Brand, reputation and resilience in a post-COVID world

Water crashing into lighthouse

How can brands build trust during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond in a post-COVID world?

This question was tackled by our Director, Mark Forbes, as well as content marketing specialist, Nina Christian, in a webinar with the Australian Marketing Institute.

Key takeaways:

- Reputation is your most valuable asset – build it, promote it and protect it.
- Define your story, your purpose and how you can make a difference.
- Be authentic, ensure your deeds match your words – have purpose but ‘stay in your lane’.
- Engage with your audience – listen, respond and bring them on your journey.
- Craft your messages clearly with quality content.

The pair discussed the way coronavirus has accelerated the need for brands to position themselves as a trusted, human voice.

Mark said this implication will continue well beyond the current period of crisis.

“These are interesting times. We’ve seen worldwide behaviour change, transformation to the ways of working and interacting, and now we’re facing the prospect of a deep global recession.

“The coronavirus has accelerated and emphasised already occurring trends, including the erosion of trust in our leaders, institutions, banks, churches and our brands.

“Brands that are just thinking about how they need to change their communications during coronavirus are being short-sighted. These implications will apply well beyond the pandemic.”

He added:

“Coronavirus has underlined the critical importance of getting the right message, with the right tone to the right audience.”

Video conferencing on a laptop

Nina echoed this sentiment, adding that customers and audiences are craving vulnerability from business.

“We are marketing and communicating in an unpredictable environment; in terms of topic, geography, time and magnitude. If brands act human, people are able to accept that not everything will be perfect and be more forgiving.

“Human-centric marketing means being authentic, approachable, likable and even vulnerable”.

The importance of authenticity was a common theme throughout the webinar.

Mark explained all communications and operations need to be relevant to a brand’s purpose – and this is more important than ever in the current climate.

“Brand purpose remains something of a holy grail,” he said.

“It’s critical that you ensure your deeds match your words. When it comes to talking about coronavirus, I suggest keeping messaging relevant to your business activities.”

Nina also spoke about the idea of taking “micro actions” to enact social change in a tangible way.

“You have not made any real change by only showing support when an issue is trending. How many of the brands that posted a black square to Instagram are still pushing for change?

“Taking small steps towards change, consistently, is most effective.”

Black Lives Matter social posts

When discussing the idea of brand trust, relevance was mentioned as being critical.

Nina said marketers now need to make their campaigns and communications relevant to audiences on a deeper, contextual level.

“Marketers will be familiar with the idea of segmentation and personalisation. We target audiences based on demographic characteristics and more recently, thanks to data, we can also target based on behaviour and preferences.

“What is now becoming more and more important is also tailoring the message through the lens of context. This means considering what’s going on in the world, the macro environment, to market in a way that shows empathy and awareness.”

This also applies to the choice of communications channels.

“As a former newspaper editor, I’m a fan of earned content. To earn it, stories need to engage, be well told, targeted and have something to say – and a human element that provides an emotional connection helps,” said Mark.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digital channels for both internal and external messaging, but be wary of a scattergun approach. Just because TikTok is trending, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your brand.”

TikTok website homepage

Mark also highlighted a channel that can be overlooked, the people behind a brand.

“When you’re planning a communications strategy, don’t forget a key channel: your CEO. Brand starts from within – if your leaders and other employees don’t echo your corporate values, consumers won’t believe them.”

Case in point was CrossFit’s CEO, Greg Glassman, who tweeted the insensitive joke “FLOYD-19” and made damaging internal comments about George Floyd which were leaked, resulting in lost partnerships for the company and his resignation.

Ultimately, there is an expectation for brands – and their leaders – to act on social issues. Missteps by brands, such as CrossFit’s, stress the need to do this in a considered and authentic way.

To achieve this, both from a communications and operational perspective, it’s integral that the marketing and communications teams work closely together alongside executive leadership.

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