price hike announcement by an MNC disinfectant brand. Rarely have I seen such resentment expressed over a brand. Instead, brands should tailor their communication to be sensitive to the situation – a good example is Wah Snacks, a brand that shared knowledge on what the virus is and how to protect yourself from it.

Build Brand Equity

There was a time when brands had a clear-cut budget for short-term sales driven strategies (as opposed to long-term brand building strategies). However, I have noticed that Pakistani brands are now increasingly driven by short-term results and rarely indulge in brand building. The lockdown is a great opportunity to communicate with a captive audience willing to engage with your brand story if done right. Thinking outside of the hard sell communication is the best way to approach this, especially for non-essential goods and services. Building equity and the eventual brand loyalty that flows from it will be a huge advantage when markets reopen for brands.

Be Interactive and Make Followers Feel Part of a Community

There are advantages to the lockdown; for example, I am thoroughly enjoying the time I am able to spend with my family as well as wearing those floral beach shorts to client meetings. However, by and large it goes against human nature to be happy in a lockdown, which is why this is an excellent time to initiate a dialogue with your community and help lift everyone’s spirits (people are desperate to communicate – even with brands). This does not mean responding to their comments on social media, but being a bit more creative and in this regard consumer generated content is a big thing these days.

Home: The New Studio

Everyone from celebrities to business people are operating from home, some of them producing content that is a bit raw but relatable. In this situation, you can produce an entire campaign with a quarter of the budget you would need otherwise. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have been regularly developing content through viral challenges. When fashion brands Zara and Marc Jacobs asked their audiences to wear their clothes and send in fashion shoots made from home, they suddenly gave every man and woman sitting bored at home the opportunity to become a fashion model. It generated amazing content.

Make Everything Virtual

If you customers can’t come to you, go to them! In this day and age when technology can turn every smartphone into a virtual showroom, this is a no-brainer. For example, when Burrow (a furniture brand) had to close their outlets due to Covid-19, they quickly set up a virtual showroom where customers could browse the furniture from the safety of their homes. They also merged their consultancy service with an app so that visitors could access personalised recommendations about what would work in their space.

Modify Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Besides incorporating what has been discussed above, make sure you know where your consumers are. Digital consumption habits have changed drastically because of the lockdown. People spend more time on messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, while usage of Houseparty, TikTok and Zoom has spiked enormously. Combine this with habits over the Ramzan period to stay awake late at night and sleep in during the day, and you notice that viewership trends have changed quite a bit. Take these changes into consideration.

Don’t Make Fun of the Situation and Don’t Promote Fear

At the risk of stating the obvious, do not create content that takes humour too far or promotes fear in any way. These are basic brand guidelines but I have seen brands flaunt them and suffer a backlash from their communities.

If you have any marketing strategies or tactics to add to my Covid-19 Crisis Playbook, I would love to hear from you. Good luck with your brand and God speed!

Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, Kueball. syedamirhaleem@gmail.com