How to Keep Connecting and Build Brand Strength During the COVID-19 Crisis

Around the clock, heroes are working tirelessly to disarm the virus that’s disrupted our lives and world economies, COVID-19. Some are scientists and healthcare professionals; others, like grocery employees, are quietly braving the risks to keep our families fed.

Then there are grand gestures like the one recently made by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who’s giving $1 billion of his personal wealth to defeat the disease. Louisianans are stepping up, too: our client Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, committed $5 million to help feed people in need throughout the state.

For most of us, a move like that simply isn’t in the budget. The good news is that as marketers we have plenty of roles to play in the relief effort, like creating authentic crisis responses and sensitive connections to those who matter to your brand. Right now, more than ever, consumers need engagement, consistency, and responsibility from the brands they trust.  By delivering this, you’re preparing your brand today to make sure it’s positioned for the opportunities waiting in the post-Corona marketplace tomorrow.

Go Ahead, Strip Down (To Your Values)  

During day-to-day operations, your company might not see many outstanding ways to really show customers what it stands for. In times of uncertainty, however, you have clear opportunities to communicate your brand values. Key to this is knowing what not to say and do. Let’s look at KFC as an example: it recently pulled an ad campaign that may not have settled in well with a society that now fiercely washes its hands 20 times a day. The ads featured people eating fried chicken, then proceeding to lick their fingers quite sensuously. It would have sent the wrong message, given the current pandemic at hand (pun intended).

Even though KFC is all about food that’s finger-licking good, they wisely chose to value sensitivity. Consequently, they sent the message that they care about customers and the problems that they face enough to change course and re-evaluate internally.

We all have a chance to “speak our values” as a result of the problems created by COVID-19. Embrace the pandemic as an opportunity to show consumers what’s important to you, and your willingness to modify your brand’s behaviors and processes for the greater benefit of your consumer. For a restaurant this could mean contactless delivery; for a fitness company this might mean giving away home video workouts so consumers can stay in shape while the gym is closed.

These acts seem small, yet, they clearly say, “We prioritize our customers’ health.” Likewise, your behavior should be showing customers what matters to you. The actions and messages executed by your brand are direct reflections of your company’s values. Finding ways to show that you care, and what you care about, is especially critical in these difficult times. In fact, young consumers are especially likely to reward a brand that they believe shares their values.

What not to say and what to say are equally important. Don’t be the company that tiptoes in the darkness and refuses to acknowledge that our lives have been changed overnight. Figure out how you really feel about the situation and respond from that place using messages in alignment with your beliefs and brand personality. You’ll be amazed at how well people respond to authenticity. And don’t worry about being everyone’s cup of tea – it will never happen. But the customers you do attract will be the right ones.  

If you aren’t entirely sure what your specific brand values are, or how to communicate them, you may need to step back from the day-to-day business of things and look within. Those who have downtime can use it to do a health check on their organization, values, and brand. Do you like what you see? Are you on track to reach goals? An internal review of your culture and efforts to remain competitive can reveal a lot about a brand’s health overall.  

To serve customers at the highest level and really deliver the amazing experience they deserve, a company must know where it stands, and what it stands for. Taking inventory from within will help you evaluate what you do well, why you do it, the values you stand for, and how you’ll improve going forward. The companies that do this and re-strategize based on what they discover will be better positioned to take on the opportunities in the new economy.

The bottom line: right now, more of your current and prospective clients than ever before are listening. Speak and act based on your values so that what you say is worth hearing. If you’re having trouble developing messages or a response that aligns with your values, you can turn to an agency like SASSO for help.

A Simple Playbook for Connecting in Strange Moments

It is without a doubt an odd time in the world. Friends and clients who used to happily shake hands now offer an awkward elbow bump instead. The air high five, who we suspect is a distant cousin of the air guitar, has suddenly come back in style. Face-t0-face meetings have become Zoom calls, and sadly, many jobs that just cannot be performed in a COVID world, like those related to restaurant dining and tourism, are on hiatus. So many things have changed, which is why you must confidently adapt while keeping the core of your brand the same.

Even during an economic downturn, there are three facts every marketer should know:

  1. Consumers crave connection to the brands they esteem, even if they are tightening the purse strings
  2. Market research from historic downturns shows us that spending doesn’t come to a grinding halt. It simply cuts back until the market is restored
  3. As brands pull back on advertising, the marketplace becomes less noisy, meaning audiences are easier to reach.

The translation? We should all be working on our customer touchpoints and brand relevancy, both to give our consumers some relief in the form of consistency and hope, and to make sure our businesses are ready to serve the marketplace once the economy recovers.

Imagine the devastation you would feel if one of your favorite vendors suddenly announced it was closing down. People already feel like the sky is falling – the last thing they need is for brands they rely on to become disconnected or disappear completely.

Here are some ways you can continue to serve, sell, and connect without feeling like a slimy sales ball:  

  1. Speak confidently, don’t scream. Some brands have actually seen an increase in demand since the onset of COVID-19, like SASSO client Relief Telemed, which allows patients to have doctor’s visits via video app in the privacy of their homes. Other companies are re-evaluating and even pausing their advertising spending for the remainder of Q1 & Q2 in 2020. The decrease in ad spend means less noise in the marketplace. If you’re among the brands that can benefit from advertising during this time, the door is wide open. Just be careful with your approach to audiences: you’ll need to carefully craft your message and call to action so that it suits the current environment. Consumers want information and value, but don’t want to be bombarded by insensitive ads on every platform.  
  2. Sell with a service mentality. There is a world of difference between asking, “How can I sell?” and “How can I serve?” Often, just the question sparks new ideas. Your sales opportunities might be sparse right now, depending on your industry, so re-framing your approach can make a world of difference. You might find a way to serve that doesn’t mean selling at all, but that doesn’t matter as long as you’re building meaningful connections with customers. A terrific local example of a service mentality without a sales push is Baton Rouge’s Front Porch Project in which local photographers take pictures of families while practicing social distancing. Not only are these business owners creating incredibly special moments for local citizens, they are creating ways to be remembered later on when their doors re-open for business.  
  3. Become a champion of value.  The greatest salesperson is one who has the heart of an educator. When you are passionate about educating clients and providing them with value before making your ask, it makes a long-term impact. Try adjusting your messaging and client approach so that its foundation is one of problem-solving. Since quarantining began, we’ve seen a huge uptick in marketers using video, and for good reason. Audiences are stuck at home, with more eyes on social media and TV than ever before. People want to see and hear you, whether it’s through blog, video, a how-to guide, or an advertising campaign. You’ve got a way to make your consumer’s life easier, or provide joy or relief in the midst of quarantine, so offer as much value as you can while selling your product and service.

The Takeaways

As marketers, we need to be pursuing connections and consumer engagement to make sure our brands are remembered after this pandemic. And yes, it’s okay to sell your products and services right now – just be mindful of your strategies.

Many business models are completely transformed during economic downturns because staying relevant sometimes calls for big change. Make decisions for the long-term, not just for today, while remaining mindful of your brand’s fundamental standards and beliefs. A business is never ungrateful, but, like the human body, it needs you to take care of it so it can adapt and thrive in the face of unpredictability.

In times of uncertainty, you have a unique chance to be the lighthouse that keeps shining for customers to see. No matter what the books look like right now, with sales in the slumps or soaring through the roof, you have a name to fight for and customers who depend on you. In fact, some might need you now more than ever. Manage your response and brand wisely, because how you behave today is silently but certainly influencing your outlook for tomorrow.

Need help developing a marketing strategy or response during COVID-19 or the post-COVID marketplace? SASSO is here to help. Reach out to us via e-mail at

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