How brands are adopting creative ways to communicate amid Covid-19 lockdown

Topics Coronavirus | Brands | Honda

About 75 per cent of respondents to the survey said corporations should not exploit the health crisis to promote their brands.
Last week, Honda sent out a WhatsApp message to consumers fretting at home under lockdown. It had the image of a contactless keypad of a car and read “You played a key role”. Once you clicked on the message, the first slide appeared with the image of a car and its purported owner. It said, “You kept your car parked”; the second slide showed the owner washing up and the message said, “You kept the threat away”; the third showed the owner keying away at her laptop with a message, “You kept working at home”. The final slide, a simple “thank you”.

As the coronavirus keeps most consumers at home and many products and brands out of bounds, along with newspapers and magazines that carry their ads, a key question keeping brand managers awake at night is: How does one keep the communication going and stay top of mind?

The problem is deep, if one were to look at the consumer responses to a recent study from Kantar to assess how they expected businesses to act during the coronavirus pandemic. About 75 per cent of respondents to the survey said corporations should not exploit the health crisis to promote their brands. Another 8 per cent felt corporations should stop advertising altogether. About 77 per cent of the respondents said brands should be “helpful” during this pandemic. Simply put, corporations need to shift focus from regular brand promotions and look at ways to genuinely help and support their consumers.

This may sound hackneyed, but it can no longer be business as usual. You have to keep talking to consumers, but in a sensitive way, you may humour them, but cannot go overboard.

Thus we see two broad trends in communication emerging over the past month or so, since the coronavirus fear started spreading, along with the infection. First, with print and outdoor out of sight, and television mostly showing reruns, much of the conversation has shifted to the social media. The Kantar study pointed out that web browsing is up by 70 per cent and social media usage is up by 61 per cent since the coronavirus pandemic started. This means that your consumer is spending more time on social media than ever before.

Take Facebook. It has said that in countries hit hard by the virus, the volume of messaging via that platform increased more than 50 per cent in March. Among them, there are around 140 million businesses across the Facebook family of apps and many of these are leveraging the social media platform in innovative ways to communicate with their consumers.

Second, irrespective of the category, the tonality has become either educative — which is what a large majority of the brands are doing — or plain humorous.

Now check out some of these ads...or better still...consumer-connect programmes. Every day since the first phase of the lockdown, The Moms Co, a skincare brand, has shared an activity — from exercise to craft — as part of their Facebook campaign, #21DaysofBonding,  that mothers can do with their children to keep them busy and productively engaged now that the schools are closed.

Then there is The Man Company, which sells grooming products for men, and which ran its Quarantine Olympics on Facebook and Instagram till April 15. Users were challenged to do a bunch of fun activities everyday like doing planks for 60 seconds or rolling a chapatti in 38 seconds. Simba beer’s Uproar at Home on Facebook and Instagram hosts musical gigs. Every weekend, a new artiste goes live via Simba’s social media handle and presents a show.

The upside of staying connected are many. Hitesh Dhingra, co-founder and MD of The Man Company, says besides these activities, social media platforms like Facebook helped it give out the key information that the company had started selling its products online, though it is a completely different story that due to movement restrictions, its delivery remains limited.

Malika Sadani, founder-CEO of The Moms Co, says her company is routinely in touch with moms and it was not difficult for her firm to find out the best way to stay connected with her audience. It simply asked moms via Facebook and Instagram what they would like to hear from her brand or expect her brand to do during the lockdown. Many of these moms came back requesting for ideas to keep their children engaged at home. “This led us to start the #21DaysOfBonding campaign,” says Sadani.

The flip side of the coin is keeping the dialogue going within the firm, with one’s own employees. An executive of a multinational car company says, “There are too many things going on in the internet right now and we are asking our teams not to believe any forward from an unreliable source. We rely only on government notification, official sources and the Press Information Bureau.” She also pointed out how the company is concerned that the overdose of negative news about the virus might affect the mental well-being of people. “We are also advising our employees to not read about Covid-19 only. We are making empathy calls to our teams as it can be taxing working from home. We are advising them to take periodic breaks, spend time with family and complete their household chores as well. Overall, we have asked them to maintain a relaxed schedule.”

So there you have it. The bottom line is simple: You’ve got to create communication and experiences that tell your customers and employees that you understand the challenges caused by the crisis and that they are being heard. So keep the channels of communication open.

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