Six Ways Your Brand Can Connect with Customers in the Current Crisis
What if 10 years ago someone had said, “In 2020, schools and businesses will be closed. The streets will be empty while people shelter at home. Stadiums and sports arenas will be vacant. No March Madness, no baseball season, no Olympics. Just scared people hoarding hand sanitizer and toilet paper.”
Hardly any of us a decade ago—or even a year ago—would have imagined the strange times we’re living in. As marketers, it can be a major challenge for us to respond to a crisis like this—how to pause, adjust and, in many cases, cut existing campaigns, what new campaigns to introduce, and how to make sure your team and company are connecting to customers, being helpful, and responding appropriately.
Your first impulse might be to simply put everything on hold until the world rights itself. That would be a mistake in many cases: In a survey of 35,000 consumers, only 8 percent said they thought brands should stop advertising.
With the right approach, brands can continue to be relevant and helpful to their customers even now. They can be a source of information, inspiration, and reassurance. Here are some of our favorite examples of brands connecting with customers right now.
How Brands Can Connect with Customers in Times of Crisis
The following examples are a wide sampling of how brands can respond to a crisis, ranging from charitable giving to changes in messaging to finding new ways of doing business.
1. Keep Your Messaging Relevant
Even though the majority of consumers don’t think you should stop marketing altogether, it’s best to make sure your messages suit the general mood. For example, Quickbooks was executing a light-hearted, humorous small business campaign before the crisis hit.
As the news worsened, they paused the comedic campaign and took on a more serious tone. Their new messaging is all about how Quickbooks helps and supports small business. They paired the new messaging with charitable giving, as well as offering their expertise to new customers and extending help to existing customers.
What ads are you running that might need to be paused? How can you shift your messaging to better fit what customers need to hear right now?
2. Give Back to the Community
One of the simplest ways for brands to reach out to consumers is to donate their time or their product. If your brand’s product or service is relevant right now, offering to give some of it away is a worthwhile gesture.
For example, KFC donated a million pieces of chicken to feed struggling communities. The move made perfect sense: People are hungry; KFC serves food, and as such already has the supply and distribution chain in place to make such a donation.
Video conferencing platform Zoom is another inspiring example. The brand found that its solution was suddenly relevant, even necessary, for a much wider audience than usual. They chose to offer the paid version of the platform for free to schools that needed help with online learning. What’s more, the CEO donated his time to help classrooms get up and running on the software.
How can your brand give back to the community right now? What essential product or service can you provide that puts your brand’s values in action?
3. Get Your Customers Involved
Brands using their resources to make charitable donations is great. Encouraging your customers to give as well is even better. If you can seed a fundraiser that inspires a community to contribute, you can amplify their efforts and your own.
Aviation Gin might seem like an odd brand to sponsor an economic relief campaign. But with bars and nightclubs closed, thousands of bartenders and waitstaff are currently out of work—a situation that is directly relevant for a liquor company.
To help, Aviation Gin started the #TipYourBartender campaign, collecting donations to distribute to out-of-work servers. They seeded the campaign with $15,000 of their own money to the United States Bartenders’ Guild and are encouraging others to donate.
How can your brand rally your customers to help others? How can you start a movement?
4. Make a Statement
For a long time, conventional wisdom was for brands to avoid speaking out on controversial subjects. But as younger generations become a major consumer force, they’re demanding that brands take a stand on the issues.
Millennials and young Gen Xers want to shop with brands that share their values, and they tend to reward brands that take a strong stand. Brands like Nike, Penzeys Spices, and Gillette have seen increases in sales directly related to making a strong statement.
Toilet paper brand Cottonelle is a great example of how brands can make a statement during the current crisis. It’s unlikely the marketing department at Cottonelle anticipated being hyper-relevant in a time of crisis. But as people began hoarding toilet paper and their product disappeared from store shelves, it was clearly time for the brand to speak up.
The #ShareASquare campaign combines a few of the suggestions on our list: It’s a pivot in messaging, accompanied by a charitable donation, and it encourages customers to become part of the movement. At its heart, however, it’s a statement: We are better than this, stop panic-buying our product, make sure there’s enough to go around, and be kind to each other. It’s a meaningful message that is uniquely suited to their brand.
How can your brand make a relevant statement during the current crisis? What stance can you take that inspires or informs your audience?
5. Help Delight and Entertain Your Customers
Let’s face it: Most of us aren’t cut out for staying at home 24/7. There’s a reason that online retailers are selling out of puzzles and board games, and that we’re filling our broadband connections with video calls. People are desperate for distraction right now.
Bud Light has been sponsoring a concert series in dive bars around the country. Rather than cancel the shows entirely, they moved the action online, hosting the concert on Instagram. With a live streaming concert, the brand was still able to entertain their customers, sponsor some good music, and make a positive impression.
How can your brand entertain and delight during the crisis? What can you offer customers who can’t leave the house right now?
6. Brush Up Your Online Customer Experience
Brands selling physical products primarily from brick-and-mortar stores have a bigger challenge than their cohorts in, say, software-as-a-service solutions. If your brand is used to providing customer experience mainly in person, it can be challenging to shift to a virtual relationship.
Furniture store Burrow is a high-end retailer that relies on white-glove customer service in its physical locations. The brand offers in-person design consultation to help customers find the perfect accessories for their space. To bring that experience into the self-isolation age, the brand began offering design consultations online. Customers can now video conference with designers, not just to consult on products, but to help put together an entire design plan for their living areas.
How can your brand offer a better online experience to shut-in customers? What parts of your in-person experience could translate online?
Business, Just Not As Usual
Marketing under the current circumstances is likely to get harder before it gets easier. But it can also be more meaningful than ever. If you can help, inspire, entertain, and motivate your customers, you can cultivate brand loyalty while also making the world a better place.
Stay safe, stay home, and wash your hands.