What do marketers do now? Thoughts on brand management in the midst of COVID-19 anxiety.

(Author’s note: I felt compelled to write this note on Sunday evening, but had doubts that I could offer value during such an anxious time. After the past two business days, I no longer doubt that my friends, peers and community should be allowed to read the following paragraphs. So… here you go. Love + Light, M2)

Presidential medal of freedom recipient and poet, Maya Angelou, once advised us: “at the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” In the spirit of this compelling statement, and as a marketer who has witnessed the banking crisis of 1988, 9/11 and a 49% shrink in the GNP in 2008, I am offering the following thoughts on brand management during what CNN has preemptively called a pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak of 2020 will eventually pass. The initial epicenter of the virus is already seeing reduced cases and thousands of patients are being released from hospitalization and quarantine. I do not debate that we have challenging weeks ahead. Nor do I think the economy and our confidence will rebound as quickly, but I can envision that a world population that absorbed the tragedies of two World Wars, will one day consider this experience part of our collective memories.

What do you do now? Consider that you have two audiences — internal and external — address your internal audience, first.

Your team — employees, volunteers, staff, students… etc…are very often the front line of your brand. Communicate with them transparently and consistently. Your team’s anxiety is the real contagion.A few weeks ago, Miranda Creative, instituted a more flexible work-from-home model, advising that signs of illness among the team or their immediate family was reason enough to stay out of the office for 48 hours. We also advised that sick days taken during this outbreak would not count towards PTO. The CDC has a surprisingly thoughtful list of suggestions for employers that I offer as recommended reading: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.

Not all environments can take advantage of remote working, but cross-training and other agile coverage plans will keep unwell team members from feeling obligated to come into the workplace.

What about your current market? The cover photo for this post is the drive-thru line at Starbucks, on Sunday. As you can see that there was front-door parking for walk-ins, yet the drive thru was nearly around the block. People were still buying coffee, but they had adopted alternative routes that felt more secure.

Likewise, consider how your organization could support consumers needs to maintain life’s needs while being made to feel safe — financial institutions could expand drive thru hours; restaurants could offer to-go options for parking lot pick-up; grocers have options with instacart for home-based delivery.

For my tourism friends anxious about the pending market — Connecticut’s natural environment is a breath of fresh air at all times, but especially now. Many of our attractions offer outdoor experiences and distance from large crowds in confined spaces. Newport is positioning their strengths, we should, too.

In general, messaging should be shifted to show small groups/families without crowds and close proximity. Large events, often the mainstay of business growth, should be reconsidered and replaced with a variety of smaller gatherings, earlier hours or private group options.

Where you can’t be what you’re not (theater, gym… etc), you can talk about hygiene practices, offer remote pay-per-view showings or take it outdoors.

This is also the time to consider integration of technology. Education clients are gearing up for online learning, and I admire their proactive planning. Some may welcome new students with this model, as parents make choices for their families. Other clients are quickly engaging Shopify and shipping options, stepping up their online game in ways they never have before.

This event (shown here) called “Collision2020” rebranded to “Collision from Home,” and has crafted brilliant language around this decision.

There are not solutions for everything, but now is not the time to give up trying. History tells us that businesses that lean into marketing during times of crisis/economic downturns are quicker to rebound and retain larger market share.

So, what’s next? Well, what always follows fear (or any extreme emotion) — anger and, eventually… acceptance. Practice common sense in your branding (digital ads should not run in context with the term COVID-19), and consider the timing of your messaging, like this tone deaf ad from AAA.

Understand that both your internal and external markets are highly distracted. Keep messaging simple and direct. Where events, hours and activities have to be canceled, be as generous and empathetic as possible. People will not remember how much toilet paper they bought during this scare, but they will remember brands that made them feel better. And, ultimately, isn’t that what good marketing is all about?PS: If you are an entrepreneur, marketing manager or someone who just needs to “talk it out,” feel free to reach out to me. I am personally aware that there are few outlets for leaders to share their burdens of concerns and I’m happy to help out in any way. <3 M2