The calm in the storm
5 pandemic changes that can help your brand grow
“We’re all in this together.” “We’ll get through this and emerge stronger.”
By now, the entire nation is familiar with these COVID-19 era mantras that brands are repeating on the airwaves, social media and around the retail landscape. But have consumers had enough of COVID-19 communications? And are these messages really helping brands—not just in the moment, but also with the future in mind?
Because emotions drive consumer behavior, we must look at how consumers are reacting emotionally to each message to answer these questions. From several major studies with thousands of consumers my firm has conducted, we have seen that the brands that connect with consumers emotionally, and in particular have a positive impact on how a person feels about themselves, are the ones that are most likely to be purchased in general.
We also have seen that during this period when people’s work and personal lives have been upended and worry, stress, frustration and anxiety are running high, brands that make consumers feel better are the ones that will gain market share, and be recommended during and after the pandemic.
Product offerings are one way to make people feel better. Brands are certainly stepping up to the plate by providing products and services that help people feel better by fulfilling a need for indulgence, self-care and control.
Just as important is what brands are saying and doing. Messages of togetherness and reassurance—such as in State Farm’s Ad announcing, “For now, we’re all living a new normal…we’re here to make this new normal feel just a little more normal,”—are indeed helping. So are the actions that back these messages up, such as offering 0% financing, delivery and generous return policies.
Some actions and messages are more effective at making people feel good than others. They are the ones that will help move the needle as far as retaining and growing market share. In a study of 1,000 consumers, my team and I uncovered the following five things brands are saying and doing that increase the chances of purchases and customer loyalty now and in the future by making people feel good:
No. 1 — Saying we will get through this and emerge stronger
A full 70% say that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind them “We will get through this and emerge stronger.” Two-thirds (66%) say they will definitely purchase the product when this crisis is over, while 45% say that hearing this makes them feel very good about themselves.
Of course, there are different ways to convey this message. Guinness ads acknowledged that St. Patrick’s Day was going to feel a bit different this year, adding, “We’ve learned that over the years, “We’re pretty tough when we stick together” and “We’ll march again.” This Coca-Cola ad reminds us that for every loss, there is a gain, that for all the scare mongering there also is care mongering, and for every virus, there is a vaccine--implying humans are ultimately positive and resourceful.
No. 2 — Offering exclusive hours for at-risk groups
It makes good, practical sense that numerous retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Publix and Stop & Shop are offering special hours to those who are most at-risk of contracting the virus such as the elderly, because these groups are less likely to leave their homes to make purchases.
But these actions and the messaging behind them are also helping from a short- and long-term marketing perspective. Four-fifths (80%) of the people we polled say they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that offer exclusive hours for at-risk groups since the COVID-19 crisis began. Almost three-quarters (73%) say they will definitely purchase from these providers when this crisis is over.
No. 3 — Reminding consumers that we are all in this together
This is another phrase we are hearing from brands over and over again. In just one example, Hershey’s recent ad “Heartwarming at Home” begins by saying that we are in this together and that these experiences give people a chance to come together in meaningful ways. It ends with pictures of people connecting through windows, several feet away, and with family members at home sending a clear message: You are not alone.
And it is working. Of the people we surveyed, 73% say that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind them “We are all in this together,” while 67% say they will definitely purchase the product when this crisis is over. Hearing this makes 42% feel very good about themselves.
No. 4 — Sharing reliable updates about the COVID-19 situation
Apple has released a new screening tool that allows people to determine if they potentially have the virus and if they should seek medical care. They created a new COVID-19 website and app with the CDC to help them understand how to manage the virus, and a Contact Tracing App with Google to help curb the virus’ spread. Quest Diagnostics’ website provides information about COVID-19, and consumers can sign up for email alerts for news and testing information.
While it is helpful in the moment, being a resource for consumers also is likely to pay off over time: 81% of the respondents say they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that share reliable updates about the COVID-19 situation; 49% say that purchasing from such brands makes them feel very good about themselves, and 60% say they will definitely purchase from these brands when this crisis is over.
No. 5 — Reminding consumers to take care of themselves
Surprisingly simple messages such as Uber thanking people for staying home and not using their service, and Sesame Street explaining that “taking care of yourself is also taking care of others” during a campaign that features Elmo and three friends washing their hands to upbeat music are proving extremely effective for brands. A full 77% of those polled say they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind consumers to take care of themselves, while 57% say they will definitely purchase from these brands when this crisis is over.
Anne E. Beall, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Beall Research Inc, a marketing-research consulting firm that uses research to create solutions for Fortune 500 companies. She also is the author of "Strategic Market Research: A Guide to Conducting Research that Drives Businesses (3rd Edition)" and seven other books. She previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).