COVID-19 has far-reaching implications in all aspects of our society and economy and poses complex challenges for business and brands. We are literally in a conflagration of crises extending way beyond our borders.

The challenge for brand owners is to protect their brands through this period of uncertainty and figure out new ways of engaging customers and consumers. It also however presents an opportunity to reinforce values, relevance and future-proof brands.

At its core, this is a human issue. So how brands act and communicate will reflect their understanding and appreciation of the public’s feelings and experiences. Truth is, even during this unsettling situation, brands can provide some sense of stability. Through their support to deal with the health crisis itself as well as to help overcome the effects of it, brands can be a source of hope.

It is also therefore not a time for marketing but a time to reflect empathy and compassion. To be helpful. So be aware, businesses communicate largely through their brands and social media has made brands’ and brand owners’ behaviour far more visible now than ever before. Brands can’t hide. How they respond will determine whether they are seen as sensitive or opportunistic.

The first crucial response should be to protect employees from exposure to the virus and keep them safe. Consider, how employees are treated will immediately go a long way to build a positive image of the brand. Word gets around and you will need your employees on your side to help you through this trying period. Let the word spreading about your brand be good news.

It is said there are always opportunities in a crisis. Opportunities that give rise to innovation. Brands are no exception. Particularly so where disruption fundamentally changes the way consumers engage with brands. Or the circumstances shift priorities in their lives that diminish the need for the product or service the brand represents. The challenge for brands is to find where the brand’s utility can matter in the lives of consumers now.

Having a well-developed brand positioning, a clear point of view and recognised brand values makes it easier to spot where and assess how the brand should engage. It will help identify how and whether the brand can pivot to or reinforce its relevance. It is a fundamental shift from a transaction to engagement. For example, alcohol becomes using production capability to make hand-sanitiser that is beneficial to hygiene efforts.

The trick is not to force the brand into the conversation where it has no relevance. Brands having difficulty finding relevance can explore partnerships with brands that do. Collaborate on co-branded programmes useful to consumers. Brands’ willingness to support efforts to ameliorate anxiety by supporting, better still, leading the effort will go a long way to creating positive, widespread goodwill.

Given the uncertainty of the time and how quickly circumstances can change, brands will need also to develop agility in their actions. Timing is crucial. The solution to deliver grants to the burgesses in Point Fortin through what appears to be fairly straightforward, user-friendly technology is a good case in point.

In the midst of widespread disruption, it is equally critical to consider ‘what happens after’. Transitioning to a reimagined state with a reasonable degree of predictability will, for now, be murky at best. Anticipate new buying behaviours nurtured during the period of ‘lockdown’. Some behaviours will stick.

Where does the brand sit in the world of the new normal. Will the brand’s role in the lives of consumers need to change? Identifying consumers’ pain points and innovating to resolve them will put the brand in a strong position to come out of the crisis quicker and perform better than competitors that don’t.

The impact of digital in communications, service delivery, online purchases during the crisis is likely to carry over to become a way of life. Consider how these new behaviours affect the brand’s customer engagement strategy. Evaluate the brand’s online presence to ensure that its engagement is delivering the utility consumers expect. The online versus offline debate, like digital versus ‘traditional media’ is pointless. It is not one or the other, both are necessary.

How does this help sales, you ask? It’s simple. Strong brands make the selling effort and consumer buying choices easier. A brand that has a positive presence in the mind of the consumer has already done the sales job. It is why brands like Apple can have city block lines just on the announcement of a new iPhone launch. Consumers have already emotionally bought the phone.

There is a saying: “You can’t always change the circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.” For brands it is important during this period of uncertainty to remain visible. Instead of a white flag of surrender raise a red, white and black one in solidarity with the national effort. Redeploy budgets and assets into areas that matter in consumers’ lives and build credible emotional connections with them.

It is a time to demonstrate what the brand stands for and to live up to its values and humanity. These strategies will help protect the brand during this period of the crisis and prepare it for a positive future it helps create.

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce thanks Anthony M Inglefield, Managing Director, Ogilvy Caribbean (a member of the T&T Chamber) for contributing this article.

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