Consumers often look up to brand communications as a source of inspiration and a conversation starter. Therefore, brands constantly try to maintain a line of engagement through various formats and multiple media platforms. Whether it is a tweet or a billboard, brands take the center stage in building an image and connect with the audiences. However, this chain of conversations came under extreme scrutiny when the world recently faced a global crisis in the form of a pandemic that brought everything to a standstill.
Following a certain period of uncertainty, stakeholders – both internal and external – started looking at brands to bring forth a lot more than just snackable conversations, disruptive social constructs and healthy banter; they were seeking facts, directions, updates, and most importantly, hope. Brands realized the need to live up to these expectations and almost instantaneously shifted their communication gears to address the new narrative. Many interesting changes followed – beyond marketing and advertising, communications took over a larger role, focus shifted on building channels of trust, and services saw customization that put people’s safety above product. A few ways by which this was made possible-
The E (Empathy) Factor
With a pandemic over our head, it was inevitable for most industries to go through massive changes in terms of employment, growth, etc. In such a situation, it was crucial for brands to be empathetic in their messaging and make sure that the faith in them remains, by expressing an understanding for the hardships their customers were facing by the unprecedented crisis. Bringing forth CEOs to address the situation at hand instead of publishing a generic brand statement, helped give an added human touch to the brand. The notion of empathy was also captured through various campaigns that prioritised the safety of consumers above all. For instance, discover Puerto Rico’s “virtual vacay” is one such example. The destination marketing organisation pivoted from a “visit now” to a “visit later” mentality. Campaigns such as these helped would-be travellers experience the destination from home and in turn put the safety of the consumer above profits.
The Reinvention Factor
With health and safety becoming of paramount importance, brands needed to reinvent their messaging with an added layer of healthcare to safeguard the trust of their consumers and at the same time spread awareness amongst them. Brands ensured that their messaging wasn’t misleading in the current situation and highlighted how the brand was dealing with the crisis at hand. For instance, global fast-food giant KFC halted its “Finger-Lickin’ Good” slogan given hygiene advice because of the coronavirus pandemic. “We find ourselves in a unique situation – having an iconic slogan that doesn’t quite fit in the current environment,” the company said. This led to a round of conversation on how brands are trying to fit into the current scenario with relevant messaging. On the other hand, brands also adapted to a new line of messaging. With the growing need of consumers seeking answers, brands had to be ahead of the game and create awareness through real-time updates and overall sensitization of information. One such adaptation is seen at VFS Global where Empathy-Engage-Educate became the mantra for the brand to approach communications, which helped build consumer trust with the constant updates and awareness drives put forward by the brand.
The Digital Factor
Core traditionalist brands obliged to go digital due to the complete ban on print media, enabling communications to shift to a complete digital route, and the adaptation of this was truly noteworthy. With the change in platforms, brands became more accessible to consumers that helped them engage better while also creating a digital presence for brands that can be further used to grow their customer base. The social media presence of brands was also revamped and campaigns were led more via the bridge of social media influencers to add the much-needed relevance for consumers as opposed to via standard TVCs. The need for new alternatives was at the core of digitization, helping brands find their way in new circumstances.
Overall, the essence is to keep drawing crowds and never going dim on them even in trying times. It is basic for brands to tune in to what the client needs tirelessly, and have dynamic and versatile plans in place, given the speed at which the scenario is developing at present. Although the way to recovery has been troublesome, with still a relatively far way to go, living through these times will just guarantee that brands will have a great deal of learning under their belt coming out on the other end.
The author, Sukanya Chakraborty, is Head – Corporate Communications & CSR, VFS Global.