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Note to Brands: People Need Assurance, Not Reassurance

Note to Brands: People Need Assurance, Not Reassurance

Kathryn Spitzberg Johnson

overhead photo of sailboat

As steps are taken to emerge from the coronavirus shutdown, here are some tips for brands to prove their trustworthiness to consumers

There are many questions about how people will feel as we start to emerge from the pandemic and start living in a new reality. What’s clear today is that people are experiencing fear and are uncertain about what the future holds. Massive change leaves instability in its wake, and brands need to stay in tune with the attitudes, values and hopes of target audiences. Brands can use insights into current perceptions to help create solid ground for consumers moving forward. This isn’t about reassurance. Nobody truly knows what is going to happen, so nobody can remove doubts or fears. There are just too many unknowns. Rather, assurance is the way forward. Assurance is maintaining confidence in one’s abilities and making a promise to progress the best that we can.

For consumers, assurance needs to go further than just a warranty, a looser return policy or improved online ordering technology (although these are pieces of the big picture). When people don’t know their economic future, or have been out of work for some time, they likely won’t take risks with their money—and they shouldn’t have to! At the very least, brands should offer some leniency and flexibility, giving consumers some control over their purchases.

Some travel industry players are doing a good job with this right now, such as Delta allowing people to use flight credits for up to two years and providing other protections for would-be travelers. This shows a confidence on the part of the brands that things will eventually move forward and is a promise that they will honor their commitments to their consumers when it does.

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Another sign of assurance for people is safety. People are looking for basic innovations and changes that indicate a commitment to safety and protection. As part of the first wave of business to open, retailers are providing safeguards, and consumers will be looking for precautionary measures such as extra disinfecting practices and social distancing implementations. (Apple has instituted deep cleaning practices, temperature checks at the door and required employee face covers, for instance.) Consumer dollars will be headed to the retail environments where shoppers feel most safe.

For brands, it’s essential to maintain strong connections with consumers during this time not only to communicate safety efforts and protocols, but to remind consumers that life will continue, even if it looks different than it used to. According to a recent Harvard Business News article, consumers expect quite a bit from their brands, “seeing them as critical partners” with a “powerful platform” for information delivery. This means that instead of pulling back from communications and marketing, brands should be jumping into the conversation. It’s most likely that the well-planned out, high budget marketing campaign that was being considered in January no longer makes sense for now. Many large brands have smartly pivoted during this time to come out with authentic, lower-budget messages that resonate with consumers. Take for example what Budweiser did with its touching One Team spot, or how Nike encouraged people to “play inside.” These are examples of brands using strong messaging to show that they know what’s happening, but that we’re all doing our best to move through it.

Brands can’t just jump into new messaging blind. Quick turnaround consumer research to take the pulse of an audience can help brands prevent missteps when emotions are running high and reputation is on the line. Determine what your consumers are doing and how they are feeling—on a deeper level—so you can plan accordingly. Once you have this foundation and know what your consumers need, here are steps you can take to begin assuring them:

  • Don’t go dark. Marketing budgets often bear the brunt of an economic downturn. While budgets are being slashed right and left due to economic upset, don’t leave your consumers behind. Now is the time to solidify those important relationships, build your reputation and create deeper loyalty. If you aren’t part of the conversation, you will be left behind.
  • Over-communicate. Get in the conversation, but make sure what you say is relevant. Things are moving at lightning speed and every day brings a new deluge of data, statistics, mandates and information. Make sure that you keep your audiences educated on what you are doing, whether that’s through advertising, posting often on social media or pursuing targeted email communications.
  • Make a difference. Right now, consumers are looking to brands to pull their weight in helping out during the pandemic. Some are changing their production lines in order to produce much-needed safety equipment or supplies. Some are committing to support and carry their employees through the crisis. Some are donating time, money and product to those in need. Find a cause or action you can take that is authentic to your brand and let people know about it.
  • Think and act locally. Right now there is concern about the world in general but the focus is extremely local. How is COVID-19 progressing in my community? When it is safe to go to my favorite neighborhood restaurant? How are my kids’ teachers faring throughout this? From grocers to restaurants, yoga studios and community centers, consumers want to support the brands and businesses close to home that have the most meaning to them and their families. Larger brands and business need to think about how they can confidently help the “little guys” to assure consumers that they are doing their part on a local level. Smaller brands and business (if they have the means!) can go even more local by helping individuals in their communities.

Above all, the most important thing you can do as a brand and business is to speak with integrity and foster truth. People are seeking a voice of reason and stability during a time when everything seems out of their control. Be part of the solution by providing resources, education and communication to show your audiences that you are paying attention to them, their needs and the world at large. Assure uneasy consumers by becoming a trusted voice—a voice they can count on throughout the crisis and beyond.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

Kathryn Spitzberg Johnson is a partner at Big Squirrel, a market research agency in Portland, Oregon.