“Humans are in danger of losing their economic value because intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow
A global crisis tends to change and affect human behavior in unprecedented ways. The perceptions become stronger, communication is interpreted radically, and loyalty turns into hostility! I recalled my own experience a few years ago, in 2016. I had planned a trip to Croatia and was flying Turkish Airways from India with transit in Istanbul. On my way to the airport, I started noticing something was wrong in Turkey, and reports were talking about military tanks circling the Istanbul airport. I started worrying a little as the word ‘coup’ was doing the rounds, but in the very initial stages. After reaching the airport, I sensed business as usual from both the airline and the passengers. Maybe they were yet to receive any concrete information on the next steps. I inquired for some time and then decided to cancel my Turkish airline flight and book another carrier for the next day after a deliberate discussion and the severity of the situation. I called one of the leading flight aggregator sites in India from where I had booked my earlier ticket and asked them to reschedule it for tomorrow. By now, I believe they were well aware of what was happening, and the prices doubled up. We had no choice but to book it as all the stay and further arrangements were already paid for. Out of nowhere, a Turkish Airline attendant approached us and escorted us to the Qatar Airways counter, where they offered us the same route at the same time without any further expense. We accepted it happily and then proceeded to call the mentioned aggregator to cancel tomorrow’s flight which I had booked a few minutes earlier. I was on hold for about an hour and a half to get a representative on board who sounded uninterested in my situation and went on to deduct a large cancellation fee before canceling the flight. While Turkish Airlines managed to gain my trust despite initial hitches and confusion by proactively reaching out to me and offering me an alternate flight for my specific route, the flight aggregator logo is a sore in my eyes till today. There can be innumerable excuses for consumer brands to show their helplessness in testing situations, but an honest effort to understand the sentiments and relate to a problem can take a brand leaps and bounds in its quest for customer loyalty. And this understanding of a problem doesn’t need market research or insight but just basic human consciousness. I will try and list down a few do’s and don’ts for brands that will be busy decoding the alternate marketing strategies to capture an engaged audience on multiple screens from both an employee and a consumer point of view, and this is where the fine lines of intelligence and consciousness either merge or take different routes.
Don’t: Move by numbers alone.
A brand is as much affected as the consumer is in a crisis like we are facing today. The tendency to treat consumers as eyeballs and data is a norm in a normal world. But when the emotions are on edge, the worst thing a brand can do is to ignore the importance of empathy in branding and push a product so blatantly without even acknowledging the situation that the ad spot can be reduced to an eyesore. To quote an example, a TV ad is doing rounds focused on selling points of a product, asking people to rush to dealerships.
Don’t: Blindly go ahead with that pre-booked media investment and content, which needs to be utilized before the expiry date.
Avoid being trapped by today, put a plan on how you want to be perceived tomorrow when the world reopens, and talk about what helped them carry on in the tough times. Instead, use your brand power to connect and empathize with your customers to develop customer loyalty.
Do: Empathize with your employees and their families.
A TV shoot can wait, a mandatory conference in person is probably a bad idea, and a town hall of the entire office to announce a precautionary message is probably the worst. Become a socially responsible brand and step outside of that role, and connect as a fellow human. This is the time when a brand can truly come alive either as a friend or an insensitive entity on paper.
Do: Look out for the right avenues to ensure the right messaging with or without integrating your product.
TV viewership, along with E-commerce and Google search, will soar with long-form content taking the lead. Europe has recently announced to limit the broadcast bandwidth as Netflix viewership is causing massive stress on networks. Outdoor, Print, and Cinema Advertising will face the brunt. The idea is to identify the right spots and transparent messaging to keep customer loyalty intact. Associating with news right now should be carefully chosen depending on what tone they are taking to keep people informed.
Don't: Underestimate and Overreact
There will be a tendency to make a social impact in distressed times. Avoid taking a higher ground unless you are an expert in the relevant domain. Again, be a socially responsible brand. Overreacting without fully preparing can create a lot of damage to the brands and consumers. A lot of brands might be scrambling to create effective communication for a ready viewership, but doing so without adequate information is a bad idea.
Do: Know your brand
It is important to identify opportunities that can create a meaningful impact on both the organization and society, but it's also important to know what the brand stands for. Suddenly changing the tone and communication and trying to be something that is not in your DNA can be detrimental to customer loyalty in the long run. Identify that unique feature that connects your brand to the consumers and deliver the message in your true spirit!
Don't: Settle with excuses.
Customer service in times of need is a great brand enhancer. Make sure you are connecting with your consumers on queries and requests more proactively on social media and telephonically. Make yourself available. No one remembers a brand when it is working just alright. It is times like these when they expect you to listen, suggest, communicate, empathize, provide, and nurture! Remember, servicing customers well is the primary social responsibility of any brand.
We are witnessing dramatic changes which will become the norms of a futuristic society to safeguard and enable its functioning seamlessly. Work from Home, Telemedicine, remote education, and drones/robotics are just a few to name them. It is of utmost importance that Brands start to realize the power of agility and change management. At the end of the day, it's not a difficult decision to either be an automotive manufacturer which stopped all its production temporarily or a cruise liner that was more worried about the sunscreen stock than the pandemic itself.