Has there ever been such a thing as business as usual? Perhaps not, but the COVID-19 world we’re working in today is so far away from usual that it feels a lot like the Upside Down. For those of you yet to stream “Stranger Things” on Netflix (and if that’s you, make sure to add it to your list as soon as you finish reading this article), the Upside Down is a world that looks eerily similar to our current universe, but everything is off just enough to make you highly apprehensive and acutely aware of lurking dangers.
That’s just the way things are right now. But if you are responsible for a brand, what can you do to respond to this new reality—and how can you do it in a way that protects and potentially enhances your brand equity?
The experts will tell you to pivot away from sales and put your focus on building more meaningful relationships with customers and potential customers.
But what does a “meaningful relationship” really look like? How can brands pursue this and not come off looking like they’re just desperate for a friendly face to help them find their way out of the Upside Down?
It’s an occupational hazard of marketing that words such as “community” and “relationship” are overused to the point where their real meaning is diluted.
“Relationship” can be conflated with having a CRM program that communicates with people who’ve agreed to be marketed to. It’s a relationship built on transaction—a superficial one.
Here are four actions a brand can take to foster “beyond transaction” relationships during our time in the Upside Down:
Showing up means bearing witness to other people’s pain, validating their experiences and letting them know that they’re not alone. Reach out to acknowledge that something tragic is happening and express solidarity. To paraphrase Rachel Miller: “Showing up is at the core of creating and maintaining strong, meaningful bonds. It’s what turns the people you know into your people.”
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Communicate that everyone behind the brand feels just as uncertain, shocked and worried about what’s going on as your customers do. Show vulnerability, which is the trait that makes connection possible.
People want practical support in addition to emotional support. Share the actions the brand is taking to protect customers’ and employees’ well-being. This could be anything from sharing the heightened cleaning protocols for a retail location to the steps being taken to mitigate the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis on employees.
This is perhaps the most crucial of all: Be true to your brand in both words and deeds. Anything that can be interpreted—even slightly—as tone deaf or capitalizing on the current crisis can do serious damage to brand equity. Resist the temptation to email everyone in the brand’s database with a marketing message masquerading as compassion and consolation. Let your brand purpose guide the actions your brand takes to help with crisis relief efforts.
Recently, WARC reported that the behavioral economics principle of reciprocity suggests that consumers will positively remember the brands that they felt held their hands in this period. Simply put, if your customers really do feel like you’re all in this together, then you stand a great chance of coming out on the other side with an even stronger and more beloved brand than ever, no matter what our new reality might look like.