In a Crisis, Successful Brand Response Requires an Infrastructure Based on Authenticity

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Marketers and marketing pundits pontificate endlessly on the importance of brand authenticity, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is laying bare precisely which brands have taken that message to heart—and which ones have just been paying it lip service. Responding to the pandemic has required a level of nimbleness and soul-searching from brands the likes of which we’ve never seen. Some have been up to the task. Others haven’t.

The brands that have proven relevant, resilient and in tune with their role during this crisis are those that—long before the average American had ever heard of coronavirus—had established a strong fundamental understanding of their authentic brand purposes, missions and visions, and built an organizational competency for marketing agility. Those fundamentals and capabilities are now guiding not only their advertising responses to this crisis but also their brand actions.

Authenticity and the Ability to Adapt in Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested every organization’s ability to adapt and communicate vital information and business changes on the fly. Moreover, it’s challenged many companies to figure out what their marketing and advertising strategy looks like in an era where customers are home-bound, and few people are spending on anything other than essential needs and convenient diversions.

So how does a brand remain relevant to its customers in a time like this, without sounding tone-deaf or opportunistic? For brands that have built their communications strategy around an authentic message and brand promise, the current media landscape is rife with opportunities for effective, resonant messaging—provided they put the right tools to work for them.

Personalized Connections at Scale

With people sequestered at home, digital media inventory has skyrocketed. At the same time, companies in many verticals—travel, in particular—have ground their advertising efforts to a near halt. As a result, there are a lot of available impressions out there, with less competition than usual, resulting in very affordable CPMs. While many marketers have been employing strict blacklist requirements around terms like “COVID-19” and “coronavirus,” I would urge advertisers to reconsider such wholesale restrictive measures. News content is, after all, what people are embracing at this moment in time, and having your brand demonstrate its relevance within the current global community can be invaluable…if you have tailored the creative message appropriately to the environment

That said, personalization within advertising has never been more important than it is at this moment. For brands with a strong understanding of their mission and value within these uncertain times, it’s time to demonstrate that they know how that understanding translates to different audiences at different times and in different places. While COVID-19 represents a shared global experience, how each community, geography, and individual is affected can be quite different. Advertisers should be funneling some of the resources they’re saving on media placements toward dynamic personal creativity that recognizes the varying ways in which their brand authenticity can speak to different consumers.

Moving Beyond Media

Demonstrating a brand’s authenticity and relevance through media and advertising right now is important. But it shouldn’t end there. Brands that want to be a part of the global community at this time of crisis can’t just be papering the world with ads. They need to be contributing tangibly. This is where brand missions truly come to life, and we will no doubt see some inspiring examples emerge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve already seen some fine examples of brands putting their missions into action in authentic ways during the outbreak. For example, Anheuser-Busch is not only redirecting its sports and entertainment investments to support those on the front lines of COVID-19, but it’s also leveraging its supply and logistics network to produce and distribute hand sanitizer. Meanwhile, Domino’s franchises are donating an estimated 10 million slices of pizza to first responders, hospitals and medical centers, grocery store workers, and others as a part of its “feed the need” effort. These are a mere two examples of the many ongoing brand efforts to shift messaging from sales to service in this time of great need.

For brands that were already struggling with their brand identities and customer understanding, the COVID-19 crisis has no doubt exacerbated their struggle to communicate in a meaningful way with customers and prospects—and effectively paralyzed them. But for brands that have built their brand value around their customers, striking the right tone in a crisis like this becomes second nature. Now is the time when those brands will shine brighter than ever.

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