While many of the countries around the world who are currently
in coronavirus lockdown, try to figure out the right balance between fighting
the spread of this deadly virus and the right time, and approach, to restart
their economic engines, professionals in brand communications are faced with a
conundrum of their own.

We should feel their frustration because theirs, too,
is a choice they must make between pushing product and service, on one hand,
and communicating the work their brands are doing, ‘playing their part’ – with no
obvious profit motive (wink wink!) – to help curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Must they remain in hibernation – not seen nor heard (in
case they might say the wrong things that might come back to haunt them) –
until the coronavirus has passed and the dust settled? Must they go for a
tandem of pushing product and service in some messages, and their brand’s community
outreach initiatives in others? Must they overlay their communication with messages
demonstrating their brand’s social conscience? Must they simply ditch all pure
brand communications during this time and focus on ‘playing their part’ and demonstrating
the extent of their brand’s corporate citizenship, and heart, with the hope
that that is the approach that will ensure memories of their brand’s social
conscience remain top of mind when the dust has settled?

And, for those who are in a hurry to start pure brand
communication campaigns, when will the right time be for this? Just before the
lifting of the lockdown, or just after? This is assuming, of course, that brand
communicators are also taking this time to assess and understand the possible ramifications
of this lockdown, and the ‘new economy’ currently being shaped right before our
eyes, on their old ways of communicating their brands’ messages.

By the look of things, it will no longer be entirely ‘business
as usual’. The lockdown is helping many consumers around the world open their
eyes to goods and services they really do not need that they had been
conditioned over time – often thanks to great, even invasive and manipulative,
marketing messages – to believe they needed.

Are brand communicators thinking about all of this and
working hard, behind-the-scenes, on new approaches to authentic, less
manipulative, multimedia brand communications with a heightened social
conscience and a reloaded online focus?       

What smart brands are doing during lockdown

All around the world, smart corporate (and person) brands
have found impactful ways to remain in the minds of their customers, followers,
and markets by leveraging their good names without pushing traditional
offerings.

Now, Giorgio Armani makes aprons for doctors; Gucci
designs face marks; Ferrari develops much-needed medical respirators; several
airlines have turned their planes into cargo transporters for Protective Personal
Equipment (PPE) and other emergency supplies; DHL is using its planes to provide
the same kind of assistance.

A number of celebrities (e.g. Dolly Parton, Trevor
Noah, Lupita Nyong’o and many others) have joined a program to read bedtime story
books to children through an online platform that is being replicated by
A-listers around the world, including South Africa. Tattoo artists have given
away their gloves and protective gear to healthcare providers; many known and
less known artists have taken to providing free online entertainment to help
keep the spirits high and to underline the importance of community and social
connections in the face of forced physical distancing. Free, globally
accessible online libraries have sprung up to also mitigate growing levels of
boredom difficult access to books in some communities.

The list of efforts by private individuals who have
come up with innovative ways to help elderly neighbours, or those with other
health problems, is growing every passing day. Even trained dogs and drones are
being used to deliver groceries and medical supplies to people trapped in their
homes by age and other forms of infirmities.

Be discerning

With all of this happening – and the whole world is
focused on the need to reach out across traditional divides of political,
ethnic, religious and geographic frontiers in its battle against a common,
invisible, and deadly enemy – it must be hard for brand communicators with one
eye on products that are not moving, stuck on shelves and in storage facilities
under lockdown, to determine the right moves to make without being seen to be too
opportunistic, politically incorrect, or socially insensitive.

The brands mentioned above, those who have turned to manufacturing
and supplying Covid-19 related goods and services, as well as providing other
forms of community outreach, have got it right on two grounds.

A fine ‘covinundrum’

First, they will remain top of mind, visible, in the
minds of their stakeholders during a time when it seems insensitive to be
pushing traditional products and service, as well as appearing to be out to
draw financial benefit from consumers who seem only concerned with surviving
the deadly virus and an uncertain economic future; many of them worried about
their battered livelihoods. Secondly, they stand a good chance of being remembered
for having been there when the world needed them the most. Their brand equity
will certainly come out having been positively boosted, cushioning them with
generous levels of consumer goodwill and market standing. They must simply be
smart, strategically measured, in how they use these benefits when the lockdowns
get lifted and a semblance of normalcy returns, ushering with them the new
economy; else they too might find themselves on the backfoot, with good reason.

No doubt, the lockdowns around the world present traditional
brand communicators with a fine “covinundrum” to deal with. But only
those who would have had their ears on the ground and their eyes on new media
consumption patterns during this period – and managed to align their approaches
to fast changing consumer preferences and sentiments – will seamlessly
integrate the new economy.

It will be a different world when the dust finally
settles; and opportunities will be plenty for those who can spot them and use
them for shared, long-term gains instead of narrow, short-term profit.     

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

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