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Building brand resilience in times of pandemic

8 May 2020 22 min read

The crisis we are facing today is unwillingly unprecedented. With no tangible end in sight, businesses and brands face massive challenges as they grapple with disruption on a global scale. In response to the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, brands have begun to shift brand marketing activities to stay resilient.

What can brands do to survive and remain relevant during difficult, uncertain times? 

#1: Reinforce your brand purpose

A strong brand purpose — the reason WHY a brand exists — informs every successful business decision. In times of crisis, it serves as a compass that allows brands to navigate and survive challenging circumstances. 

(Photo Source: Scribd)

Scribd is an American e-book and audiobook subscription service dubbed as “the Netflix for books” that hosts the largest digital library in the world of over 60 million documents, ebooks, audiobooks and magazines on its open publishing platform. Scribd reinforced what they stand for to put their 80 million strong customers and community first and gave 30-day free access to their entire library with no commitment or credit card information required. The company is also exploring new ways to connect readers with one another and to authors by providing curated reading recommendations to individuals across their social platforms. 

IHG® (InterContinental Hotels Group), one of the world’s leading hotel companies, extended free accommodation across the United States for frontline COVID-19 first responders. They also established global partnerships to support food banks and other food provision charities in assisting those most in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

With a promise to provide #TrueHospitality for everyone, IHG stays true to making everyone feel welcome and cared for, recognised and respected, whoever and wherever they are in the world. 

(Photo Source: Intercontinental Hotels Group LinkedIn)
(Photo Source: IHG Hotels & Resorts Facebook)

As communities around the world respond to COVID-19, we’re honored and privileged to play our part and help those who are taking care of our loved ones and neighbors. #FirstRespondersFirst is unique because it addresses the broad needs of this critical group of people and being part of a bigger solution is how we think about the support we provide communities. We look forward to welcoming these critical frontline teams and delivering the True Hospitality they deserve when they need it most.

Keith Barr
Chief Executive Officer, IHG

Frasers Property lives out its commitment as a digital innovator in the property and real estate industry through a series of tech-driven response measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The property group was one of the first Singapore-based companies amongst JustCo and PBA Group to have committed US$50,000 each in support of gaming company Razer’s plan to set up Singapore’s first fully automated mask production and packing line. In addition, the property group is also collaborating with PBA Group to roll out UV-disinfecting autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) – called Sunburst UV Bots.

(Photo Source: https://www.frasersproperty.com/the-library/corporate/2020/april/frasers-property-supports-razer-mask-production-line-in-singapore)
(Photo Source: https://www.frasersproperty.com/home/frasers-singapore/essentials/shared/dataitems/press-releases/2020/april/frasers-property-pba-group)

#2: Use your brand voice

Many believe that a brand only consists of visual elements like identity, colours, fonts and photography style. Brand voice is less obvious but an equally important element that personifies a brand and makes it come to life. 

Just like human language, brand language should adapt depending on the context. In the middle of adversity, brands need to be mindful of their tone of voice. Empathy is critical. Customers will immediately pick up on the difference between a commercially opportunistic message and a sincere one so it is important to be sensitive and nuanced.

(Photo Source: Verizon)

Knowing that lives and business will be depending on networks and connectivity for survival, US telco company Verizon uses a subtle and reassuring tone delivered by real people and timely messaging to assuage fears of further disconnection from a bogged down network.

(Photo Source: GoJek LinkedIn)

With the transportation sector being one of the hardest hit, on-demand service platform GoJek immediately acknowledges and protects their business’ lifeblood — the drivers, delivery and merchant partners — through a financial assistance scheme relayed by a concerned, empathetic and decisive brand voice.

(Source: MHA Instagram)

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs through their Home Team Science and Technology Agency HTX, encourages compliance with an optimistic and encouraging tone in light of stringent citywide guidelines.

People turn to leaders and businesses for guidance, reassurance and empathy in times of crisis. Use your brand voice to embody the collective human experience. 

#3: Impact with visuals

The human brain processes images 60,000x faster than text. Businesses use strong visual identity to maintain authenticity of a brand, leverage opportunities and provide consistency.

Brands can utilise their fluency in visual communication by disseminating useful, reliable and digestible information that can help people navigate the crisis. Data visualisation via infographics are a tried-and-tested format for shareable information, perfect for social media and the shift to digital. 

In launching GrabCares: #pullingthroughittogether, Grab Thailand makes information easier to process through visual cues like colours, shapes and vector illustrations to communicate support measures at a glance.

(Photo Source: Grab)

Brands also have the power to infuse positivity and light-heartedness to lift spirits amid a crisis. For example, brand giants such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and gaming company Razer promoted the practice of social distancing in a visually impactful way by cleverly re-imagining their iconic logos.

Adding spacing in between logo characters, Coca-Cola demonstrated the idea that “Staying apart is the best way to stay connected,” while also staying true to their brand values of connection and inspiring moments of happiness.

(Photo Source: CNN Business)

In the same vein, McDonald’s Brazil drew attention in by drawing their iconic golden arches apart, “Separating for a moment to always be together.”

(Photo Source: CNN Business)

Razer separated their three interlocking snakes icon to promote the practice while encouraging users to game from home.

(Photo Source: CGTN)

With societies being bombarded by countless headlines, news articles and features, brands can make meaningful contributions by visually adding structure and moments of humor to the noise.

#4: Power up your digital brand

Out of sheer necessity, businesses, communities and nations are going through a bigger and further shift to digital. What used to be a supplementary mode of conducting business now is a vital channel for survival in the age of Covid. Physical distancing and isolation protocols have magnified the importance of digitization.

Museums and travel platforms such as Airbnb and Tripadvisor have started to design experiences by creating virtual tours and online art showcases. Airbnb Online Experiences offers would-be travellers access to a multitude of activities from hosts around the world, including meditation with Buddhist monks, cooking with a Moroccan family and going on a virtual bike tour. Through the updated platform, hosts can continue to earn income.

(Photo Source: Airbnb)

Social media also plays a big role in crisis management efforts. Utilising their social channels to stream home workouts, boutique fitness studios such as ClassPass now get to interact with a wider audience in real time through complimentary content.

(Photo Source: ClassPass)

Meetings and exhibitions are now moving online, social gatherings and celebrations and experiences are virtual. Entertainment resort Sentosa created special virtual backgrounds to make work meetings more entertaining and spread joy among colleagues and tied this to Facebook and Instagram contents to extend the fun.

These three brands have a similar category insight that fitness, fun and the magic of travel can begin at home and have pivoted in response to this. Brands are expected now more than ever to be present and active in the digital space. This increased engagement drives better dialogue between people inside the brand and outside the brand — a win-win for brand-building.

#5: Be visible and take direct positive action

In times of chaos, people seek familiarity and reassurance. A brand that strives to be visible and well-known will always have a competitive advantage over others who don’t. However, in the quest for more meaningful and purposeful ways to engage during this pandemic, remember that how you behave holds more value and meaning than what you say. 

As a house of brands, P&G stepped up as a force of good by mobilizing their full capabilities with massive relief efforts for employees, consumers and communities across the globe and partnering with the world’s leading relief operations. P&G has truly committed to be part of the solution. 

(Photo Source: P&G Facebook)

Employees from the hard-hit aviation sector are finding meaning in extending safety and service excellence beyond air travel and their community. At a time when aviation passenger volumes are very low, SATS employees extend their capacity and skills to support their direct communities. 

Singapore Airlines fulfilled their brand mission to be excellent citizens of the world and deployed 300 “care ambassadors” to aid a manpower gap in hospitals in Singapore amid rising Covid-19 cases.

Brands at this time shouldn’t be afraid to flex emotional muscles and be innovative about ways to can help. Visibility and immediacy are key. People are receptive and emotional during a crisis — associate your brand with good and use this opportunity to create positive, direct experiences right away.

Conclusion

As brands and businesses shift to survival mode, short-term implications are visible but the long-term consequences for brands are yet to be seen and even more difficult to imagine. But we do know that the answer isn’t for brand-building activities to come to a screeching halt.

Whilst navigating this period of uncertainty, businesses would benefit most from intentional brand-aligned responses over knee-jerk reactions. Find ways to dial down and refocus on your most loyal set of customers, or recalibrate your offering to be able to reach newer sets of audiences without overspending. 

Here are five concrete steps to build brand resilience: 

  • Reinforce your “why” and anchor next steps based on your brand purpose. A well-articulated brand purpose reframes what is crucial.  
  • Use a compelling and authentic brand voice to humanize and connect with your customers — timely, positive and proactive voices will resonate best. 
  • Opt for digestible, high impact visuals. Seek to simplify complex information. 
  • Power up your digital brand to build a strong sense of connection and community.
  • Be visible and take direct positive action .

While it may not be “business as usual” on the outset, truly resilient brands maintain steady momentum and hedge against chaos with consistency. After any crisis, the true test of purpose is whether your brand retains a meaningful place within your customers’ hearts and minds, which then translates to growth. The key is to accept this time as pivotal in your brand’s evolution. 

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