Byline by Susan Horn, Head of Insights & Strategy
The speed with which Coronavirus has turned our world upside down has been dizzying. Some of us are still in the depths of denial, while others are coming to terms with the forced reality of social distancing and lockdowns. And while Information from China indicates that some form of normality may return 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 indicating that Australians on the whole remain relatively positive. But a 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 that consumers 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 online and 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. Consumers are being bombarded 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-serving won’t do well.
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 brand add 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 week Nike 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 trials generally 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-Coronavirus strategy. 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.