How Brands Navigate Through COVID-19
With the current COVID-19 pandemic happening all around the world, all eyes are on governments, institutions, and brands. How they respond would determine how the situation would improve or escalate over the next few months, and how the public will forever see them, as it leaves an impression for a long long time.
After being bombarded with headlines from around the world focusing on nothing but this virus the last couple of months, we have learnt that brands can and have taken either one of these four responses, with several exercising more than one of these as part of their crisis management strategy.
1. Brands that Adjust
When we say adjustments, we’re referring to the minor changes that brands are making whether it’s to their logos, brand names, or messaging, so as to show their support in banding together to fight this virus. Take these brands for instance, which encouraged social distancing by altering their logos so as to introduce spaces (distance) between its elements.
However small the change, such moves sometimes speak volumes about what a brand believes in and stands for, or, in the extreme opposite case, could also result in a brand backlash – like McDonald’s.
This is not the first time that McDonald’s has gotten a backlash from changing its logo. Many criticised the brand both then and now for “all talk no action”. McDonald’s has since announced the measures it is taking to ensure it adheres to social distancing guidelines and strict hygiene standards all around the world. We guess it is important to note that whatever the change, it must come from the heart of the brand, and not seen as some flaky, superficial move to simply appear relevant. Humanity is known for our stubborn inertia and resistance to change, and if that change is not substantiated by follow-up actions or real change, then perhaps such a change – no matter how minuscule or seemingly relevant – may need to be carefully considered; especially if it could potentially jeopardise a brand’s image.
2. Brands that Adapt
While some brands have made minor adjustments, others have made major adaptations to their business models and have drastically altered the way they operate. We don’t even have to say it, yet you already know that now is the golden hour for e-commerce businesses to thrive and to shine. As such, many have made the painstaking changes to quickly shift their businesses online, so as to mitigate the loss of sales revenue. From retail to entertainment, and even to our very own neighbourhood F&B hawkers. Brick and mortar gyms such as Planet Fitness, as well as athletic wear companies like Nike and Under Armour, are now offering online classes with the help of their home-based ambassadors and instructors.
London based LW Theatres and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) are offering shows either for free or on a “pay as you wish” basis, while NBCUniversal has decided to release new movies online and make them rentable. International music festival organiser Tomorrowland, as well as our very own Zouk Singapore have also been organising live clubbing experiences via live stream with both resident and guest DJs.
I mean, who would have expected that our uncles and aunties selling mixed vegetable rice from their small physical stall of 30 years, would have to rely on online food ordering and delivery apps like GrabFood, Food Panda and Deliveroo. Well, when the survival instinct kicks in, it’s every man for himself, and adaptation for every business.
3. Brands that Exploit
While it may be understandable for brands to resort to doing what it takes in the name of self-preservation, it definitely isn’t acceptable if it is at the expense of others. Some, unable to cope with the weight of the crunch, have taken to what the media terms as “behaving badly”. These include brands who prior to government intervention, saw and took the opportunity to hike up the prices of essentials such as sanitisers and masks, as well as countless more who are applying a mix of both furloughing workers, as well as laying off staff. No doubt for many of them, it probably didn’t seem like there was any other option – but such actions are still frowned upon. We’re just stating a fact that this is merely one of the many responses that brands have taken and could take in a situation like this. So think about it before you do. Now, moving on…
4. Brands that Empathize
Lastly, while many brands have joined in and lent their voices to this fight against COVID-19 by asking people to “stay home” in the midst of the lockdown, the real applause should go to those who stand to “lose” from taking such a stand.
Take for instance, streaming services like Netflix and Zoom, or food delivery services like the above mentioned. These brands have got nothing to lose by asking people to “stay home”. In fact, the landscape is now steered towards their advantage.
On the other hand, consider car brands like Nissan, Jeep and Volvo, or even those in the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors like Hotels.com (see ad here: https://youtu.be/6dimCZCfGMI). These industries have been hit the hardest by a sudden pandemic that made businesses come to a standstill.
Going one step further, some brands like Razer, and even luxury ones like Prada and LVMH, have taken the courtesy to convert part of their manufacturing processes to support the production of masks.
Wouldn’t that mean an opportunity cost of not being able to produce as many of their own products? Well yes, but considering the current economic landscape and spending behaviour, it definitely makes more economic sense from a branding and marketing point of view to invest in what would best reflect a brand’s values, especially in a crucial time like this where it would be understandable for brands to cut back and survive instead.
Faced with the unique set of challenges that COVID presents to brands today, they have to do more than just be adaptable. Easier said than done when profits are affected and anxious shareholders are breathing down their necks. Still, just as each individual is called upon to exercise social responsibility this season, brands too have to be socially responsible and remember to stay human, customer-focused and sensitive to the times – even if for a moment, it means making decisions and standing for things that will not do them any good. In the long run however, these are the brands whom people will remember for their heart.
The pandemic of today will be eased at some point, although it is not yet clear when. Consumers will return, but they are currently living through an episode that will change them, maybe forever. Our attitudes and behaviours toward online interaction, social media, e-commerce, etc. have been affirmed on a whole new level. Would these be what the future holds? Considering the 80-20 rule, are we now confident to shift to a 80% online society?
Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai said that, in the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called upon to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. For brands everywhere, maybe this is the time to ask ourselves, who do we really say we are (brand positioning), what do we really believe in (brand vision) and how do we really want to help (brand promise)?