Navigating through the uncertainty

Jemma Robertson reflects on the coronavirus pandemic and shares six virtues of brands that have come out the other end stronger.

In March businesses across the country were forced to shut their doors with little idea of when they would reopen. How have brands and agencies reacted? GRA Independent Marketing & Advertising's Jemma Robertson shares what we’ve learnt from how brands have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic and provides six key tips to navigate through the uncertainty.

We live in interesting and uncertain times, with many businesses under severe pressure and in a quandary over where to find savings, how to maximise every available opportunity and wondering whether to continue marketing in a time of uncertainty.

Now, four months on from lockdown and with a glimmer of hope that normality may be returning, we can look back at the brands that have survived COVID and assess what they did differently and what virtues they possess that we should be incorporating into our own businesses. It is also an appropriate moment to remind ourselves how important it is to devise, plan and set your strategy, articulate your vision and then stick to it religiously. Sure, you may need to change your tactics or amend your approach, but stay true to your vision.

Here are some pointers to follow to help you navigate a path through the uncertainty:

Be strong

Healthy, strong brands prosper during times of uncertainty- that was proven in 2008 and during the recession of the 90s. Because they show their backbone and demonstrate that while other parts of life (economy, government) might be stumbling, they are solid and there for their customers. Effective brands make deep connections, and the ones that survive times of crisis are the ones that can adapt quickly and are responsive to change. The worst thing to do in a time of chaos is add to it. The businesses that invest time and money in their brands tend to emerge from the storm stronger and healthier. I would say that (wouldn’t I) but the facts bear it out.

Do the right thing

In times of crisis, businesses are stuck at a cross road: do we pursue purpose or profit? Many will probably do a mixture of both, but there was one supermarket in particular that demonstrated 'purpose' even more so than it’s competitors. During the peak of lockdown, Sainsbury's put their customers at the heart of their business and was one of the first to open their doors earlier for NHS workers, elderly people and the most vulnerable. You could argue that they jumped on the bandwagon, but their message was different- their approach was gentle, caring and kind and if you were lucky enough to shop at Sainsbury's during the height of the pandemic, you will have seen that this positive message trickled down to the staff on the shop floor.

Be consistent

As a marketeer we are always inclined towards innovation but when everything seems to be up for grabs, people find stability in consistency. While the Government appears to send confusing messages, brands can help people find stability by communicating 'Business as usual', re-affirming their key values and their commitment to work in the interests of their customers. Be a beacon of certainty in a world of uncertainty.

Act with kindness

Brands should act with kindness and not just the superficial type but the genuine feeling of wanting to help people in need. When brands show true, unrefined kindness to people who need it, their customers can see and feel this.

Be clear

This is actually an opportunity for business, through their brands, to establish/retain/regain credibility and demonstrate leadership and guidance in the months ahead. Brands can build equity through reassurance by focusing on comforting and optimistic association that will bring contrasting brightness and hope to the gloomy news headlines. Even a simple and consistent stance will help your brand to navigate through the choppy sea, or (C!).

Have courage and fortitude 

Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to do something differently. Dove’s 'Be Beautiful' campaign did this perfectly. Dove has always been a great brand in my opinion, and not just for their creamy soap and luxury smelling body lotion but by endorsing real women, with no Photoshop or retouching. Their 'Be Beautiful' campaign aired in America and included a montage of female, front line workers after their day at work. They were exhausted, worn out and mentally drained but the message was clear; Courage is Beautiful. And it really is.

Jemma Robertson is Director at GRA Independent Marketing & Advertising. GRA are one of the IPA's first Accelerator agencies - a scheme supports start-up agencies and helps them on the pathway to becoming IPA members.

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Last updated 01 May 2024