Defining and communicating brand purpose during (and beyond) COVID-19


  • Content and communication strategies must change during crises.
  • Transparency via direct channels can help brands, employees, and customers thrive.

COVID-19 has challenged brands in unprecedented ways. But while many things have changed as a result of the pandemic, one thing has remained constant: the role of purpose in content and communication.

Marketing during a pandemic is not the time for big-budget advertising, but rather an opportunity to show a brand’s mettle through purposeful communication strategies. With that in mind, here are five key learnings that can guide brands toward building a new content operations framework that can serve as a beacon during this crisis and beyond.

1. Be proactive with brand communications

Brands need to take action and get ahead of the situation.

People are actively seeking information about the effects of the coronavirus—and with global leadership lacking, brands have an opportunity to step up. Not only can their responses satisfy needs in the short term, but the content businesses put forth today could have lasting effects on their relationships with customers and employees alike.

Edelman Trust Barometer’s recent “Trust and the Coronavirus” report, revealed that 62 percent of employees trust their employers to respond effectively and responsibly to COVID-19. This might be sending an email about upcoming operational changes—or it might mean simply acknowledging the situation that everyone is in together, and opening lines of communication between employees and customers.

“Directly referencing brand values and principles in executive and other communications can foster a shared understanding of goals and objectives, which can bind employees, customers, and others together at a difficult time.”

Ian Bruce, Forrester, 2019

No matter how a brand chooses to respond, it needs to be proactive. At the same time, however, businesses need to exercise caution. Responding to a crisis may very well impact the style and frequency of brand communications, so it’s important to establish guidelines and boundaries.

2. Narrow the scope of your content operations

Brands need to inform—but not overwhelm—audiences.

At the onset of the pandemic, organizations of all sorts disseminated information—and everyone’s inboxes filled with coronavirus-related emails. In our analysis, the most effective messages struck a careful balance, offering just the right amount of information with transparency and empathy.

In times of uncertainty, brands need to narrow the scope of their marketing operations, adjust the volume of content they produce, and shift their focus in order to provide value. This requires determining what your business objectives are during a crisis, whether shifting to make masks and other protective supplies or launching an e-commerce platform, and then matching content to those goals.

Keep in mind, however, that greater stakeholder involvement and sensitive content will likely require more time to produce. Creating a needs framework and conducting purpose-driven work can help narrow scope and streamline processes.

3. Prioritize digital channels

Brands need to know where their audiences look for information.

Governments and brands alike have had to learn to use different platforms to stay connected with employees and customers—and provide the information that matters most. But that doesn’t mean they should be active on all channels.

Instead, businesses should focus their communication efforts on the platforms their audiences are already seeking out. Do customers like hearing directly from your brand via email, or do they prefer to get their information from influencers and influential employees? The best channels and delivery methods give consumers access to the information they want, and lay the foundation for transparent brand-customer relationships.

Creating a unique relationship with audiences through earned marketing channels can have a positive affect. The brand Steak-umm has long garnered attention by preaching the value of facts over misinformation. While not product related, the informative tweets are winning customers—and perhaps selling more slices of unpalatable meat to the public.

It’s important to identify the channels, platforms and delivery methods that give consumers both direct access to the information they seek, while laying the foundation for a transparent brand customer relationships.

4. Know your audience and understand their situation

Brands need to put customer needs first.

The COVID-19 pandemic has likely had varying degrees of impact on members of your community. While some people are learning to work remotely, others are navigating unemployment—and it’s important that your crisis communications plan takes these different emotional states into account.

Dividing an audience into segments can help hone messaging, allowing brands to respond to the current situation with better context. For example, audiences can be divided according to geographic locations that have been greatly or minimally affected by the coronavirus, helping tailor communications and creating more opportunities to interact with customers.

These opportunities also give brands more chances to listen to their customers in return—this crisis demands that brands show every effort is made with their audiences in mind.

5. Align internally

Brands need everyone to be on the same page.

Marketing during a crisis doesn’t just require establishing good communication with customers—it’s also about aligning with employees. Evidence shows that organizations that continue their marketing efforts during a crisis bounce back faster than those that don’t once a “new normal” sets in.

“Without advance planning, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to react with the speed and precision needed to mitigate damage and serve key stakeholders.”

Forrester

Creating a strong, internal strategy helps keep things focused and empowers employees with clear and consistent messaging across all types of communication. Strong alignment resonates from C-suite executives all the way to customer service—and eventually the customer.

A time to pause advertising and focus on purpose

With only 37 percent of consumers wanting brands to advertise as normal, now is the time to shift budgets toward efforts that have greater impact.

Unexpected circumstances give brands an opportunity to question their purpose, to introspect, and to emerge stronger—and those that develop the right approach (on the right marketing channels) will be in a better position over brands that make tone-deaf, opportunistic decisions.

Whether it’s out of necessity or purpose, now is the time to innovate and create an agile business that can adapt to future uncertainties.

Image credit: Alexis Antoine via Unsplash

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