Converting Brand Crisis To Brand Opportunity

Converting Brand Crisis To Brand Opportunity

Our current situation is one of disruption, fear and uncertainty. However, there is one thing we do know with certainty. This situation will end, and the rebuilding will begin.

As marketers, the question for us is simply this: What should we be doing now to weather this crisis while positioning our brands for the other side of it? Most economists do believe that there will be a sharp rebound driven by pent-up demand. Assuming that’s true, will your brand be ready?

I challenge my fellow marketers to view this time as an opportunity … an opportunity to build your brand. If you think about it, the fear and uncertainty we are all subject to is fertile ground for building an emotional connection with our customer. This connection may already exist and need maintaining or it may exist very little and need improving. Here on Branding Strategy Insider, we have addressed the enormous role emotion plays in brand preference and purchase.

The emotional component is foundational to what Patrick Hanlon refers to in his book Primal Branding as “Primal Belonging” … one of several essential characteristics of successful brands. Brands thrive and prosper when there is a sense of community. Apple is often cited as a textbook case, where the “Pagans” (or non-believers as Hanlon would say) are those non-Apple PC users. They have no reverence for the “Creator” (Steve Jobs) or understand the “Sacred Words” (iCloud, Safari, Keynote, etc.).

Brand communities are filled with loyalists and advocates on the outside (your external audience) who will purchase more of your goods and services more often. On the inside (your internal audience of employees, suppliers and distributor reps) your brand community is filled with brand ambassadors who will put the right human face on your brand.

But how do we, as marketers, build belonging and maintain a sense of community when our customers and internal audiences are compelled to shelter in place and our businesses are closed during the COVID-19 crisis?

The following seven brand community-building fundamentals answer that question and will help us work our way through the pandemic.

1. Be Transparent. Most companies have done a good job in stating their own COVID-19 policies in compliance with government mandates. Be aggressive in communicating these policies with clarity and care. Post them prominently on your website. Use social media and your existing communication channels, such as e-newsletters and e-blasts to extend the reach of your notifications. And use press releases to reach important trade and consumer media.

2. Maintain Rituals. Rituals are another key Primal Branding component identified by Hanlon. As humans, we are all wired to crave order in the midst of chaos. Brands can provide that sense of order simply by maintaining communication and service schedules, whether it’s in the form of meetings, emails, social media posts, updates, advertising, etc. Necessity may even create new rituals in the form of online training via webinars, virtual tours, healthy practices, or charitable outreaches.

3. Remain Visible. The tendency is to pull back, go dark and be silent. Don’t. Admittedly, it’s a bit counter-intuitive, particularly with some in your accounting department. But as the Great Recession demonstrated a decade ago, those that stayed visible, stayed on top at the end. As Winston Churchill observed, when you’re going through hell, keep going.

4. Be Empathetic. Brands that are tone-deaf are those that will actually lose customers over the duration of the crisis. Empathy validates the circumstances and communicates that the brand “gets it.” As marketers, we must strike a balance, depending on the needs of our marketplace, between promoting our products and services and promoting the common good. Companies, when and where possible, should contribute to “the war effort.” The halo-effect of this, such as the recognition major brands get in daily White House press briefings, is enormous, both in terms of free media exposure and corporate good will. Social media also serves as an excellent sounding board for brands to champion their customers and their own associates for acts of charity. Liking and sharing articles dealing with how to cope and maintain a business is another way a brand can show empathy, compassion and assistance.

5. Reflect And Re-assess. In some ways this crisis has gifted many marketers with additional time: Time not spent commuting, wasted around conference tables or rushing to trade shows and conferences. Don’t waste it. Use it to do the things you’ve always complained not having the time to do before. This is “sharpen the saw” time. Review those website analytics or media tracking reports. Read up on your journals. Get your head around new business activities. Prepare for Q3 and Q4. Remember, this is your opportunity. If you don’t use it, you can bet your competitor will.

6. Be Positive. None of us has ever encountered a situation quite like this one. The psychological toll can be daunting for many. Your brand reflects the marketer behind it, so it’s important to maintain a positive outlook—because this will end. Right now, there is a lot of commentary about the actual stress and grieving process we are subject to. There’s a great article in Inc.com by Jessica Stillman, “3 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Morning When You’re Stuck in Lockdown” with good, simple advice on how to cope.

7. Let’s Get To Work!

*Based on my presentation given to marketing executives at Meridian Adhesives Group.

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