As the UK takes its first tentative steps towards recovery, marketing will play an increasingly important role in building consumer confidence and restarting the economy. Regardless of what the Government does, until people feel it is safe enough to go out, they will stay at home out of choice.
Although we would like to think as human beings our purchasing decisions are entirely rational, they are actually highly driven by emotions. Coronavirus is continuing to claim hundreds of lives daily and, despite reassurance from the Government, people still feel a lot of anger and fear. For the economy to fully recover brands need to connect with their customers on a deep personal level and support them through this difficult time. Words need to be backed up by deeds; it is no good saying one thing and then doing another. Ignoring the fact that people are in a high emotional state would be extremely detrimental to any brand.
Adapting to the situation
We have seen some great examples of brands adapting their approach to marketing, particularly in the financial sector. Banks have been quick to engage and connect with their customers. NatWest’s TV adverts, for example, show their employees working from home and taking part in video conferencing calls. Many people will be able to relate to this as they are also working remotely and experiencing the same issues. Barclays and HSBC are providing value to their customers by offering advice on how to avoid online scammers. They are saying to their customers: “We are looking out for you and we’re here to support you during these difficult times.” Collectively the sector is trying to demonstrate that it has a personality and that banks are made up of real people working in real situations that we can all relate to. Showing employees in their home environment breaks down barriers and builds a connection with their audience. During times of crisis brands need to show that they are emotional and can reach out and connect with their customers.
This is a step change in how corporations have behaved in the past and it is a very different approach to marketing, particularly for the financial sector. Crises often present opportunities and by pushing empathetic and sensitive content, banks may even be able to repair some of the colossal damage done to their reputation during the last financial crisis in 2008
Innovate, don’t replicate
There are also some fantastic examples of innovation from brands such as BrewDog which started making hand sanitiser at their distillery in Aberdeen in response to the national shortage. Similarly, Burberry announced it would be repurposing its Yorkshire trench coat factory to make non-surgical gowns for NHS workers. The luxury brand also revealed that it would be using its global supply chain to fast track the delivery of over 100,000 surgical masks for use by medical staff. And it is not just large corporations who are responding to the national need. During the crisis we’ve seen school children making masks, retired people sewing scrubs, and ordinary people doing exceptional things and raising millions for charity in the process. These are all great examples of innovation and creativity and just what can be achieved during times of real hardship and adversity.
People before profits
As lockdown restrictions are lifted businesses across all sectors, but particularly retail, will need to have an even greater focus on the safety of their staff and customers. When the high street reopens people still want to have a pleasant, ambient time in store, but retailers will need to demonstrate that they are putting safety and welfare above profits. Many businesses in the past have said they would love to be more flexible but can’t and it turns out they can! Brands are discovering there is a lot more they can do for their local communities and corporate social responsibility is really coming to the fore. Some organisations have been guilty in the past of just going through the motions, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of people to look at CSR in different light. They are starting to realise that they really can make a difference.
There has been a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’ and what that will look like. A lot of businesses will see this as an opportunity to engage with customers and hopefully in the future they will be more giving back rather than just taking. I do not think people are going to want to hear a glossy commercial message; brands will need to be more grounded and humbler in the way they communicate. There will be a period as we come out of the crisis when people will still feel quite tentative and we are not sure how confident consumers will feel about making big investments. Marketers need to approach this with caution and sensitivity, demonstrate that they understand people’s concerns and be respectful of the situation. It is certainly going to be different and challenging but also quite exciting, almost like a blank canvas. It is an opportunity for brands to review their values and reconsider who they are, what they do and how they do it. Are the perceptions they have created in the mind of their customers still relevant?
This crisis is unlike anything we have ever experienced before and presents an opportunity for brands to reconnect with their customers, look back over their existing collateral and decide what they need going forward. It might in fact have a big influence on consumer behaviour and encourage us to buy more responsibly and sustainably. It is an opportunity for change, and I am sure as a profession we can rise to the challenges that will bring. We need to rethink what our businesses stand for and take the positives from the awful situation imposed on us. With reduced budgets and fewer team resources many organisations will be stretched and it’s always going to be cheaper to do the same old thing. However, I really hope that as an industry, we will have the courage to embrace and even define, the new normal.