Solly Moeng | A smart branding strategy during lockdown

Solly Moeng (Supplied)
Solly Moeng (Supplied)

While many of the countries around the world who are currently in coronavirus lockdown, try to figure out the right balance between fighting the spread of this deadly virus and the right time, and approach, to restart their economic engines, professionals in brand communications are faced with a conundrum of their own.

We should feel their frustration because theirs, too, is a choice they must make between pushing product and service, on one hand, and communicating the work their brands are doing, 'playing their part' – with no obvious profit motive (wink wink!) – to help curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Must they remain in hibernation – not seen nor heard (in case they might say the wrong things that might come back to haunt them) – until the coronavirus has passed and the dust settled? Must they go for a tandem of pushing product and service in some messages, and their brand's community outreach initiatives in others? Must they overlay their communication with messages demonstrating their brand's social conscience? Must they simply ditch all pure brand communications during this time and focus on 'playing their part' and demonstrating the extent of their brand's corporate citizenship, and heart, with the hope that that is the approach that will ensure memories of their brand's social conscience remain top of mind when the dust has settled?

And, for those who are in a hurry to start pure brand communication campaigns, when will the right time be for this? Just before the lifting of the lockdown, or just after? This is assuming, of course, that brand communicators are also taking this time to assess and understand the possible ramifications of this lockdown, and the 'new economy' currently being shaped right before our eyes, on their old ways of communicating their brands' messages.

By the look of things, it will no longer be entirely 'business as usual'. The lockdown is helping many consumers around the world open their eyes to goods and services they really do not need that they had been conditioned over time – often thanks to great, even invasive and manipulative, marketing messages – to believe they needed.

Are brand communicators thinking about all of this and working hard, behind-the-scenes, on new approaches to authentic, less manipulative, multimedia brand communications with a heightened social conscience and a reloaded online focus?       

What smart brands are doing during lockdown

All around the world, smart corporate (and person) brands have found impactful ways to remain in the minds of their customers, followers, and markets by leveraging their good names without pushing traditional offerings.

Now, Giorgio Armani makes aprons for doctors; Gucci designs face marks; Ferrari develops much-needed medical respirators; several airlines have turned their planes into cargo transporters for Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) and other emergency supplies; DHL is using its planes to provide the same kind of assistance.

A number of celebrities (e.g. Dolly Parton, Trevor Noah, Lupita Nyong'o and many others) have joined a program to read bedtime story books to children through an online platform that is being replicated by A-listers around the world, including South Africa. Tattoo artists have given away their gloves and protective gear to healthcare providers; many known and less known artists have taken to providing free online entertainment to help keep the spirits high and to underline the importance of community and social connections in the face of forced physical distancing. Free, globally accessible online libraries have sprung up to also mitigate growing levels of boredom and difficult access to books in some communities.

The list of efforts by private individuals who have come up with innovative ways to help elderly neighbours, or those with other health problems, is growing every passing day. Even trained dogs and drones are being used to deliver groceries and medical supplies to people trapped in their homes by age and other forms of infirmities.

Be discerning

With all of this happening – and the whole world is focused on the need to reach out across traditional divides of political, ethnic, religious and geographic frontiers in its battle against a common, invisible, and deadly enemy – it must be hard for brand communicators with one eye on products that are not moving, stuck on shelves and in storage facilities under lockdown, to determine the right moves to make without being seen to be too opportunistic, politically incorrect, or socially insensitive.

The brands mentioned above, those who have turned to manufacturing and supplying Covid-19 related goods and services, as well as providing other forms of community outreach, have got it right on two grounds.

A fine 'covinundrum'

First, they will remain top of mind, visible, in the minds of their stakeholders during a time when it seems insensitive to be pushing traditional products and service, as well as appearing to be out to draw financial benefit from consumers who seem only concerned with surviving the deadly virus and an uncertain economic future; many of them worried about their battered livelihoods. Secondly, they stand a good chance of being remembered for having been there when the world needed them the most. Their brand equity will certainly come out having been positively boosted, cushioning them with generous levels of consumer goodwill and market standing. They must simply be smart, strategically measured, in how they use these benefits when the lockdowns get lifted and a semblance of normalcy returns, ushering with them the new economy; else they too might find themselves on the backfoot, with good reason.

No doubt, the lockdowns around the world present traditional brand communicators with a fine "covinundrum" to deal with. But only those who would have had their ears on the ground and their eyes on new media consumption patterns during this period - and managed to align their approaches to fast changing consumer preferences and sentiments - will seamlessly integrate the new economy.

It will be a different world when the dust finally settles; and opportunities will be plenty for those who can spot them and use them for shared, long-term gains instead of narrow, short-term profit.     

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

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