3 Reasons Not to Socially Distance Your Brand During the COVID-19 Pandemic (And How to Shift With the Times)

Times are tough — there is certainly no sugar coating that fact in light of the unprecedented experiences we’re all facing.

Hundreds of thousands of people are sick. The global economy is heading into a recession. Millions of people are currently without work. And per the World Health Organization, there is still much to overcome.

So, you may be asking yourself, “How can I focus on my brand when all of this is happening in the world?” And trust me — from the center of NYC, I hear you — and you’re certainly not alone.

Though if you can sustain your brand — big budget or zero budget, large team or scrappy team — it’s more pivotal now than ever before.

Ogilvy said it best: “Using your expertise or brand capital to help during a crisis is not about commercial advantage or profit. It is about doing the right thing for society and showing a company’s true values and citizenship.”

While it’s ingrained in your head to #sociallydistance yourself from the public (by 6 feet, or 2 meters!), here are three reasons not to socially distance your brand, with ideas to help inspire you throughout and rules of engagement to consider following.

But Before You Read On…

… consider revisiting all of your scheduled campaigns or current strategies, and realize marketing plans likely need to shift, and quickly.

What made sense even two weeks ago no longer stands the test of time. The entire globe is experiencing an extremely emotional, heavily sensitive period — so, as marketers, we must do what’s best for the consumer, and walk a fine line as we do it.

Easy temperature check: If it’s not benefiting your consumer, and their current experiences, don’t do it.

1. Consumers Are Relying On You, Yearning For Connectivity and Engagement

While eMarketer reported that over 70% of marketers are making spend changes in Q2 2020, interestingly enough, that’s not what the consumer expects — only 8% of consumers feel brands should stop advertising, per Kantar.

To that point, 70% of consumers want reassurance from brands, especially those they feel reliant on. So, now’s not the time to go silent.

As people around the world socially distance themselves from one another physically, they are yearning to feel connected and engage with others digitally — be it video conferencing with a friend or reading a great article from a brand.

Remember, the world is in media overload as they embrace the new normal of being home and interacting digitally more throughout the day — offer a moment of brevity (or entertainment, or hope!) for them. And that moment doesn’t have to push your product or service, though it should be in line with your core values.

Inspirational Brand Highlight: Chipotle

What do Zoom calls and burritos have in common? Not much. But Chipotle, known for its flavorful approach to branding, realized their customers needed a distraction, and pivoted to offer virtual “lunch parties,” featuring celebrities and free food giveaways.

Connectivity and engagement? Check, check. Reliance? Check — they also teamed up with Uber Eats to offer free deliveries on orders over $10.

Two thumbs up (with a side of guac) to you, Chipotle.

2. Loyalty Goes Beyond Product or Service Quality — It’s Now Value-Driven

Good products are great. Good values are greater.

As we’ve turned a new decade, a new brand loyalty has emerged — entirely based on shared values. Gone are the days where consumers merely think of themselves as they are making purchase decisions — it’s bigger than themselves.

Back to the data — per Brands in Motion, 83% of consumers said they believed brands could play a role in providing stability — with 77% wanting brands to demonstrate their support of our new normal amidst the crisis, and 75% looking to be informed on the actions brands are taking.

Now is the time to connect with your consumers on a deeper level — a value-driven level. Reinforce your brand values. What you stand for. How you make a difference. Your purpose.

With 95% of purchase decisions happening subconsciously — precisely the place where our core values operate — values are more meaningful than ever.

Inspirational Brand Highlight: Ford Motor Company

For over a century, Ford has engineered itself as a homegrown American automaker — and a philanthropic one, at that. It’s 90s slogan said it best: Everything We Do Is Driven By You.

Not only are they offering financial assistance to new buyers and existing owners, they are also partnering with GE to build 50,000 ventilators in 100 days to help clinicians treating coronavirus patients.

Driven by its values and true care for its customers, Ford truly is Going Further.

3. With Branding Comes Recognition, And With Recognition Comes Trust

You’ve built your brand up to this point. And as we know, the gaining of recognition does not happen overnight — it takes time, it takes dollars, and it takes a ton of creativity to earn familiarity among consumers.

Like a plant, a brand needs watering to continue to grow. So, for Marketers, branding goes beyond today, and the crisis we’re facing, to tomorrow, and the future we can look forward to, regaining a sense of normalcy alongside our consumers.

With 81% of people saying they must be able to trust a brand to do what’s right, there’s no other KPI that’ll fare during a time of crisis.

Quoting the advertising legend Phil Dusenberry himself, “A brand is nothing but an expression of the consumer’s loyalty and trust.”

Inspirational Brand Highlight: Skillshare

In just about a decade, Skillshare has paved its name in the educational space, providing an online learning community to millions around the world.

In the wake of school closures, they are now offering high school and college students a free membership for two months to continue their studies at home.

Skillshare, you’re the star student of the week on our bulletin board.

Rules of Engagement (And Actions to Consider)

As mentioned before, we must walk a fine line in our branding during this time, though putting the consumer first makes that a walk in the park.

Here are a few rules of branding engagement during times of crisis.

Be Thoughtful

From your initial approach down to your communications— consider evolving your tone to fit the new normal, while remaining supportive and lighthearted in anything new that you launch.

Be Reliable

Know how consumers rely on you, and do more of that — without feeling the need to create new products or services unless they build on that reliability.

Be Honest

Consumers are truly interested in what you’re doing during these difficult times — tell them, candidly. After all, honesty is a great starting point to building a trustworthy brand.

Be Consistent

This may seem tough when changes are happening every second, though those changes shouldn’t deter your core value as a brand. So ensure that your brand rings consistently true throughout everything that you do.

Be Purposeful

Everything comes down to purpose. As brands, you’re responsible for building a better society, a better tomorrow. Hold onto that.

While ROI-driven performance certainly keeps the lights on, heartfelt-inspired branding is what keeps the energy flowing — keep that in mind as you face (and embrace!) these challenges in the months ahead.

From our Outbrain family to yours, we’re wishing you nothing but safety and good health. And if there’s any support we could provide during this time, know we’re always here to help.

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