Pradeep Menon
Guest Article

Branding in times of Coronavirus

What should brands do in these testing times, when each one of them is getting affected by COVID-19?

“Florentina Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months and eleven days and nights. 'Forever,' he said.”― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.

The great novel has a message - when you face uncertainties in life, patience will lead you to your goal. At times, we may have to step back to reach that ultimate aim. A brand owner has to be patient, to make his customer loyal to the brand, just like the lead character in that ever-famous novel by Marquez. It is not about bragging about what you have, but at the end of the day, it is about the customer falling in love with your brand.

Branding in times of Coronavirus

These are testing times for the human species, as a whole, and every individual has a responsibility towards the global community to fight this out. The Coronavirus has unleashed never seen before terror among people, and every brand is getting affected by its devastating hold. So, what should brands do now?

Dos and Don’ts

Be silent – This is not the right time to try to sell your products or services through advertising. Nobody is going to read what you have to offer, unless it helps them face this difficult situation. For example, a bank should refrain from offering products, like fixed deposits. A hospital need not advertise about its huge infrastructure, or equipment. A retail showroom need not offer discounts to lure customers. All these won’t get you the attention of your target audience. The customers will, instead, view your brand as just plain insensitive. Meanwhile, a hospital can advertise its new video consultation services. A bank can advertise its digital services, which may help customers financially during these difficult times. For instance, allowing them to overdraw their salary accounts. A retail showroom can allow its customers to buy (things) online, and allow returns and exchanges, or even introduce EMI schemes.

Care for your customer – Brand loyalty is all about making the customer feel that the brand is his 'own'. It is not about the colour of the logo, or the emblem. It is all about the brand’s ability to satisfy its customers' personal needs, and that it cares about them. For example, when a bank advertises about COVID-19 prevention measures, but doesn’t even sanitise its own ATM then a customer may feel that the brand doesn't cares about him. When a hospital advertises its infrastructure, the customer may not notice it. But, when the hospital provides sanitisers for free, it may connect with the general public. When a retail showroom announces discounts, the customer may not even look at it. But, if it gives out masks to the general public, it may get noticed. In short, is it not about shouting in the customer's ear, but simply telling him that they will help him overcome these tough times.

Be patient, shut your mouth – Government authorities (in India and the world over) are trying to spread the message about how to fight COVID-19. There is no need for brands to follow suit. Sending the (same) messages that you get from every other source, along with your brand logo, to your customer won't make any difference to him, or his daily life. You're simply cluttering his mobile phone and mail box. So, be patient, shut your mouth, and open it only when you feel you have an idea which may help your customer fight this deadly disease. Save your money and resources, don't spend on useless advertising, wait for the good times, and wait for your loyal customer to return to you on his own at the end of this mayhem.

Experiential branding – This is the time to create experiences for your customer that influences his perception of you. The other day, I saw a three-star hotel in my town, which wasn't that popular earlier, but was being appreciated now. What it did was simple. It placed (installed) a sink outside, on the pavement, so that people could wash their hands with soap and water. Now, this is what makes the customers notice, instead of the hotel spending huge sums on advertising in mass media. Little things like these can make a huge difference when it comes to a customer's perception of a brand. He can see that the brand cares, without the brand having to speak for itself. When your target audience is facing difficult times, create experiences for them which may help reduce their pain a bit. It could benefit the brand in the long term.

(The author is co-founder, head branding & strategy, Blackswan (India) Ideations.)