Brand management during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you’re currently asking questions like: how do I protect (or even build) my brand now? Is it OK to promote my brand? What can I usefully do in terms of brand, marketing and communications right now? You’re not alone!

It’s different for everyone

Every business is reacting and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic in a different way. For some this is through necessity, for others it’s a proactive choice to adapt or an opportunity to pivot.

Talking to our clients and wider network, it’s reassuring to hear that for many brand, marketing and business development teams, work is continuing to flow, despite the uncertainty. And that doesn’t include the added burden / joy (delete as appropriate) of navigating video call etiquette, finding the best spot at home for a guaranteed broadband signal, home schooling and sourcing groceries.

Amongst our Bretom team there has been a mix of client work as well as the opportunity to hone our creative, UX and video skills. We’ve also been supporting Shivia and Balform with some pro bono work as part of their efforts to fight the pandemic. Sadly, we haven’t had time to join the sourdough starter brigade.

We know that not all marketing teams are as fortunate; budgets have been paused, or activity has been scaled back due to lack of demand in their sector. In industry forums, questions – from those keen to be productive despite the proverbial handcuffs, or simply eager to demonstrate meaningful contribution in a bid to ensure they still have a role after the crisis has passed – focus on what can / should we do now?

Practical tips for brands

Below are some thoughts from us in response to these questions; it’s not an exhaustive list but most can be done remotely and, at least initially, for little or no budget. And even if the following tips don’t apply now, they might equally apply during industry ‘downtimes’, when awaiting budget approval for major projects or campaigns, or at the end of the financial year when most of your pennies have been spent.

  • Revisit brand values

Entrepreneurs, marketing leaders and CEOs the world over get excited when they initially land on the perfect set of brand values. For some organisations, they remain central to all communications, for others, they languish in an unloved corner. We have all witnessed the surge of affection for authentic brands that are nailing their communications and contributing genuinely to the world’s collective efforts to beat the pandemic – Co-op, Leon, HSBC, Unilever, to name just a few. What these brands have in common are a set of deeply embedded core values which are infused throughout their communications.

Now isn’t necessarily the time to change core values but why not revisit them: how can they be applied more consistently internally? What do they mean for each of the organisation’s different stakeholders? How might the answers to these questions augment how and when they receive communications? It maybe that there’s nothing to change; at least it’s another tick on the longer ‘to-do’ list.

  • Build a library of evergreen content

It’s always useful to have a stock of content in both print and digital format. With a little more time, there’s an opportunity to build a library of content, whether it’s putting together a new brochure, writing a series of blogs, creating video explainers or simply sourcing some new imagery for use alongside your written and social media content. Another option is to consider how existing content can work harder, perhaps across multiple formats or broken down into bitesize pieces.

  • Plan internal communications

There has never been a more important time to make sure that staff feel connected to their teams. With nearly a quarter of employed people in the UK currently furloughed, and many of those still working doing so remotely, strong internal communications are vital. Whilst we’re big advocates of remote working, it presents new challenges if it’s not what a business is used to. The so-called ‘watercooler’ chats seem a way off,  but much like consumers are doing with the brands in their orbit, employees will be making decisions based on how their employer communicates with them during the pandemic. And it’s likely to influence how they behave after the crisis has passed; since employees are often a brand’s most valuable advocates it makes sense to ensure they are motivated to promote it positively in the longer term.

  • Update brand guidelines

OK, so it might not be the most exciting job in the world but it is important! Consistency and efficiency are just two good reasons to keep your brand guidelines up-to-date; with many businesses asking employees to take on different, less familiar responsibilities, it’s more important than ever to offer clear guidance on how to present the brand consistently. Additionally, if it’s been some time since the brand guidelines were created, perhaps they don’t include guidance on social media posting? Are there examples of different written styles? Brochures and white papers, for example, are likely to have a different rhythm. Would it help to add some style and tone guidance around this?

Brand guidelines don’t have to be long weighty tombs either; mix up the format, for example, with video – brilliant for demonstrating the desired execution and more easily digestible for those watching.

  • Don’t stop talking to audiences

Even if it feels like there’s not much to say, most will welcome friendly and relateable communication that shows interest and care for individuals, their organisations and the wider issues in the world. A little empathy and sharing personal experience adds character and builds trust in a brand. Taking time to engage more fully with audiences on social media, will reap some serious benefits in the medium term. Without being too cynical, staying in touch will also help to ensure a brand is front of mind when business trading kicks back into life. 

For many of us, Q2 of 2020 (and most likely, beyond) is not quite what we had in mind but there are positive, proactive steps that we can take to ensure that authentic brands are well positioned now and in the future.

where next….

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