One of the keys to running a successful business is planning, but when the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world, all that planning went right out the window. Months after the majority of the country was directed to stay home, companies and people across the states are still scrambling to navigate a situation that most people could have never predicted and figure out “what do we do next?” There is no rulebook for the current situation, but there are a few things brands must take into consideration to keep their positive positioning with customers, even amidst what feels like a world of chaos and fear in both public relations and digital marketing.
- Authenticity: Your actions and words need to match your beliefs and values – that is the definition of authenticity. This can look different for every brand, but no matter what, one of the biggest attributes of authenticity is consistency. Throughout the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, brands have been donating product to frontline workers; but if your brand has never executed a charitable donation in the past, perhaps look at a way to give back that fits more organically into your brand ethos such as giving back to a distributor. When brands give back, it is of the utmost importance that it feels genuine; otherwise, customers can quickly see that brands are doing good just for the sake of appearances and media attention. Customers now demand greater transparency and authenticity from brands, so it is important for brands to operate with integrity knowing that their actions are often viewed under a microscope.
- Empathy: During a pandemic or any kind of crisis, sensitivity is at an all-time high. Because of this, it is important for brands to tread lightly in terms of how they position themselves. Marketing without empathy during COVID-19 is one of the worst mistakes a brand can make. While throwing away a marketing or advertising campaign that took years of planning can seem unimaginable and expensive, the repercussions of not showing empathy and pivoting your brand’s approach during a time like this will be far worse. The way in which a brand is speaking to their customers during a crisis is key. You must acknowledge the situation and exhibit empathy. You cannot turn a blind eye and act as if life and business are moving on as usual – especially during a time when nothing is usual. Brands must show they there for their customers and their communities and make sure every action reflects that.
- Charitable Donations: No one can argue against the importance of giving back to the community in a time of crisis, but brands must first look at what they’re doing for their own community, the people working day-in and day-out for their company. How are you supporting these people during this time? Once your company has protected its inner circle, you can look at how to protect the outer circle. While writing a check to a nonprofit is a great step, it’s important to make sure the charitable actions your brand is taking align with who the brand was before the pandemic. Brands should be helping the community because that is what the company stands for, not because they see it as an opportunity for an added public relations play and way to get more exposure in the media. People can see through this very quickly and brands will get lost in the shuffle of the hundreds of other organizations doing the same exact thing. When you’re bringing your brand’s core values to life with your charitable partnerships, you help the community and generate awareness for your cause.
- Connection Over Transaction: You would be hard pressed to find a business that hasn’t been economically impacted by COVID-19. Brands are facing huge economic losses and while you cannot blame them for trying to find a way to generate revenue, brands must place connection over transaction. Being genuine and sympathetic in tone may actually prove to be more successful for selling product now and in the long run. If the product is considered a luxury more than a necessity during COVID-19, do not push it as a necessity. Instead, you’ll find more success by focusing on a new method of building exposure for your brand. This may mean sharing photos on your social media platforms of your staff who you are grateful for. Try looking at your marketing strategy from the lens of taking this time to build a stronger connection with your customer base which will end up building a more loyal customer.
- Stay Flexibile: We all want to cling to some sense of structure while we are living in a world where uncertainty abounds, but brands must stay agile. What worked last week may not work this week. Being flexible and taking things day by day will ultimately prove to be more impactful than putting together a plan that may not be relevant the next day. In any planning, take a look at the current sentiment of the country and implement tactics that reflect that.
While things are changing rapidly, your public relations firm can offer insights on all of the above and provide you recommendations on how best to navigate these times as a result of what they are hearing and seeing in the media world.
– Lauren Newhouse