Brand Communication amid The Pandemic Panic

Is it me or has my inbox been filling up faster recently?

Image via Jennifer Baer

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In the wake of a global pandemic people have been cautioned by authorities to stay at home and have suddenly found themselves in a situation plagued by feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and panic. Covid-19 has brought about disruption to the lives of many, affecting their well-being, hindering financial stability, job security, mental health and more.

It is important to consider the role of brand communication in such a sensitive time, personally I feel like brands must find the medium between sincere, informative content and a light hearted breath of fresh air from the influx of disheartening news. Unfortunately, many brands have projected their state of fear and panic onto their consumers by drastically increasing their communication output. I, for instance, have received a lot more emails than usual.

It must be acknowledged that business’ too may be experiencing difficulties within the economic climate the pandemic has induced, companies are finding it difficult to operate, adapt and stay afloat in this unprecedented situation. However, brands must make it a priority to understand that their concerns over the state of their internal business operations should not be unintentionally communicated to the consumer through panic-marketing.

So how exactly should brands approach communication?

Start by analysing the current situation.

In this case, there is a global health crisis that is claiming the lives of many and there is currently no cure. To contain the virus and slow the spread, people have been instructed to stay at home, and non-essential businesses have been instructed to close down.

Now it’s important to have empathy and consider how your consumers must be feeling at this time. Brands are often personified and communicate as if they are people, at a time when the consumer is knowingly experiencing difficulties brands must continue to communicate as people and not come across as tone-deaf and profit driven.

Through social listening I have come up with 3 feelings that brands will need to empathise with at this time:

  • Fear and anxiety due to uncertainty and disruption caused in everyday life.
  • Boredom from safety measures.
  • Restless due to perception of being “stuck at home”.

Now we know how people are feeling, what do we do?

Address the emotions of your consumer

Brands should seek to accommodate the current emotional state of their consumers, responding to their needs in a self-less manner that shows empathy and integrity. Emailing consumers to tell them about how much you are donating can come across as synthetic, preferably brands should rely on press to communicate their social responsibility rather than pat themselves on the back.

Fear and Anxiety can be addressed through simplicity, consider the saturation of bad news concerning Covid-19 that consumers experience on a daily basis, your content should not add to the feelings associated with bad news. Brands should aim to distract people from worries that they have no control over and provide comfort by feeding them light hearted, simple and soothing content.

In the image below Guinness did not push their own product or fill the image with text, there is a simple message, logo and image that strongly communicates a positive feeling. The image provides comfort to consumers by using the image of a sofa to signify the home, and evoke feelings of comfort associated with being on the sofa. The sofa also imitates beer froth and creates the illusion of a glass of Guiness, a great double tactic as beer is often drank at home.

Oatly also approached their communication strategy with empathy, showing understanding that consumers may not be in the mood to read marketing emails at this time. The opening line is rather humorous, as they mock the intention of their email and continue to show solidarity in the situation and ultimately provide a solution that may bring them comfort.

With feelings of boredom and restlessness being a direct result of necessary safety measures, brands must communicate their concern for the safety and wellbeing of their consumers by using their influence to tell consumers to do the right thing and stay at home. They can also further encourage them to stay at home by providing them with at home entertainment, this can take many forms and DIY has been a big hit due to the closing down of establishments.

Burger King seized the opportunity to entertain their consumers by providing them with a home recipe for their famous Whopper burger. This entertains and excites bored consumers by giving them something to do with their time, it is also almost like a challenge that once completed consumers will feel fulfilled when they taste their own home made Whopper.

Vapiano took to their social media channels to keep people entertained with a Twitter quiz where they tweeted a series of questions for people to answer, the interactive and entertaining quiz consisted of 30 questions that were culturally relevant and paired with visual and audio stimulants. This technique relies on on gamification principles to engage the participants. Vapiano have also made a noticeable effort to change their display name to ‘STAY AT HOME’.

Why is this important?

Brand love and brand recognition are often associated with the way brands make people feel. In a time where consumers needed comforting the most the brands that empathised with them will reap the benefits, the concept of reciprocity is evident in many marketing tactics, particularly when a brand is providing consumers with an experience that is seemingly free.

So…

Dear brands,

In the midst of a pandemic where consumers are experiencing emotional hardships of their own, the least you could do is provide them with content that seeks to comfort them.

Please do not triple your email marketing and resort to being the pushy salesman.

Yours sincerely.

Marketing, Behavioural Research & Strategic Insights.

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