When there’s a sudden crisis, most brands have the same reaction: fear. They think about slicing marketing budgets, withdrawing from advertising channels, and weathering the storm by hunkering down.
But what if a crisis means you should do the exact opposite?
It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Some of the best brands find their footing during a crisis.
While the branding opportunities during a crisis might look different from typical opportunities, it doesn’t mean you can’t find them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, brands like Zoom were able to capitalize by becoming a more mainstream way for health care providers to connect with patients.
During a crisis, customers’ needs change. If you can position your own brand to fit with these changes, you’ll find opportunities you didn’t know were there. But finding those opportunities sometimes means you have to be a contrarian. Here’s how—and why—you should find new marketing opportunities in an uncertain world:
Be a Contrarian: Looking for Opportunities When Everyone Else is Cutting Down
“Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”-Warren Buffet
Contrarian investing has been around for a long time. But while Warren Buffet’s famous quote might seem intuitive, it’s hard to practice. When businesses are cutting back and people are afraid of tomorrow’s headlines, it can seem like the worst possible time in the world to think about expanding your branding opportunities.
Yet that’s exactly what your brand should do.
Crises Force Brands to Find New Avenues for Success
No one wants a crisis, but each crisis has a way of forcing companies to find new avenues for reaching their customers.
During the Great Depression, Procter and Gamble—already selling to American grocery customers and noticing grocery store demand chipping away at their profits—knew that people would still need to buy soap. It was during this crisis that P&G modernized its branding efforts. Rather than slash costs, P&G took an active approach of the following strategies:
- Specialized marketing strategies. Rather than market as a company, P&G split itself into specialized brands—and specialized marketing segments. Dedicated groups of marketers were now to focus on product-specific branding without outside interference.
- Exploring new advertising sources. P&G took to the radio waves, an advertising medium still in its infancy. They engaged in content marketing by creating a radio show, “Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins,” that attracted grocery shoppers across the country to Oxydol soap powder.
- Creating new offerings. Dreft was “the first synthetic detergent” to hit the market in 1933. You might think that the height of the Great Depression would be a terrible time to introduce a new category of product. But P&G did it, and cleaning products were never the same.
P&G understood one thing: during an economic depression, their products could become more important to the average consumer than ever. Penny-pinching grocery shoppers needed effective cleaners they could depend on, and P&G capitalized on the depression to create lifelong bonds with customers. They could have simply slashed costs. Instead, they looked for opportunities.
Being a Contrarian Brand-Builder in the Digital Age
In hindsight, placing radio advertisements during the Great Depression seems obvious. But at the time, the obvious strategy would have been to cut back on costs and make every product as cheap as possible.
This same “contrarian” mindset is available today. And it can be just as effective.
There are advantages to branding efforts during a crisis. You read that right. If you have the resources and time to manage it, there are distinct advantages to branching out during a crisis. Many of the principles that guide branding during ordinary times become even pronounced when a crisis is on. Here’s how:
- You’re going to make new introductions. 48% of customers say that their very first purchase/interaction with a brand helps determine their long-term brand loyalty. For many brands, the behavioral changes during a crisis will be their first introductions to entirely new customer segments.
- Brands that reach out to customers can score bigger. We already know that 73% of customers love brands thanks to their customer service. How much more pronounced is that effect when a customer feels the pinch of a crisis? How much more will they appreciate brands that reach out to help them?
- Crises help forge emotional bonds. One reason Proctor & Gamble was so successful during the Great Depression is that it created content that helped forge emotional bonds with its audience. This is a long term investment, since customers with an emotional connection tend to have as much as 3x the long-term value.
- Clarity will be at a premium. When there’s a lot of uncertainty in the headlines, clarity becomes that much more important. And since we know that 71% of customers list confusion as their highest negative impact on how they perceive a brand, building more clarity with your customers is going to make you that much more distinct.
How to Plan for the Aftermath of a Crisis
Too many brands think about things in the short-term future. And why not? They’re worried about making payroll. About fitting their expenses within a budget. About what to do if they can’t afford to make commercial real estate lease payments.
But even if you struggle during a crisis, long-term thinking is still available to you.
- Be honest with yourself about your brand’s prospects. If a recession is going to last 6-12 months, you may be looking at well over a year of slower economic activity. It’s the brands who bank on unfounded optimism that are unable to put together good long-term plans.
- Be ready to adapt to a new reality. For example, we can expect that some aspects of life will go back to normal when COVID-19 concerns have died down. But we should also expect that some customers will hold on to the habits they developed during the crisis. People who have never been so digital or remote before may want to continue doing things that way. Some might return—but don’t expect them all to come back.
- Uncover new opportunities for lead generation. If the world is going to be more digital and remote after COVID-19, then the lead generation you performed during the crisis is going to have staying power. Don’t put off exploring these new avenues. Reach out to people through new avenues (such as online webinars, email outreach, or remote networking events) to get the hang of it.
During a crisis, a lot of people have to adapt to short-term thinking. But if you can find the time and resources to create a long-term plan for your brand, you put yourself at an immediate advantage.
A Step-by-Step Game Plan for Identifying Your Brand’s Opportunities
These ideas are all great. But what’s an actual game plan you can use to find brand opportunities during a crisis? We’ve put together some of the fundamental principles you can immediately put into action:
- Listen to customers. “Listen for changes in customer sentiment and behavior,” argues Gartner. “The current crisis seems poised to amplify the distrust customers have of brands. Brands can push against that wave by rising to the occasion to re-establish trust through customer-centric actions.” One of their recommendations? Listen to customers and consider why their feelings are changing.
- Find avenues for customer outreach. Communication with customers has never been more important. Businesses are shut down and customers are home. Don’t expect customers to dial you up, or for important clients to follow up with you when they have so many of their own concerns. At INK, we recently reached out to a client with COVID-friendly gifts of Purell hand sanitizers because we knew they were struggling to keep their regular office environment functioning. Show people you’re thinking about them.
- Make your brand easy to find. Create a new phone number for customers with questions, or simply advertise your existing phone number more prominently. Organize a team that can handle any crisis-related questions. Engage with that team and let them reach out to other people in your company to deliver results.
- Think about your major customers and clients. For example, consider one toilet paper provider who responded to unprecedented demand for their product by prioritizing their subscribers. They made sure that the customers who had been taking care of them during the good times would be taken care of during the tough times.
A crisis can spell the end for some brands. For other brands, though, it can be a time to plant seeds. Crises don’t last forever, and your brand is going to need a game plan for what happens when the crisis lets up. Will your brand come out stronger, with more opportunities discovered? Or will it lose out to the competition who were able to look at the big picture? Now’s the time to decide.