April 6, 2020

So what are we all learning right now?

Jeff Warman

Chief Creative Officer

What the COVID-19 Crisis Should Be Teaching You (and the Surprise Ending You Need To Know)

Being curious means always being willing to learn. And this – this – is definitely a time for brands to learn. Things are changing by the minute. Some brands are reacting, some are experimenting, some are just watching. But all should be learning. I thought it would be worth sharing a few of these insights as we navigate this unprecedented time. And be sure to note the wildly important twist at the end. Your brand’s future may depend on it.

1. Understand your relevance.

The 4As released a stat that 43% of consumers want to hear from brands during a crisis and only 15% don’t. So if nearly half the people are willing to hear from you right now, you have to understand how you can matter in their lives. And this isn’t just about watching your tone or not appearing opportunistic. This is about if and how you are relevant to them. What’s so real and true about your brand and where does it overlap with potential consumers? I remember after 9/11 when, on Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” And Guiliani famously responded, “Why start now?” They understood their relevance. They understood how they matter. And they, smartly, proceeded with caution, sincerity and vulnerability to take their rightful place in viewers’ lives. We all can learn from that moment.

2. More soul, less sell. Ask how you can be a hero and then create something of value. 

This is not a time to be clever. It’s a time to give a damn. Can your brand be a hero to someone? A single consumer? A lot of consumers? A community? Your industry? The world? Pick one and provide something of value. Be useful. Don’t sell. Manufacturers are shifting to make sanitizer or ventilators. Restaurants are making meals for healthcare workers. Even brands can make working from home more fun. These are companies doing something of value. And as long as they’re doing it with integrity and authenticity, it can communicate in ways much bigger than your media budget can.

3. Stay ahead of the waves of backlash.

When this virus scare started, some brands dabbled in clever headlines. They got noticed for a second. Then they got chided. Tone deaf. Opportunistic. Tasteless. Then some brands tried other things, like separating their logo to signal social distancing. It was well received the first couple times as a way of educating the public. Now it’s considered piling on, a virtual yell to “Look at me!” Let’s refer back to #2 here. This is a time to do something valuable and authentic for your consumers, not self-serving. If you stay true to that, criticism won’t have a leg to stand on.

4. Be careful about your prediction of what “normal” will be.

Many brands are planning for how they’ll communicate when things get back to “normal,” when people are willing and able to buy again. So many layers to this. Everyone’s “normal” will look different. Two people who at one time might have been an identical audience target may now be on very different levels with their consumer behavior. Assume there is no such thing as normal. Look deeper to understand the needs of your audience, and examine your messaging to make sure it’s still sincere and valuable.

5. Take advantage of the creative bubbling that confinement has created.

Right now, this is not business as usual. But I hope we’re all learning that it never should be. The brand business HAS to be a creative business. Virus or not. Confinement or not. When everything’s “normal” or not. Creativity is the opposite of usual. Right now, the creative and strategic thinkers throughout our agency are bursting at the seams to solve problems, create value and learn, learn, learn.

But wait, there’s a surprise ending to all of this!

Here’s the twist. The funny thing about all this advice above is that it doesn’t really have anything to do with the coronavirus crisis. It doesn’t just work now. It should always be top of mind, always be considered. If your brand thinks and practices this way already, despite the crisis, imagine how much more consumers will be willing to turn to you – to trust you – when the unthinkable happens. And when things actually do get back to some sort of “normal,” read this article again and ask yourself: Why wouldn’t I want my brand to be the kind of brand that consistently practices these learnings?

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay curious.

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