Brand Humanity

How Marketers Can Adapt to a Chaotic Age

By Ritika Puri Nov 6, 2020

Right now, everyone is struggling. We’re seeing disasters compounding other disasters and trying to deal with a news cycle that’s moving faster that the human mind can comfortably comprehend. Throughout 2020, it’s been a challenge for brands to adjust to today’s challenging, shifting landscape and create marketing campaigns that feel appropriate to the times while still moving the needle.

Times are tough for us all and the world we’re living in right now is defined by complications and sudden, unexpected shifts. Marketers are under a lot of pressure today to make tough decisions, especially when it comes to brand, messaging, and overall communications strategy. Which raises the question: What’s the best way to show support for customers, when every human is living in a new, challenging reality?

Given that, let’s take a look at three concrete things that can help to support successful decision-making during this fast-paced, difficult time.

1. Define Your Brand Purpose Statement

Earlier this year, Edelman launched a special edition Trust Barometer to understand how the pandemic is shifting consumer perceptions. This report suggests that brands are taking on increasingly important roles in the public imagination—something that brings with it new opportunities and new obligations.

In particular, Edelman found that 78% of consumers say that they expect brands to protect employees and the local community. That expectation makes it important for companies to demonstrate that they’re taking effective steps to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, while also contributing to response/relief efforts.

These shifting expectations make it essential for companies to ensure that their marketing values align with consumer expectations and material needs during this difficult time. But it’s also important to think seriously about your brand purpose—which, unlike your brand values, encourages tangible outcomes—and how you’re conveying it in your communications and marketing messaging to customers.

Don’t have a set brand purpose? Here are some examples to consider as you work to identify one for your company:

  • Commitment to safety and healthy work environments
  • Desire to support mental health of employees and communities
  • Developing a clear plan to walk the talk when it comes to protecting the environment
  • Desire to rebuild the economy in a way that empowers everyday people
  • Focus on tackling important human health needs during the pandemic
  • Aptitude for good decision making to support for long-term business health
  • A vision for the future of stable, meaningful employment

One thing you may notice about these hypothetical brand purpose statements is that they align with the problems that people today are calling on their leaders to solve: Pandemic containment, physical/mental health, economic insecurity, and disaster recovery. Not every brand is going to be well-positioned to assist with all of these needs, but by defining your brand purpose, you’ll be more likely to always stay focused on remaining accountable to your stakeholders.

If you don’t have a defined brand purpose, start with this question: What does your brand have to offer the world? As you work through your response, try to keep your brand purpose simple. Define a few core concepts and think through your marketing needs and strategy. Finding a brand purpose that resonates is powerful, but not if it clashes with the messaging you’re going to be sending to your audience.

2. Keep Regional Differences Front of Mind

Every region in the world is different. While some economies are open right now, others are shut down. It’s unclear when kids will safely return to school, and what the long-term effects of the disease will be. The future is uncertain, which makes corporate communications hard.

Brands need to be sensitive to the many different stories that people are hearing and living today—and the fact that peoples’ emotional states tend to vary based on these lived experiences. That’s why you need to strengthen your foundational data collection and location-targeting capabilities. Knowing whether someone is entering your website/app from California or Florida could make all the difference in how your marketing is perceived.

With the right stack of data management and marketing technologies, it’s possible for marketers to target different messages to users based on their location—and the circumstances on the ground there—at scale. To make that happen, you need a technology stack that’s built on a foundation of streaming data, allowing all the different systems to process information and communicate with each other in real time. You also need live-updating customer profiles and the ability to dynamically segment the messages you send, so that changes in user behavior are taken into account as they happen and outreach isn’t sent after it’s no longer relevant. These capabilities can reduce the risk that, for instance, you’re encouraging customers to visit your brick and mortar locations in a location where all non-essential businesses are closed due to COVID-19.

While these kinds of technologies are essential to supporting thoughtful, situationally appropriate marketing campaigns, the human touch is still key. Marketers right now need to play an active, strategic role, from monitoring the shifting situation in different regions to taking initiative to update language and campaigns to ensure they continue to feel relevant and respectful to the people receiving them.

3. Create a Positive and United Global Narrative

I know, I know—I just encouraged you to focus on regional differences when building out your marketing efforts. But there are also some global commonalities that should inform your overall marketing strategy. Right now, people around the world are more divided than ever before. Families are overwhelmed, and keeping up with the news has become increasingly difficult and emotionally fraught. Cognitive fatigue is high, meaning that many consumers may be feeling stress, anxiety, exhaustion, or depletion.

“The coronavirus has brought with it a number of stressors—including job losses, social isolation, child care challenges, and general uncertainty—that tax the mental health of millions of people worldwide,” writes Alexis Blue, Assistant Director of University Relations and Communications at the University of Arizona, for the World Economic Forum (WEF).

But while it’s a challenging landscape, don’t lose sight of the role you and your brand can play. As a marketer speaking to an audience of consumers, you have an underappreciated power to challenge this dispiriting global narrative with considerate, positive messages.

“People will remember brands for their acts of good in a time of crisis, particularly if done with true heart and generosity,” writes Janet Balis, principal with Ernst & Young LLP, for Harvard Business Review. “This could take the form of donating to food banks, providing free products for medical personnel, or continuing to pay employees while the company’s doors are closed ... Consumers will likely remember how [leading manufacturers] partnered to repurpose manufacturing capacity and put people back to work to make respirators and ventilators to fight coronavirus.”

These stories are simple, powerful, and speak to an important human instinct—the power of helping others. Marketers are in a unique position to reach expansive groups of people, all around the world. Why not communicate the stories that the world wants and needs to hear right now, as part of your messaging outreach?

Final Thoughts

Reaching your customers effectively takes care, work, and the right technology, even in the best of times. Doing it right creates a foundation for strong, sustainable customer relationships, the kinds of relationships that can support long-term business success and user satisfaction. But while these needs don’t go away in chaotic times, it’s important to balance the business needs motivating your messaging with the thoughtfulness it takes to make those messages resonate today.

Right now, it’s more important than ever to approach your customer relationships with empathy and to focus on how your brand can provide much-needed support and value to the people who depend on you. That doesn’t mean that every push notification needs to reference your charitable efforts—but it does mean that the messages you send should reinforce your brand purpose and speak to the people who matter most: Your customers.

Ritika Puri

Ritika Puri is an entrepreneur who founded Storyhackers to help companies create awesome educational content. As a blogger, she loves writing about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing and finds inspiration at the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, and sociology.

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