Throughout a company’s life, there are bound to be defining moments, and today’s business landscape is no exception. With uncertainty in the market comes uncertainty for businesses and their brands. And as with any unexpected crisis, it can be difficult to know how to respond. But as many brand experts know, regardless of the situation, it’s key to have a finger on the pulse of the audience to understand what the brand’s next steps should be.
These business leaders from Ad Age Collective have spent a lot of time exploring the intricacies of branding and how to use modern techniques to ensure those brands remain connected to their audience -- even in the face of uncertainty. We consulted them about the things that they considered essential for brands to do in such an uncertain time, especially when many organizations are struggling to stay profitable and positive. Here's what they had to say.
1. Ensure continuity of your brand.
This is a very difficult time for individuals, businesses and brands. In these trying times we can still reach out and help others, but cannot leave our zone of expertise. I was not a COVID-19 expert before, and I cannot be one now. But I can assist in navigating brands through challenging times. For instance, Starbucks can choose to offer their coffee on delivery but not change the heart of who they are. - Arjun Sen, ZenMango
2. Be a lighthouse of belief and values.
In times of hesitation from big institutions (school, government, the healthcare system, etc.), brands should act as a lighthouse of belief and values. Their purpose should flourish from those beliefs, along with acts of immediate social support -- from employees to communities. Shying away from that responsibility could be costly. Being opportunistic or disconnected from a purpose can be too. - Marcello Magalhaes, Speakeasy - Knowledge Brokers
3. Focus on ethos and empathy.
No pandemic playbook? As branders, we must tune into what we do best, and that is to know our clients and be culturally relevant. Now, more than ever, it is important to be real about what is going on -- if you're running media at all, messages of hope or impact might make sense. Brands that give back and make a difference in their communities and to their colleagues are the brands we'll remember. - Nicole Oliha, City National Bank
4. Seek to lead by example.
When you have a recognizable brand and the power to influence others, how you continue to build and use your brand becomes a matter of responsibility. In these times, it's important to lead by example -- offer work-from-home, spread medically correct information and stay indoors. Your brand will be remembered as a responsible and flexible one, and you will build goodwill for the future. - Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
5. Don't use trite tricks.
A crisis presents an enormous opportunity for brands to show the true essence of their values and that all the "marketing talk" isn't just that -- talk. Unfortunately, many make the mistake of using clickbait messaging to egregiously capitalize on the crisis. When this ends, people will recall those actions and view them far more suspiciously. Lead with empathy and watch your brand's perception soar! - Patrick Ward, Rootstrap
6. Focus on trust and reputation.
How companies behave and respond to crisis, how they consistently serve their customers, how they treat their own workers and how they innovate and evolve to provide service in unusual circumstances is what will matter most to defining a brand in 2020. This is not something that removing the mascot from logos will do -- positive corporate behavior and clear messaging about it will succeed. - Scott Montgomery, Bradley and Montgomery (BaM)
7. Be authentic, and provide guidance and comfort.
The brands that are best at navigating through the most challenging of times are the ones that don't have to figure out who they are at the moment that a crisis hits -- it is already part of their DNA. If this is the case, then branding and, most importantly, the voice of the brand can provide guidance, leadership and even comfort both to internal and external stakeholders. - Rich Honiball, Navy Exchange Service Command
8. Be who you are, or make who you are better.
Many brands care, and build that concern into their messaging platform. Today they face the test of whether they can move from words into action, in ways they never imagined. Brands that are selfless or innovative for the greater good are making an indelible impression on the people that matter. There won't be a second chance to be the brand that made the difference that no one will ever forget. - Moira Vetter, Modo Modo Agency
9. Sell less, but do more business.
Brand champions can rightly persuade top brass that the forced need to ditch the "hard sell" shouldn't be confused with an inability to "do business." Ads credibly and emotionally connecting during COVID-19 will matter more to consumers in terms of long-term branding -- escalating brand health, future growth and profitability. The first page in a COVID-19 playbook? Sell less, but do more business. - Sean Cunningham, VAB
10. Leverage the global golden branding moment.
There are golden moments in branding -- those rare, disruptive moments when people actively seek new information and form new loyalties: marriage, moving, births, etc. The chaos in today's environment is creating a global golden moment for branding in which everybody is open to new ideas. Branding has always been based on trust -- now is the time to demonstrate your trustworthiness. - Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)