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This article was published on September 7, 2020

5 strategies for thoughtful brand building during a crisis

5 strategies for thoughtful brand building during a crisis

The impact of the coronavirus will be felt for a long time after the crisis has passed. Right now, many marketing efforts are going down the drain, either because consumers have stopped listening, or because brands are too scared to spend money in such a volatile environment. The crisis has already altered consumer behaviors significantly, prompting shifts in how people use technology, e-commerce, live streaming, e-learning, gaming, and online grocery shopping.

As a business owner, you’re probably aware of the need for a shift in thinking when it comes to marketing and brand building during this crisis — so let me help you take the jump.

These times call for a different approach that lets your customers know you understand what they are going through. 

You can see examples of it everywhere. Businesses are changing the way they interact with their customers and reaching out to support them in any way they can. 

[Read: We asked 3 CEOs what tech trends will dominate post-COVID]

A crisis is an endurance test, so you want to focus your energies on brand building activity for the longer term. An example is Time Out. Well known as a source of listings for social activities, as people have been encouraged to spend more time at home they have rebranded as “Time In.” This is an expression of their key brand benefit, of enabling people to make the most of their social time.

The following five tips based on my experience building brand strategy will help you better understand where your business fits in, so you can decide the best course of action to ensure your brand survives and thrives during this crisis.

1. Listen to what the market is telling you 

Listen carefully and communicate thoughtfully. In marketing, a general rule is to provide a message that matches your market. While you may have had successful messages in the past, the current situation calls for rethinking that message. 

As governments and health organizations around the world preach about coronavirus etiquette, it makes sense for brands to echo or amplify their messages. Recognize the realities of economic downturn, travel restrictions, and social distancing. Your marketing messages must reflect your awareness of these things so you do not get caught with your proverbial foot in your mouth. 

While the messages may vary for every brand, it must be meaningful to give audiences a reason to believe that we’ll get through this crisis and move forward together.

My personal favorite is Ford’s new ads, “Built to Lend a Hand” and “Built for Right Now,” lean into the company’s century-long commitment to their consumers and mission.

2. Lend a helping hand to your community 

If there is one thing that coronavirus has taught us, it’s that we all need to take care of each other and act together for the good of society. Whether you’re a local business owner in a small town or you run an online membership site with thousands of members, it’s important to let your customers know you are willing to help in a time of crisis. 

It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it would be wise to think of different ways in which you can lend your support. Perhaps you can offer some of your products and services for free, or run a promotion that donates a large portion of the profits to a charity that plays a major role in relief for those affected worse by the pandemic.

One brand that has risen to this challenge is UK mobile network EE. It gave vulnerable and disabled customers free calls, texts, and data to help them stay in touch with loved ones during the coronavirus lockdown.

Sometimes, even the very initiative of trying to lend a hand to other businesses can make a big impact to your own business. At my company, startup fortune, we’ve recently started a special branding service, a free of charge service, exclusively to those businesses who got affected with the pandemic; which actually got us several well paying clients as well.

Once they have seen the effectiveness of the free service our team has been able to provide; most of them wanted to continue with us or some recommended us to other businesses.

Initiatives like these that could be mutually helpful can definitely make a positive impact on your overall business, at the same time a way of giving back to the community.

3. The customer must come first 

We are all suffering the consequences of this global pandemic. But the last thing you want to do is talk about your problems and how much your business is suffering. 

First of all, it makes you look needy and desperate like you don’t care about your customers. And second, your customers have their own problems to worry about. You have no idea how much worse off someone maybe than you. 

If you’re going on and on about your reduced revenue, how is that going to look to someone who just lost a family member to the virus? Brands that don’t act responsibly will face a potential backlash from consumers. In Germany, for example, Adidas has faced criticism for refusing to pay rents during the crisis — a move which could hurt their brand reputation in the long run. 


4. Become a beacon of truth and honesty 

As we all know, a time of crisis brings an opportunity for fear-mongering. The mainstream media, social media, your local conspiracy theorist… they’re all jumping at the chance to speak their opinions. 

And while many of them may be basing their opinions on fact, the general public is left to fend for themselves when it comes to seeking the truth. 

You should always practice honest and ethical marketing and branding strategies. But it’s even more important to provide your customers with clear messages during a time of crisis. You don’t want to be known as the business who takes advantage of its customers when they are most vulnerable. 

For example, since the inception of COVID, there have been a lot of false claims of cure that have made many vulnerable people buy into it. The most pathetic are unscrupulous traders collecting used face masks, washing them, and then re-selling them to unsuspecting members of the public. As a brand, you can’t be selling to people used masks because of your selfish interest.

5. Spread a message of hope 

People will always remember how you make them feel and giving hope in times of crisis is a great way to create positive energy. At the end of the day, we are all human beings with similar hopes and dreams. We are all affected in some way or another by this virus. And all of us need to come together and let each other know that we have each other’s backs. 

This is especially important for our leaders in the business community. Take this opportunity to let your customers and the general public know that you are willing to do your part. 

Jeans manufacturer Levi’s, for example, has acted swiftly to entertain fans stuck at home, by launching daily online concerts on Instagram Live. Every day, at 5:01 pm — a nod to its signature blue jeans — Levi’s streams a live performance from one of its brand ambassadors, including Snoop Dogg, DaniLeigh, and Kali Uchis.


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I personally tune in to watch as this gives me a sense of hope for the future that our humanity is not lost.

We will survive!

Above all, people want to know that we will get through this. We all like the feeling of security that comes with being part of a community. 

And what do community members do? They support one another. As we march forward, one thing is for sure: The human race will survive this terrible pandemic. 

It’s up to you as a business owner to support and honor your customers. The survival of your brand and business depends on it. 

So you’re interested in brand building? Then join our online event, TNW2020, to explore the latest brand marketing tech, trends, and challenges.

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