Times change – and sometimes your brand needs to change in sync. The biggest news story of a generation is currently playing out as the world reacts to the spread of COVID-19, but the most agile brands aren’t hitting pause and waiting for it to move on. They’re adapting, recognizing that while it’s no longer business as normal, no business at all simply isn’t an option.
Keeping your strategy relevant in the current crisis
It remains to be seen what the long-term effects will be of one of the bravest ad campaigns of the coronavirus period. Burger King took its most recognized asset – the Whopper – and presented it in the most unappealing way imaginable. It allowed it to rot for a stomach-turning photo shoot. Whether shock tactics, clever marketing, or both, it highlighted two responsible moves that the company had made. First, to close its restaurants in response to lockdown measures, and second, to remove artificial preservatives from its food. The first of those was coincidental, but the timing was fortuitous, as any burgers that weren’t frozen will have rotted during quarantine. In a single photo, Burger King reinforced its relevance at a time when it couldn’t physically serve its most engaged customers, while remaining within the public eye, when its message could otherwise easily have been lost.
You’d be hard pressed to remember how some other fast food brands marketed themselves over the same few weeks – other than to remind customers that they were still open for take-away. While that’s one way of trying to keep the revenue flowing, it’s a fairly limp marketing response to the prevailing crisis.
The genius of Burger King’s campaign is that not only was it relevant to current events, but it worked in a manner that wouldn’t have had nearly so great an impact in more ordinary times. Removing preservatives from its menu was a big story, and the decision to show how fragile the product was as a result reinforced the authenticity of the preservative-free food in a way that a burger that remained pristine after weeks on the shelf probably couldn’t.
Shifting and adapting your strategy
Not all brands will have products that lend themselves to a similar treatment, but they will notice a change in the way their audience behaves. As things start opening up again, airlines and other transport operators will see a reluctance among their passengers to board crowded services; supermarkets will have to reduce their range to optimize stacking; garden centers will likely observe increased interest in growing fruit and vegetables at the cost of flowers and shrubs. All of this needs to be taken into account when adapting a marketing strategy.
For some, this will mean that the publishing calendar they had formulated in January will need to be re-thought from scratch. In doing so, it’s vital that marketing teams maintain their brand’s values.
For many brands, times of crisis are an opportunity to educate their audience. We’ve already seen that the most engaging content is that which answers questions, even if the answer is a product recommendation or the open end of a funnel geared towards capturing leads. The key for brands is to use content intelligence tools to analyze trends, the growing use of certain keywords, and a shift in media consumption to forecast which questions their audience is likely to be asking and, crucially, where they’ll be asking them. Organic search remains important, but traffic to online news sites has spiked and shows no sign of slowing down. Moving advertising spend from PPC on SERPs to networks specifically targeting online newspaper readership could be an astute move for many brands – particularly if their defined audience persona also tells them which titles their target market is most likely to encounter.
An opportunity like no other
Nobody should exploit a crisis or pandemic – but exploiting something is very different to reacting in an appropriate manner. Research has shown that consumers don’t expect the brands they love to stop advertising for the duration of any lockdown and, for many, the first brands they think about when life returns to some semblance of normality will be the ones that remained visible – and relevant – throughout.
Times of crisis, then, are an opportunity to try new tactics, and the kind of marketing that would be too risky under normal circumstances. Don’t let them pass you by.