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February 1, 2021

Business As (Un)usual

Managing, Marketing, and Empathy in Unforeseen Times

The world as we know it has changed and brands globally are responding in extraordinary ways.

More than ever, we seek connection.

Advertising, marketing communications, corporate messaging ... are all irrelevant, ineffective, and likely perceived as insensitive, if we ignore the fact that we are all human. And as humans, we desire connection.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” — Maya Angelou

The basic need for belonging informs the foundational layer of society from the early settlements to the modern family unit. It is a primal driving force behind human motivation, and even the most successful brands attribute tribalism — a strong feeling of loyalty founded on similarity, familiarity, and resonance — to its overall success. Connection binds us. It fuels our motivations, re-affirms our convictions, and inspires us to act.

This begs the question.

What is effective communication in a time of crisis?

Never before have brands had such a unanimously eager, attentive audience as we do now. Never before have we had the opportunity to openly embrace social responsibility in such a public and global platform.

The key lies not only in how, when, where, and what you communicate with your consumer audience, but most importantly, in the connections you foster by doing so and the inadvertent trust, and ultimately, brand value it generates.

A recent study by Statista on global consumer views on brand communication during COVID-19 in 2020, by country, revealed an overall positive sentiment.

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According to the study, 65 percent of respondents reported that brand communication offered comfort and reassurance in these uncertain times.

The research tells us that there is an evident appreciation for brands communicating with their customers; however, it still doesn’t show us how.

In these unprecedented times, we look to the world’s leading brands to learn from the ways in which they respond to times of uncertainty and the measures they take to reimagine their customer experience strategies.

Embracing a new reality

In an altered marketplace, we find ourselves navigating the same uncharted territory. With this comes a shift in budgets, refocusing spend and priorities, revising pipeline strategy, and potentially re-targeting.

The event sector is one of many experiencing a significant shift in execution strategy as social distancing regulations remain in force for the unforeseen future. As a result, organizations are forced to reimagine their event strategy not only short-term but also plan for the long-term impact of the pandemic on future conference budgets. Many organizations are forecasting for an 18-month post-COVID recovery phase, which means travel and conference funding will likely be much more conservative and of lesser priority as businesses attempt to regain losses.

Corporate and industry events act as a significant driver of attribution and net-new revenue for many organizations globally. The impact of the pandemic has not only resulted in the cancellation of pre-booked events and inadvertent loss of profit through the refund of tickets along with losing venue and third-party vendor deposits, but it is also posing a series of new obstacles such as audience attention-span, engagement, unfamiliar platform, to name but a few, as businesses attempt to host their events virtually.

Say what?

No more than ever words matter. And for many, brand communication resonates by possessing the emotional intelligence to speak with vulnerability, authenticity, and care.

A good example of a brand shifting its strategy to take the shape of a public service announcement by aligning with local governments to enforce social-distancing measures is Nike.

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A time of crisis could be an opportunity used to maintain relationships with customers; however, it could also harm brand perception if these communications come across as opportunistic and imbalanced with social responsibility.

Other brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s experience scrutiny for their out-of-home ad spend encouraging social distancing in a time where donations and support from brands are dire and much more valued than gimmicky brand commercials.

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It is clear that people want to see actions over brand promotion, and it applies not only to how brands are positioning their messages during COVID but also the actions they take to support their customers, consumers, partners, and communities during this time.

Acknowledge and adapt

As the pandemic continues to cripple the travel industry, the below communications from Carnival Cruise Lines and Jetblue are examples of acknowledging the ongoing crisis while adapting their marketing strategy to not only address potential blockers but also offering hope for the future, and in turn, securing revenue streams in uncertain times.