By Tempest Wright, Staff Writer/Illustrator –  April 12, 2021

Marketing in a Crisis

Marketing in the midst of a global pandemic, among insecure and frightened consumers, is an unprecedented challenge that brands big and small have had to take on in the past year. While marketers have drafted the pandemic guidebook as they went along, there are many ways to successfully connect to a concerned demographic and several brands exemplify this. What lessons lie in these successful approaches to marketing during a pandemic?

Crisis communication entails brand messaging that encapsulates and addresses the concerns and misgivings of its consumers. The ways consumers react to crises affect their decision-making behaviors. Throughout the pandemic, many American citizens experienced job and financial insecurity for the first time, and their willingness to spend money beyond essential goods and services plummeted. During a crisis, previous market research goes out of the window as even the most loyal customers cancel or postpone their purchases in an attempt to maintain their funds. While this reaction is understandable, it leaves brands that depend on the sustained support of their consumers in a challenging place.

How did consumer behavior change due to COVID-19? First, consumers relied on digital services that reduced person-to-person contact, reducing the risk of possible coronavirus transmission. Industries from banking to entertainment have adopted more e-services. For example, it’s no longer uncommon for a film to be released in theaters and on select streaming platforms simultaneously. This phenomenon is not new, but accelerated as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns of non-essential businesses and people’s reluctance to go to the movies after such restrictions were lifted. Additionally, large grocery stores and other retail chains implemented delivery and curbside pickups, along with restaurants that previously offered neither service. Customer sentiment surveys reveal that most consumers intend to sustain their use of these services beyond the pandemic.

Marketers are the ones who lead companies through times of trouble, and a pandemic is no different. Companies that manage to thrive throughout the pandemic implement several strategies. The first is to address consumer worries. Cottonelle, one of the largest manufacturers of toilet paper, addressed panic buying at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic through its #ShareASquare social media campaign. The campaign aimed to calm fears of product shortages and redirect said anxiety toward acts of charitable giving. McDonald’s in the Philippines addressed the pandemic through a response fund that provides assistance to its employees and the communities in which its restaurants reside. Ford Motors reminded its demographic of its previous experience in handling times of crisis (such as machine production during World War II) and announced emergency production of medical equipment that fell in short supply due to coronavirus. Such are just a few examples of big brands that market themselves to address widespread adversity.

With empathy, transparency, and focus on customer relations, brand loyalty is more likely to endure beyond the conclusion of troubled times. In an instance when people feel alienated from one another, it’s important that trusted brands and companies not add to the despair and respect the fears of their audiences, even if it means putting less emphasis on profit. Humanity pays off in the long run, and is a vehicle by which marketers connect to millions of people at once. When brands react promptly to their demographic’s needs and appeal to rapidly changing consumer behaviors, they are more likely to maintain success in times of global misfortune.

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