As a marketing professional, there couldn’t be a worse time than all businesses shutting shop within a day and a pandemic threatening human life and the world as we know it. I just finished a long conversation with a friend discussing the marketing possibilities for a brand during the current lockdown. What started as a casual conversation, soon led to an interesting discussion where we exchanged ideas and spoke about things that a brand could do during such trying times. Before the lockdown, I couldn’t make time to share my thoughts. However, today’s conversation was different – or should I say unprecedented. Hence, before the thoughts dissipated, I powered on my laptop to write about an important topic – How should a brand market itself during a crisis like a pandemic?
Before I start, I have some questions for you:
- As a business owner, what should you do right now?
- Lie low until the crisis tides over?
- Or, reach out to your customers?
- If you decide to reach out, then what do you say? Sell your products/services?
The Call that inspired this article
On April 23, 2020, at around six in the evening as I was watching our brave health workers battle the pandemic on India’s streets, I received a phone call from a friend. This was a rare sight, especially since the lockdown had been extended. Most brands were clueless about what needed to be done next and I didn’t have answers either as I had never thought about this scenario in all my worst-case-scenario marketing strategies. However, the beauty of talking to an intelligent entrepreneur is that he/she can help you think better which is what happened on that call.
Me: Hello, Murthy. This is a pleasant surprise.
Ram Murthy (the friend): Hello Priyanka. Hope this is a good time to talk.
Ram: I needed some marketing suggestions from you.
Me: You mean during the lockdown?
Ram: Yes. You sound surprised!
Me: Well, I am surprised. You are the first person who seems to be considering marketing despite being in the business of non-essential products.
Ram: Are you implying that this is a bad idea? Isn’t a good marketing professional one who finds a way in any market?
Me (fumbling a bit): Yes…but…
Ram: Here is the deal. I don’t think that radio silence is a good or a responsible brand right now. I want to reach out to my customers. And, I want you to help me devise a marketing strategy around it. Are you up for it?
Me: Can I call you back after gathering my thoughts?
This guy must be crazy to think about marketing his products at a time when people are struggling to cope with the new normal. With their physical and mental well-being at stake, if any brand tries to sell their products/services that are not relevant right now, then there is a huge possibility of losing reputation within days.
People are worried about their well-being. They are unable to buy any non-essential products even if they want to. This means that Murthy cannot market his products right now – it will be futile. So, what kind of communication can he initiate that enhances customer trust and creates a win-win.!
A few minutes later…
Me: Hello, Murthy.
Ram: I hope your thoughts are gathered and you have a plan?
Me: Yes, and I have a few questions for you.
Ram: Go on…
Me: What kind of communication do you want to initiate with your customers? Do you have anything in mind?
Ram: No. All I know is that I don’t want to sit by idly. It doesn’t feel like something a responsible brand would do.
Me: I feel that marketing your products right now is a bad idea for many reasons. Hence, product-related communication can be ruled out. However, there are many other forms of communication that we can discuss.
Ram: I am listening…
I was proud of myself. Did I just manage to pull something out of my magic hat?
Me: People are worried about a lot of things. The well-being of their loved ones, the impact on their jobs, rising prices, unavailability of essentials, sinking investments, looming recession…
Ram: I understand. I am one of them.
Me: Well. The next question is, what kind of communication would you like your brand to initiate?
Ram: I see your point. Trying to market the products will be a bad idea.
Me (silently patting myself on my back): Let’s say that a brand that you are loyal to initiates a service wherein you can create a recipe out of the things available in your refrigerator. All you need to do is tell the application what you have at home and it will create a recipe for you.
Ram: Sounds interesting. Even if I don’t cook, it will benefit my family.
Me: Or, it initiates some easy to do home exercises that can help you stay fit during a lockdown.
Ram: But, isn’t this information already available online. Also, how will it help my brand?
Me: Think about it, Murthy. If you are on the receiving end of such communication, how would you perceive the brand?
Ram (after a short pause): Responsible. Adaptable. Sensitive to my situation.
Me: Good. Also, won’t it enhance the connection with you? After this crisis is over, how would you treat the brand?
Ram: I will definitely stick with it. I think I am beginning to see your point.
Me: Most brands lack Emotional Quotient. They don’t know how to use the collective emotions of the people working in the organization in a positive way to manage stress and communicate effectively with clients. This crisis calls for an Emotionally Intelligent communique.
Ram: Outstanding! See, that’s why I like you.
Me: That’s a generous compliment. To be honest, I just put myself in the place of your customers and thought about what I would want the brand to do.
Ram: So, create a plan around this thought and get back to me soon.
Me: Yes Ofcourse.
Did I just manage to bag a project or land on something bigger? Now that I think about it again, brands need to make their customers feel that they are there for them. Also, they need to wake up to the fact that a detailed Emotional Quotient Process is the need of the hour. A process, which mostly exists in our minds but never, got officially documented. A step by step guide of an EQ strategy. A strategy which is about connect with your customers
Even if I try to imagine a world where businesses have resumed full-fledged operations and we have found a cure for COVID-19, I see a whole new world. A world full of people who have faced their worst fears and lived being locked inside their homes with an uncertain future. People who are psychologically changed as compared to what they were before. People who need brands that recognize and accept these changes and communicate accordingly.
This is not just about the lockdown or the pandemic. It is the dawn of a new world order and brands need to realize this and position themselves accordingly.
The brand of the future needs to be a partner to its customers. A partner through the ups and downs of life. For a brand to do so, it needs to instill emotional intelligence in its processes. It needs to create vibrant and robust experiences that customers will want to be a part of.
The current crisis is the precipice of a long-due change. A crisis that leads an opportunity to a brand. A change that needs to be understood, accepted, and assimilated within the organization. I have some more thoughts on this point that I will share with you soon. Until then, stay safe and God Bless!