Sapna Arora
Guest Article

The three-pronged rule to navigating brand communication during a crisis

With rapidly evolving consumer sentiments, how should brands communicate during a crisis? From the desk of OLX's CMO Sapna Arora...

We live in an unprecedented time, economic activity has come to a complete standstill. Marketers and brands are in a state of flux, and no one can accurately predict the next course of action. Amidst these precarious times, brands are grappling with changing consumer behaviour norms on a day-to-day basis. Brand communication, over the years, has evolved to capture our increasingly shorter attention spans in a world that is witnessing a deluge of information.

Brands that stuck to purpose-led communication have fared better with consumers than those that didn’t. Brands that have responded well to the crisis have been those which have been able to swiftly pivot their business models in order to assist their stakeholders and create real impact. The crisis brings with it an opportune time to go back to marketing playbooks and chalk out a purposeful yet sustainable brand communication strategy, which can stand the test of time.

In times of crisis, brands need to navigate ways to stay relevant with their consumers in an empathetic manner, without appearing to be overly opportunistic. With rapidly evolving consumer sentiments, how should brands communicate during a crisis?

1. Examining a brand’s purpose beyond a crisis

Consumers can filter brand purpose via its actions during and post crisis. Brands can stay relevant in the long term by not only addressing immediate concerns, but also plan strategies, after the storm abates, for the business community. Brands with a deeply ingrained sense of purpose tend to ride out crises better than brands that lack sensitivity. While a brand’s purpose can evolve in due course of time, it needs to strongly tie back to its role in society. Brand communication during a crisis should hark back to a strong purpose and address a real need that it is trying to address. As per the Edelman Trust Barometer, 79 per cent of brands must show how they can be helpful in the new daily life. Moreover, 90 per cent of respondents want brands to partner with government and relief agencies to address the crisis, with 59 per cent Indians saying that brands must do this to earn or keep their trust.

2. Evaluating your brand communication strategy to the status quo

As we emerge from any crisis gradually, consumer behaviour will not reflect normalcy overnight, but will gradually limp back to it over a sustained period of time. As consumers grow increasingly conservative with their discretionary spending and spend more time on traditional mediums, brands need to get back to their drawing board and evaluate the efficacy of their communication strategy across mediums. Traditional media, such as television, are witnessing a resurgence as consumers seek trusted sources of information during a crisis. Brands need to tweak their communication strategies and revisit their media mix in order to reduce dependency on any single platform. As consumer scrutiny intensifies, accurate information often trumps real-time, instant and bite-sized communication during times of crisis. Hence, brands must align their voice to focus on communication campaigns designed to assuage consumer fears, and avoid the pitfalls of over communication during a period of crisis.

3. Avoid an apathetic approach to empathetic communication

Amid such physical and mental health crises, people feel highly vulnerable and it is critical for brands to show empathy to their customers. Brands must avoid the pitfalls of mere tokenism during the crisis and should actually work towards lending their clout to assist the most vulnerable sections of society. Consumers increasingly relate to brands which live up to their promises and are inclusive in their campaigns. While the physical toll during the ongoing crisis can be quantified, the mental toll being exerted is intangible. Brands must use this time to contextualise their campaigns in order to soothe consumer sentiments, rather than creating a sense of cognitive dissonance.

The question is not if, but by when will brands be able to tide over this crisis? However, for brands across the world, this would be the new normal even after the crisis subsides. Consumer expectations from brands will be starkly different from what it is now, and brand playbooks will need to be rewritten to accommodate this tectonic shift. Creating a cascading effect with your brand and effective communication during such turbulent times goes a long way and can determine brands survival. Such turbulent times call for a brand voice to become more nimble and extend support. Brands need to recognise this as the new reality and navigate to add value to consumers' lives. Brands' reaction towards the crisis can shape consumers' perception of them for the future.