We’ve all seen the research reporting that consumers want us to keep advertising to them during lockdown. And that’s great news for those brands that have the resources and budget available to do so. But there’s a problem, and it was highlighted by a video showing that Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same.
The video cuts together the coronavirus advertising from over 30 brands and they are all startlingly similar — the same visuals, the same copy, the same sentiment. It’s quite astounding.
Yes, it’s admirable that brands like Apple, Facebook, FedEx, AT&T and Google – to name a few – have spent their advertising dollars sending message of hope and support to customers. But when everyone is doing it and doing it in exactly the same way, the message loses impact. It becomes less about connecting with customers and more about brands being seen to do the right thing. This homogeneity has no real value for the customer, and, it can be argued, very little value for the brand.
If you’re spending advertising dollars mimicking competitor messaging, look and feel, how is that helping your brand stand out? How is it helping your brand to create unique associations or bonds with customers?
Don’t let pressure to be seen and heard by customers trick you into parroting platitudes. Before reaching out, think about whether your message makes sense for your brand.
It’s true the consumer psyche is changing, and brands are responding to the current need for safety, security and comfort. It makes sense to go out with messaging that says ‘we care’ and ‘we’re with you’. But responding to the consumer psyche is just one half of the picture.
The real question marketers should be asking themselves is ‘how?’ How does your brand care? How is your brand there for its customers? We’re past the point of bland motherhood statements. Now consumers are looking for real-life value. They’re settling into the norm of social distancing and looking for something new.
To find the value you can add, you have step away from the consumer and go back to the fundamentals of your brand. What can your brand offer that is authentic and true, and how can that add value to customers’ lives right now?
It’s the brands that first understand themselves that will cut through and connect, because they’ll be looking within for inspiration and their communication will be unique and true.
COVID-19 is unlike anything Australia has experienced in recent times. It has brought drastic change to everyone’s lives, permeating every facet of our day-to-day.
It’s a significant global event, one happening to us rather than one we observe happening to others on news or social media. As a result, we’re seeing high levels of uncertainty and anxiety across the board. Not so much about catching the virus, but about how life has and is going to continue to change, and for how long.
The impact on the consumer psyche will be significant and long-lasting. When this is all over, it won’t be case of going back to business as usual. What was usual may be unusual in a post-COVID world.
76% of Australians believe COVID-19 will have a significant impact on how we go about our lives in the future. Not only do businesses and brands need to adapt to the current climate to stay afloat, they also need to start planning for the revised standards that will eventuate at the other end of the crisis. Our COVID-19 Changing Consumer Psyche report examines how customer values are changing, their role in instigating behavioural change, and offers suggestions on how brands can respond to the current landscape and prepare for the new normal, including:
Positive and Negative Change
Schwartz’s theory of basic human values identifies ten values and links them to motivational goals. In the current climate, we’re observing a shift in values creating both positive and negative change. Universalism is on the rise, but so too is self-protection.
(Source: Schwartz 1992, 2015)
Digital channels should be the focus for any current marketing activity. In Australia, news, streaming services, broadcast TV, social media and messaging apps have all seen significant increases in consumption since the beginning of the outbreak
(Source: GlobalWebIndex, April 2020)
Preparing for Recovery
In planning for the recovery, businesses need to understand which values best sit with their brand, and then which customer groups they want to target. Are you going to help customers blaze an individual trail and succeed in the new world, or are you going to help them find comfort in their new normality?
(Source: BC: AC Life Before and After COVID-19, Social Soup/Pollinate, April 2020)
Aiding Routines in the New Normal
Routine is a source of comfort. Marketers have the ability to not only help establish new routines, but to create positive associations with these new habits by demonstrating consensus in behaviour. Helping customers establish routines that cut through the chaos is also a powerful opportunity to connect.
(Source: GlobalWebIndex, April 2020)
The speed with which Coronavirus has turned our world upside down has been dizzying. Someof us are still in the depths of denial, while others are coming to terms with the forced reality of social distancing andlockdowns. And whileInformation from China indicates that some form of normality mayreturn after just three months,it’s clear that financial recovery from this crisis will take much longer.
According to some reports, Australian consumers are coping relatively well (toilet paper and a flagrant disregard for social distancing rules aside), with GlobalWebIndex indicatingthat Australians on the whole remain relatively positive. Buta survey by Omnipoll a week later argued that we’re also feeling helpless, scared and isolated. In reality, it depends who you ask and when you ask them. What we can be sure of, however, is thatconsumers will be racing through a vast range of emotions as they adapt to this new reality, and brands need to keep pace.
Business sectors that have been able to pivot quickly from offline to onlineand keep their customers connected, informed or entertained are the ones keeping their heads above water.With social media usage increasing as people spend more time alone at home, prioritising and adding value via your online channels now is non-negotiable.
But be warned. Consumersare beingbombarded with messages from brands desperate to appear concerned, informed or empathetic. Before adding your brand voice to the melee, make sure it’s for the right reasons, as brands that are seen to be self-servingwon’t dowell.
Add value, bring empowerment and provide comfort
In times of uncertainty, people are looking for a sense of control – it’s why everyone panic bought loo roll. So, think about how your brand can help customers regain that sense of empowerment. Brands that are also able to authentically add value now, and sustain it through the crisis, will come out the other side with loyal customers.
Last week, UK fitness trainer Joe Wicks announced that he was launching ‘P.E. with Joe’, a livestreamed fitness class for kids in lockdown. The idea came after his planned tour of schools was cancelled. He achieved a perfect pivot from offline to online, with the first broadcast already amassing over 5 million views – many of whom are parents joining their kids and discovering just how unfit they really are – far greater than the original 10,000 kids he would have reached on tour.
In one week, Wicks was elevated from the status of‘just another fitness influencer’ into a darling of the Nation because his classes add value. As Wicks says, “If this takes just a bit of pressure off parents, makes kids a little fitter and happier and gives them some structure to their day, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do”. Based on consumer feedback, he’s also landed on a fantastic way for kids and parents to connect in a crisis.
Where can your brandadd value or enhance comfort? What can you do that actively alleviates the pressure, boredom or challenges of combining living and working at home? How can you help make lockdown a more pleasant (or at least tolerable) experience?
Adapt to new formats
To maintain connection with consumers over the coming months, consider what products, services or content you can deliver direct into the home. Then, broaden your channel mix. We know engagement with podcasts, social media and livestreams is increasing. There’s also been a slight increase in user–generated content, which may become more exaggerated as boredom kicks in. How can you adapt your marketing plan to suit these formats? Can you create new digital touchpoints for your audiences now that physical touchpoints are no longer there?
Give a little
Before you jump in with service offerings at a price, it’s important to establish your objectives for any COVID-related activity. According to the GlobalWebIndex study, 54% of Australians believe brands should be offering free services during the outbreak.If your objective is to come out the other side with a loyal following, think carefully about what you charge for.
Babbel has made its language learning app free for three months to students in the USA following a successful trial in Italy, and Cirque Du Soleil has launched a digital hub offering free livestreams, VR experiences and tutorials from performers. Joe Wicks’ classes are free, and last weekNike joined the plethora of fitness and wellness brands offering free app access during the crisis.
And it’s not just B2C businesses that can add value. Messaging provider MessageMedia just launched a free assistance package to help struggling Australian cafes and restaurants switch to an SMS-based ‘text in’ operating model for orders, which could help keep some businesses afloat through the crisis.
Taking into account that somewhere between 15-20% of free trialsgenerally convert to paid customers, you could set yourself up for a positive recovery by foregoing short term revenue in favour of building brand affinity.
Plan for the recovery
Finally, don’t wait until recovery starts to begin work on your post-Coronavirusstrategy. To recover quickly, brands need to be ready to hit the ground running when the lockdowns are lifted. There will be opportunities to help customers re-establish social connections and start a new version of their life.
You don’t want to be the one playing catch up when that time comes. Marketers always long for more time to focus on strategy and planning, so take this as permission to get started.
And in the meantime, if you can’t truly add value right now, Stay Home.
Right now, if Australian retailers aren’t peddling 2-ply toiletries (or anything else deemed ‘essential’) then you can bet they’re in crisis mode.
Business strategies that have perhaps enjoyed a period of stasis are being stress-tested to incorporate foreign facets like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’, and bricks and mortar stores unschooled in reaping traffic of the URL variety are struggling without its IRL equivalent.
And while retailers’ B2C divisions are being whittled into skeleton crews and closures, B2B stakeholders are watching very closely to see how they’re responding. Is it with silence a la Corona brewers, or solidarity like Guinness brewers? And more to the point, does it even matter?
DISCOURSE BY DATA
According to the numbers: yes — at least if you’re selling to tomorrow’s customers.
The Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2019, which recorded views of some 13,000 millennials and 3000 Gen Zs over 42 countries and territories, found that consumer sentiment towards business is increasingly negative. Only 55 per cent thought that business had a positive effect on society, which is a steep decline from the 61 per cent recorded in 2018.
Pertinent to a COVID-19 world, 32 per cent of millennials thought that businesses should try to improve society, and 37% said they would ‘stop/lessen’ their relationships with businesses because of ethical behaviour. As Deloitte put it, this is because millennials think businesses “focus solely on their own agendas rather than considering the consequences for society.” Not to be left out, a significant number of Gen Zs were also found to put their money where their values are by patronising brands that mirror their progressive ideals.
ACE Metrix, an advertising analytics company, add context to this in terms of brand responses to coronavirus. They report that 42 percent of consumers surveyed are in favour of brands addressing the pandemic, while 44 per cent added the caveat that it depended on the brand and message. “Actual action, not just words” was the key take-away, as 75 per cent placed the onus on brands to help out during the pandemic.
In light of Victoria’s stage one shutdown, the importance of brand communications has heightened. Search interest for ‘coronavirus retail’ saw vertiginous, yet volatile, spikes after Sunday’s announcement. ‘What retail stores are closing in Australia’ was a breakout term, meaning the query increased 5000 per cent over the previous period.
WHAT’S A BRAND TO DO
So, the demand for intel is there. Now what?
Retail consultant and 12HIGH founder Nathan Bush recently advised that “now is not the time for elaborate promotions or whimsical story telling.” In other words: keep it simple, stupid. Some brands are already getting called out for ‘panic marketing’ (founded or not), and Buzzsumo’s data shows that coronavirus headlines from Australian domain designators have clocked over 33 million engagements in 2020. Over 27 million of them will come from March alone, meaning any virtue signalling disguised as brand altruism will raise more eyebrows than a sneeze on the train.
Giving back is obviously the knee-jerk reaction. But while big-box retailers like Woolworths can afford charitable responses like their dedicated shopping hour, others may benefit from straight-forward transparency.
One standard approach across the board is to take to socials and speak directly to your community. Yeti’s Instagram post is a model response, incorporating brand ideals (the great outdoors) into a message informing their customers of closure dates and what it means for their staff. And their community liked it; looking at Yeti’s last nine image posts, they liked it approximately 155 per cent more.
Even those enjoying the contemporary gold rush that is the toiletry business are responding in kind. Who Gives a Crap notified their customers of reduced stock, assuaged those with subscriptions, and tied in brand messaging by urging charitable giving through a #plyitforward campaign.
Ancillary to social posts, brands like Arc’Teryx have addressed COVID-19 through creative content. Their ‘Together for What’s to Come’ article gave an uplifting message of unity in uncertain times, before outlining how the virus would affect their people, operations, and community.
Kate Morris, founder of Adore Beauty, is exemplary of how you can take charge with thought leadership. She set up a ‘war room’ community on Slack strictly for owners of e-commerce stores. Over 130 people joined to trade in knowledge and support.
I’ve set up a war room for ecommerce leaders on Slack for COVID-19 planning, let me know if you need an invite.
Providing a sense of stability, keeping positive, and communicating is important, but as business leadership author George Bradt wrote in Forbes, it’s important to manage your brand through the crises. And that means being realistic about the immediate future.
Finance reporters have been cataloguing the permanent closures of either stores or whole brands like Collette by Colette Hayman, Ishka, and EB Games across Australia. This week, jewellery juggernaut Michael Hill closed 300 stores ‘indefinitely’ and Aus swimwear brand Tigerlily went into voluntary administration. Both citing coronavirus as the main reason.
ING Group are reporting that COVID-19 closures of Chinese factories will reverberate up the supply chain. Apart from Australia’s standard dependance on Chinese trade, IBIS World highlight Australian retail sectors most likely to take a knock from Chinese imports include electronics and footwear. Beyond that, OEC data on Australia’s 2017 Chinese imports indicates which other wares coronavirus could spell trouble for.
Of course, there are areas of opportunity for growth — even if you’re not selling 2-ply toiletries. Live video, virtual services, and e-commerce are but a few poised to benefit, and the cyclical nature of economics stipulates that a bust is followed by a boom. While you hunker down for the uptick, take note from others in the space. Take stock, avoid empty rhetoric, and be transparent with your customers. If there’s any luck, doing your bit to ‘flatten the curve’ might even salve flattening sales.