The coronavirus has billions of people and millions of businesses fighting for survival. Of course, our first concern is for our nation, communities and families. But we must account for the fact that few brands will be untouched. Nonprofit organizations also must think about branding and positioning as part of the equation. In our race to reopen the world, businesses must avoid negligence and failure to safeguard public health.
To turn this issue into an opportunity, brand management must project a tone of crisis communications to build relationships and to demonstrate reliability. We must be responsible, responsive, relevant, trustworthy and extremely proactive because actions speak much louder than words. The pandemic response may forever tarnish the brand of China and elected leaders around the world who failed by prescribing misinformation and mismanagement to the masses. The events will also forever tarnish corporate brands that fail to do the right thing for consumers, employees and other stakeholders. Many governments and corporations will face a gauntlet of lawsuits for negligence. The fallout is far from over, which means that there is still an opportunity to emerge from the pandemic as a leader and the voice of reason.
Building loyalty in a time of crisis can make or break a brand. Organizations are turning on a dime to improvise and make difficult decisions that will ultimately have lasting effects on their brands. When asked what factors make consumers trust brands more, the top three responses focused on the wellbeing of customers, the wellbeing of employees, and not taking advantage of the crisis to maximize profits. What consumers don’t want are messages of hope, optimism, nostalgia or even statements about strong moral principles. Consumers want brands to demonstrate leadership and action by taking care of customers and employees. Brands that fail to take these actions put their reputations and trustworthiness at risk.
Organizations showing up for their employees is one of the top reasons consumers trust any given brand. Data shows that during uncertainty, workers are looking to employers and managers to lead even more than they are looking to governments and other organizations. Consumers are watching. Fifty-four percent of them say they are concerned with how employers are treating their employees in this time of crisis. Better treatment fuels brand trust, with 48 percent indicating they trust brands more when they take care of their employees.
Clear and frequent communications from the company will increase brand loyalty among employees. But not all companies are doing it. Only about half of employees say they are satisfied with their employers’ COVID-19 actions, and less than 60 percent believe their employers are communicating well during this crisis. Among those who are satisfied with their employers’ COVID-19 actions, 90 percent believe their employers are communicating well, resulting in significantly higher levels of trust. But too many employers are letting their employees down. Employers who are communicating poorly during this crisis are experiencing significant distrust with 63 percent indicating they trust their employer less.
As consumers adjust to the new world and start engaging in more comfort-seeking behaviors, 65 percent of consumers indicated that during this crisis a brands’ actions have a significant or major impact on their trust in that brand. A study from Morning Consult shows that consumer attitudes about brands have evolved during the coronavirus crisis. Fewer than half of Americans (41 percent) trust large corporations to guide them through these anxiety-inducing times.
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