Marketing during the Corona Virus Crisis. A series of blogs.

2. How brands should be marketing themselves during the Corona Virus crisis – our thoughts.  

In our previous blog we spoke of how marketers are reacting to the rapidly changing environment created by corona virus. As the world goes in to increasing levels of lock down, people’s attitudes and behaviours are changing and so marketers are having to adapt too. 

As a result, consumers have very quickly started judging brands according to how they have reacted to the crisis, are they helping and trying to become part of the solution or are they just concerned about their own well-being? 

Within this piece we will look at some examples of brands that have managed to quickly gauge the mood “on the ground” or more precisely the mood in the virtual space and have adapted their messaging to tap in to that feeling and deliver really positive communication. Messages that are aligned to their brand values and which will stand them in good stead when we come out of crisis mode.

The most perceptive brands realised very quickly that the public is so caught up in the crisis that they have very little head space for anything else. So, from a brand perspective they are not interested in blatant self-promotion. Those agile brands quickly changed tack and looked at how they could help and reassure people at this time. In the words of Sarah Douglas, CEO of AMV BBDO in London, consumers are looking for “acts not ads”. 

“Acts not ads” – linked to brand values

For example, Pret a Manger, the coffee and sandwich chain quickly realised the strength of public support for National Health Service workers, who are working under extreme pressure and personal risk caring for Corona patients in the UK. So, they supported them by offering them free hot drinks and a 50% discount on all other products. This is perfectly aligned to their values of supporting those in need, which they do daily through the distribution of unsold food to the homeless.

Pret A Manger advert to NHS workers

Building Society Nationwide is among the brands opening branches early for elderly and vulnerable customers to help them avoid crowds, where they could be at greater risk of getting ill. Perfectly in cinque with their core values of putting people first.

Ford Motors correctly judged the mood of their customers when they quickly realised that they want reassurance during these hugely uncertain times. So, they leveraged their century old heritage and the fact that they have both weathered and assisted through previous times of crisis. By building military equipment during World War II and now in the fight against Covid 19 they are manufacturing medical equipment which is in short supply.  

Ford social media post - family spirit

Supporting government guidelines

These are great example of companies honouring and living their values through their actions. Another form of communication taken up by many brands involves supporting government guidelines to keep people safe, whilst providing a link back to their brand. Whilst not as powerful from a brand perspective they are still building positive equity. 

Mercedes social media post backing people to stay safe, like their cars

What is happening in Kenya?

If we look closer to home in Kenya, we are still some way behind Europe, Asia & America in terms of the number of cases and fatalities. The majority of the population are yet to be personally affected by death or illness and there is not yet the general state of emergency around health care that we have seen elsewhere. 

However, people are being massively impacted particularly on a financial level, driven by our reliance on tourism and exports (both huge employers in Kenya) and due to restrictions on public gatherings and evening curfews which has hit local retailers and hospitality businesses in particular. 

So how are marketers and brands reacting here? To date there are only a few examples of brands working on an individual level helping consumers at this time of crisis.  

We have seen the banks have given loan and mortgage payment holidays. On the CBK/governments request Safaricom took the lead and waived fees on mobile money transfers up to Ksh1,000 to reduce cash handling and increased daily M-Pesa transaction limits from KSh70,000 to KSh150,000, to help small businesses.  East African Breweries Limited (EABL) has partnered with HACO industries to manufacture and distribute free sanitiser. Whilst I am sure there are other examples out there they are not yet very visible. 

East African Breweries advert showing CSR support

Many corporates are helping but under the banner of the Kenya chapter of the National Business Compact Coalition, who have raised KSh70 million to support the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Reckitt and Benckiser, PZ Cussons, Live Ad, Unilever, Menengai, Copia, Rotary International, Johnson and Johnson, Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), Twiga, Chandaria and Microsoft donated both in cash and in kind. 

But why are brands yet to go all out under their own name and really change message and get involved on an emotional level? Maybe it is a result of the virus not being quite so personal yet and maybe they have them lined up ready to go if/when the virus hits pandemic levels.

The time to act is now!

But Kenyan consumers are already feeling it massively, so surely now is the time to get ahead of the game and take the lead. Follow the international examples of marketing for the greater good, live by your values with your brand name at the forefront. Anything your business can do to help the plight of your consumer has to be money well spent.