Can Your Brand Withstand COVID-19?

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It’s about more than surviving today. It’s about thriving tomorrow.

Restaurants are closed. The Olympics are postponed. And giving up your heirloom Rolex for a few rolls of 2-ply toilet paper is starting to sound like a pretty fair trade. The world as we know it has changed. For how long? Nobody knows. But one thing is for certain, when this pandemic is over, it won’t be over.

The hard work begins once we get back to “normal” – or at least a landscape that’s closer to what we’re used to seeing. Businesses will need to rebuild. Regain customers. Reaffirm trust. Reestablish stability. In short, many businesses will have to make their brand relevant again.

But other businesses will already be ahead of the game, and their competition, by remembering these truths.

Your brand is your power.

It’s who you are as a business. As an owner or leader. It’s what you are to your clients and customers. Your employees and vendors. It has the power to make people actually feel your business. Believe in it. Make it part of their personal and professional lives. To not think, act and live your brand every day is to open the door for your clients, customers and employees to walk right out of it.

If you’re going to communicate to your customers, be authentic to your brand.

Nobody cares that you have their best interest in mind during this pandemic. Seriously. How many emails have you received from companies saying, “During these trying times, we at The Store You Bought that Shovel From Last Fall care about the wellbeing of you, your family and your business.” You’re like, “Really? I forgot I even bought that shovel from you. And besides, the stupid tree died over the winter. But thanks for thinking of me. I’ll sleep so much better knowing the shovel store is just now starting to care about my family.”

Still thinking about sending that email out to your customers? Instead, maybe your email should explain if your business is open and the best way to work with you during this time. Tell them what you can do to make their lives easier right now. And only send updates when you have something new to say.

When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.

Fine, it’s an adage that’s been around for a while. But it’s true. Think about it in the environment we are living in right this second. Ad spending is down. In fact, many businesses have either completely pulled their marketing budgets or significantly cut them. Chances are, your competitors are part of that lot. Sucks to be them. Because you, as a smart business person, know this is the time to double down on your marketing, not cut it.

Even better, if you have a new product or service to introduce, there’s no better time than now to launch it. Less marketing “noise” means your message stands out. And it may even be cheaper to buy media space, get professional photography or create that new brand identity. And here’s another cool thing, when you’re the one advertising during tough times, you project an image of being a reliable, stable company.

Adapt your marketing. Don’t abort it.

We just discussed a few of the reasons why you should advertise during these tough times. But the question is how to do it. It’s really about shifting your efforts. Think about it. A vast majority of us are either sheltering in place or are basically sequestered in our homes. And we are all watching the news and scouring the web looking for information and any inkling as to when this whole thing will be over.

This is a great opportunity to move some of that ad spend from those outdoor billboards to television commercials. Maybe take that money you’re spending on advertising on mass transit trains, busses and bus shelters and reallocate it to a digital campaign. Let’s face it, our audience is about as captive as we’ll ever see it. Why would you even consider aborting your advertising efforts with a marketplace like we have now?

Look to the past to understand the future.

Of all the reasons to either keep advertising, or even increase it during this COVID-19 event, this may be the best – because it has worked in every economically tough time we’ve seen since the Great Depression, and more.

Yep. That’s right. When times get tough, the tough start advertising. Let’s look at a few examples.

In the 1920s, Post was the undisputed leader in the breakfast cereal category. Then the Great Depression hit. Like most companies, Post cut their advertising budget significantly. However, Kellogg’s took a much different approach and doubled their advertising spend. Even more, understanding the state of the marketplace, they also took advantage of the situation and launched a brand new cereal called Rice Krispies. The result was a 30% increase in profits for Kellogg’s and a new position as category leader – a spot they still hold to this day.

Let’s move up in time a bit to the recession of mid 1990 through early 1991. While many of us were striking a pose to Madonna’s Vogue or bragging about our Friends in Low Places, the Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) industry was suffering. Like many companies, McDonald’s dropped their advertising and promotional budgets completely. Pizza Hut and Taco Bell did just the opposite. Guess what happened? Pizza Hut’s sales increased by 61% and Taco Bell’s sales grew 40%. McDonald’s suffered a 28% decline in sales.

Want another example? Let’s look at the Great Recession that plagued the nation December 2007 through June 2009. The automotive industry was in severe trouble. GM decided it was a good idea to abandon all branding efforts and focus on retail-oriented messaging to drive sales. Hyundai America took a different approach and introduced Hyundai Assurance which promised Americans if they bought a new Hyundai and lost their job, Hyundai would buy the vehicle back. Two very different approaches. And two very different outcomes. GM’s decision to drop any efforts to improve their brand image and customer perception to focus on retail-driven messaging resulted in a 53% decline in sales February 2008 through February 2009. Hyundai’s efforts to identify with their customers resulted in a 5% sales increase in January and February 2009 alone.

Look, this whole COVID-19 thing sucks. It sucks hard. Business owners and leaders are having to make hard decisions. Do we close our doors for some undefined amount of time? Can we pay our people through this or do we need to cut salaries, or worse, let some people go? Are we going to be able to dig out once the dust settles? And now, after reading this, we’re supposed to invest our much-needed capital into marketing?

Yes. Yes, you are.

What if you don’t? Will you be able to generate enough revenue to climb out of the hole you’re sinking into while your business is either on hold or severely hindered? Will you have the clientele to do that? What happens if you don’t? Will you be forced to lay off more people? Maybe close your doors for good? These are tough questions. And nobody knows the answers. But history has taught us the Warren Buffet philosophy of “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful” holds true.

So it really comes down to one fundamental question: if we are currently living through a truly historic event, what are you going to do to ensure your brand comes out ahead in the future?

We should talk.

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