For many brands, the COVID-19 crisis has forced major changes in campaigns and messaging strategies. Initially, brands rushed to be supportive and reassuring with the #InThisTogether hashtag and what became much-mocked, widespread use of generic images and scripts that began to look so similar, brand distinction was completely lost. But the moment wasn’t really about branding, and smart marketers adjusted their strategies as they faced up to the pandemic-driven sea-change.
Pivoting Based on Daily Sentiment, Opportunities
A month into the crisis, brands began to change up strategies and reset messaging. Many focused on speaking to concerns about treatment of “essential” employees forced by government designations for what businesses must stay open during shutdowns to continue working with scant protection and sometimes in dangerous conditions. Other brands tested relief messaging aimed at supporting the healthcare workers challenged by rising COVID case numbers and too-slow government efforts to mitigate the onset of the virus. Still other brands developed strategies around unexpected opportunities, taking advantage of consumer behavioral shifts to gain market share, brand awareness and preference.
Now brands are faced with new challenges—consumer burnout on the crisis, life in quarantine, and the huge change in consumer confidence as the virus continues to disrupt and create uncertainty.
Sparkloft Media compiled a picture of consumer sentiment three months into the COVID-19 crisis using sentiment data from over 225 million social conversations. What they learned was that every consumer group is feeling the burnout from not just the COVID-19 quarantine, but also their chosen coping approaches. Other stressors are worsening, too; the unemployment crisis is moving into a new stage, as government relief efforts have expired with no indication that new help will be authorized. People already facing economic difficulties now face evictions, food insecurity and the simple inability to buy anything. Companies, businesses and brands need to consider ongoing messaging carefully to avoid being deemed clueless or tone-deaf.
Consumers In Crisis Burnout
Sparkloft tagged three main groups of consumers:
Activists - The first group was very involved in relief efforts, amplifying #FlattenTheCurve messages and facts about the virus, and promoting conscious consumerism—thinking carefully about what they buy and what companies/brands they support. The continuing quarantines and general bad forecasts for how long the crisis will last has led to information overload and high levels of stress. The political situation isn’t helping.
Curators - The second group are those folks who decided to adopt new hobbies, behaviors and educational activities during quarantine—from learning new languages to how to bake bread. But activities that seemed productive are now wearing thin and feeling more like a burden.
Escapists - The final group opted to avoid the crisis as much as possible. They flocked to social media platforms and virtual content that replaced activities quarantines and lockdowns made physically impossible, taking virtual travel destination tours, live-streaming concerts and even trying online dating. Like the others groups, they are now feeling burned out on content and the crisis in general.
All three groups can be reached and helped with content aimed at being comforting, with an emphasis on giving yourself a break, serving optimistic and positive messaging, and generally steering away from a COVID-19 focus.
Helping Clients to Adapt
As Craig Jenkins, writing for New York magazine, recently said, “A pandemic upsets gravity. It becomes the focal point of every day, the protagonist of every story. It burdens the healthy and the sick alike.” Finding marketing messages that recognize the emotional climate and provide positive, comforting messaging will be key to maintaining brands and continuing toward client goals. Ongoing cause marketing can also be valuable, since many people are watching how brands respond to the crisis… by being people-focused and helpful, or focused solely on profits.
Ad agencies need to be ready to pivot at any time. That means working more closely with clients, with weekly check-ins and a sharp eye on marketing data and effectiveness. The best strategy right now is to be ready to shift quickly, and adapt to each day as it comes. Long-term planning is next to impossible. We all need to live in the moment, and be fully present to help clients and their customers.