In case of emergency, make ads

Posted: May 12th, 2020

Words: Niki Hutchinson

It goes without saying that right now we are experiencing unprecedented times, a crisis that is truly without comparison. A relatively recent economic situation could be said to have been the recession of 2008 while a glance further back in history takes us to the Great Depression of 1929-39, the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialised world.

While there can be no direct comparison with either, there are certainly lessons that can be learned from both. During worldwide crises, it is both interesting and worthwhile to study the way in which brands behaved – and the results that this behaviour yielded.

While the natural response to a crisis is to lie low and protect what you have, there is an alternative, or at least a middle road, to adopting a full panic response.

Brands must look to the future post-crisis and make decisions based on what they want that future to look like. For many industries, opportunities to make sales and generate profit are currently severely limited, but history tells us that it’s those brands and businesses that continue to invest in marketing, that will emerge victorious in the end. In other words, regardless of whether you are able to make sales right now or not, stay visible if you want to sell in the future.

Take for example Kellogg’s who, during the Great Depression, made the brave decision to double their ad budget, establish a new presence on radio and really push their breakfast cereal Rice Krispies. Against a backdrop of continued recession, by 1933 Kellogg’s profits had increased by almost 30% and the company had become the market leader (a position it retains today).

Conversely, data from Millward Brown (now Kantar) shows that 60% of brands that ‘go dark’ during a recession decline on at least one key brand metric.[1]

That being said, it’s a fine balance between over-investing on a wing and a prayer and making successful strategic choices.

Clearly this is not an opportunity to be capitalised upon, so how can brands get it right?

According to a survey conducted in March 2020, consumers are open to different options with 37% believing brands should advertise as normal, 29% believing they should advertise differently and 34% saying they are unsure.[2]

Clearly continuing to advertise as usual would have been brand suicide for KFC, whose pulled their “Finger Lickin’ Good” campaign (which featured slow-motion close-ups of people licking their fingers in public) following a string of complaints to the Advertising Standard Authority. Likewise in the US, Coors Light made the strategic decision to scrap their planned campaign “Official Beer of Working Remotely” for fear of appearing opportunistic.

According to well-respected marketer Peter Field,

“The only sensible course for any advertiser who wants to maintain a presence through this recession … is to be putting money into long-term brand building.”

Your customers want to hear from you, but they don’t want empty words, empathy or promises they know you’re unlikely to be able to fulfil. What they need is regular and truthful communication and if possible, reassurance. Brands that do this well will so that they can feel understood and confident that you’re going to be around for the long term. Communication like this will strengthen the ties between you, both now and for the future.

Now more than ever is the time to be using communication to nurture your client and customer relationships. If your brand is there for your customers during trying times, demonstrating understanding and engaging with them in relevant ways, then that is what will be remembered. This will then be reflected back in increased levels of loyalty and business once the crisis is over. It’s about brands connecting with people on a genuine level, for mutual benefit. It’s not mass market, broadcast, cross your fingers and hope it sticks marketing. It’s about individuals. Brands need to go the extra mile and put in the work so that they genuinely understand what people need, then personalise and tailor a solution for them.

As always when it comes to customer care, it’s a case of getting out what you put in. And communications must remain part of your customer care strategy if you want to retain business, as well as attract new buyers.

Here’s our take on five ways you can do it:

  1. Become a detective. Find out everything you can about your customers, your potential customers, and their customers. Put yourself in their shoes. What are their problems and how can you solve them? What evidence can you back up your ideas with? Share your findings, offer up insights, stay relevant.
  2. Create a handy guide or playbook for your clients/ customers that answers a key problem you know they’re experiencing.
  3. Keep communicating consistently. Don’t blow hot and cold, stay in regular contact with your clients/customers. That consistency of communication is in itself reassuring. Make an on-going commitment to stay in touch, meet that commitment and you will build trust.
  4. Stay visible. Give value. Don’t expect anything in return, but do keep selling. When they’re ready, you will be the first business they turn to.
  5. Not everyone who engaged with your business during the initial Covid19 response will need your services moving forward. Use profiling and segmentation to understand how you can best serve all your customer segments, even if that means saying goodbye to some of them.

[1] Marketing Week
[2] GlobalWebIndex

“ The only sensible course for any advertiser who wants to maintain a presence through this recession … is to be putting money into long-term brand building. ”

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