27 Apr 2020 21:51 IST

Marketers can transform the Covid crisis into opportunity

Right balance must be struck between promoting products and services and serving the common good

Our prevailing condition, in the unusual environment created by the coronavirus, is of anxiety and incertitude. Yet, there is one thing we know with conviction. This crisis will pass, and the rebuilding will commence. As marketers, what should we be doing now to ride out this crisis while repositioning our brands? Most Keynesians believe that there will be an explicit rebound, spurred by restrained demand. If you assume that is true, is your brand ready? And will you use this time to build your brand. This may well be the right time to create an emotional bond with your customer.

Patrick Hanlon in his book Primal Branding refers to the emotional component as “Primal Belonging”. This is one of the many essential attributes of successful brands. Brands thrive to succeed when there is a sense of belongingness. Apple is often referred to as a textbook case, where the pagans are the non-Apple users. They do not venerate the “Creator” (Steve Jobs) or embrace the “Sacred Words” like iMac, iPod, iPad, iCloud or iTunes.

Brand associations are loaded with loyalists and advocates who purchase more of your goods and services more frequently. On the inside, be it your employees, suppliers, and distributors; your brand association is loaded with brand ambassadors who put the right human face on your brand. But how do we, as marketers, develop and maintain a sense of belongingness and further sustain the brand association when our customers, the internal audiences, and our businesses are constrained to either stay put or closed during the prevailing crisis?

Let’s look at the fundamentals of brand-building to figure out how to work our way through the crisis.

Transparency is key

Most companies have done a great job of stating their Covid-19 policies in acquiescence with government decrees. Be proactive in responsibly communicating these policies with transparency. Post them prominently on your website. Use social media and your existing communication channels, such as newsletters and blogs to increase the extent of your announcements.

Right time to immortalise the rituals

Patrick Harlon identified rituals as a key primal branding element. As humans, we are all primed to crave peace amid chaos. Brands can render that sense of harmony by keeping up the communication and service plans, whether it’s in the form of emails, meetings, social media posts or advertising updates. Necessity may even conceive new routines in the form of training via webinars, virtual tours, best practices, or philanthropic outreaches.

Be visible and empathetic

There is an impulse to pull back, be calm and go dark. Never do that. It’s a tad counter-intuitive, especially for some in your finance department. But as the great recession proved a decade ago, the ones that stayed perceptible, stayed on top at the end. As Winston Churchill rightly remarked, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” It is the tone-deaf brands that will lose customers throughout the crisis.

As marketers, we need to strike the right balance, between promoting our products and services and by serving the common good. Organisations should contribute to the community effort in a crisis of this scale. Social media works as an exceptional sounding board for brands to support their customers and their partners in acts of charity. Sharing posts and articles on how to maintain a business in these trying times is another way a brand can show compassion and empathy, while revealing that it, too, is not immune to the effects of the pandemic.

Reflect, reassess, review, repeat

In some forms, this crisis has benefited many marketers with added time. Time saved on commuting, around conference tables or rushing to trade shows. Now there's an opportunity to do the things you’ve always pushed for but did not have the time to do before. You may call this as a “sharpen the saw” time. It's time to review those website analytics, catch up on your reading and get your head around new marketing pursuits. Remember, this is your opportunity and if you don’t use it wisely, your competitor will.

Be positive, decisive and assertive

None of us has ever faced a situation like the one we are going through now. The emotional toll can be an unnerving experience for many. Your brand exhibits the marketer behind it, therefore it is imperative to maintain a positive outlook as this too shall pass. Right now, there is a lot of commentary doing the rounds concerning the real stress and grieving process that we are subject to. There are also several interesting articles online with genuine, simple advice on how to cope with this crisis. We can benefit from such ideas. And, when we’re finally done with the trauma and the healing, I reckon it’s time to get back to work.


(The writer is Professor of Marketing at Chennai Business School, with over ten years experience in the BFSI and higher education sectors.)