Coronavirus Impact: Marketing during a crisis and beyond

April 13, 2020 11:04 AM

From Dyson to Zara, how brands need to anticipate and identify with the consumers in times of crisis

Advertising alone is not equal to marketing as marketing itself is much more comprehensive a subject, with brand communication being only a subsetAdvertising alone is not equal to marketing as marketing itself is much more comprehensive a subject, with brand communication being only a subset

By Karan Kumar

Brands make business by selling promises. Nothing wrong with that because as a consumer if you did buy one from amongst all the options you had, it is only because that promise was the one you sought because of its relevance to what you were seeking. Especially in times of crisis, consumers expect brands to not just deliver on the promises they made but are actually hoping that these are exceeded. If and when that happens, consumers not only renew their faith in your brand but actually strengthen that relationship even more than ever before. So here is what I think brands ought to do all the time, but even more so during times of crisis.

  1. Do not try and profit from a crisis. Even if you have a product that is particularly relevant in the context of the crisis, inform and educate audiences without stirring up a frenzy. Empathy and concern ought to be key markers of your verbal and visual vocabulary whilst being an alarmist or bragging about your product’s features could lead to added scepticism and in worst case, complete consumer disdain.
  2. Make only those promises that you can not only keep, but and ideally go beyond and over deliver on. Be truthful and make promises that are definite, demonstrable and deliverable. The promise you make should be the baseline you must deliver. If you can deliver beyond it, you would have earned rare customer delight
  3. Communicate in a contextually sensitive and in a straightforward manner. Whether you are selling hope or water purifiers, communicate with brevity and clarity. If your language is one with fluff, even hope won’t be bought. Consumer are seeking assurance and credibility in the message brands are putting out and your tone of voice needs to deliver that
  4. Care for your existing customer first before you seek out new ones. Demonstrate your promise in action to those who have already bought you and they will amplify your message amongst their extended communities. That transmission would be organic and far more credible than an exclusive and dedicated advertising campaign
  5. While social media helps in connecting with audiences more frequently and with rich media content, digital technologies will help you come closest to replicating physical interaction and immersive engagement. It’s a no brainer that brands need to define a clear path on both these platforms, creating content and driving customer experience in times of physical distancing
  6. Value and reach out to alleviate concerns of other stakeholders who are normally not covered under the definition of target customers for the brand but invariably either are or can prove to be viable prospects. Pay employee salaries and care for them. Clear financial dues of your brand’s partners and alleviate their financial insecurities. Care in every which manner for those workers and laborers who while may not be your target customers, but are critically involved in making your brand and its product come alive

While some of these essentials will help you create a viable advertising and communication output, I also want to underline that advertising alone is not equal to marketing as marketing itself is much more comprehensive a subject, with brand communication being only a subset. The premise of marketing is to anticipate, identify, sometimes create but always satisfy consumer needs which your business is qualified to fulfil. Or especially in times of crisis, your business can additionally attend to with little recalibration. And some brands are already doing a stellar job of that.

Given the urgent needs of current times, Dyson designed ventilators in record time while closer home, Mahindra group has also been developing low cost prototypes of the same. ITC Hotels has converted some of its marquee properties into quarantine facilities to add more beds to our stressed healthcare infrastructure. DLF is pulling out all stops to protect its community of residents whilst also ensuring financial and food support to the most amongst the most distressed sections of the society – the migrant laborers and daily wagers employed in its projects. Gap, Zara and numerous other fashion and retail brands are now producing face masks in response to their heightened need versus their limited supplies.

All brands across geographies, scale and sectors they operate in must take actions dedicated in response to the challenge of the crisis we face. I am sure that these actions will be remembered by immediate communities and extended audiences long after the crisis is behind us.

Would that not lead to improved salience and preference for such brands? I suspect it will as will it also fuel such brand’s equity and ability to drive profitable and sustained business in the years to come.

(The author is CMO, DLF Ltd. Views expressed are personal.)

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