What does this mean for brands?

Coronavirus presents a number of challenges to brands and policy makers. As consumers take protective actions against the virus, their health/financial concerns and behavioural adjustments will continue to have an enormous social and economic impact. In affected areas, we are already observing drastic changes in consumer behavior such as bulk-buying, a surge in low contact commerce, and crowd avoidance/cocooning.


MOST IMPORTANTLY – BE PRESENT AND INVEST IN CONSUMER RELATIONSHIPS: It can be tempting for brands to go into cost containment mode in times of distress, quietly weathering the storm. But we have a unique window where brands can earn trust by maintaining presence and delivering relevant value in a fluid period of heightened anxiety.

BE A SOURCE OF TRUTH AND POSITIVE IMPACT: Brands can develop deeper consumer relationships by being a trusted source of accurate information or consumer-centric counsel in uncertain times. Here are some examples of brands that have taken the initiative to help stop the virus from spreading or to avoid other negative impacts:

• In the UK, Lush is inviting people to come into their stores to wash their hands.

• In India, we have seen communication from Lifebuoy to practice good hygiene - even if it’s with a competitive brand.

• Amazon is actively working to eliminate acts of profiteering/price gauging. In an era where many are increasingly open to brands rather than traditional institutions to promote social progress and well-being, the current crisis could accelerate that pattern if brands rise to the occasion.

SHOW EMPATHY / GIVE COMFORT: Louis Vuitton posted a heartfelt message to Chinese customers on social media platforms like WeChat, and Weibo: “Every paused journey will eventually restart. Louis Vuitton hopes you and your beloved ones stay safe and healthy.” This tone-appropriate message fits a brand positioned as a purveyor of fine luggage.

HELP PEOPLE CONSTRUCTIVELY USE TIME AND BUILD NEW ROUTINES AT HOME: This is inspiring territory, as brands can look to help people make good use of the time they spend at home – and to drive internalization of new habits by helping them feel good about the way that time is spent. With many adopting new in-home behaviors, building positive associations/identities around those new routine behaviors will help to build motivation to re-enact them.

GO VIRTUAL: We expect to see a further shift to virtual alternatives. In China, online car sales went up in the first weeks of the crisis, despite overall car sales crashing. We also see many professional meetings and exhibitions moving online; just as many museums have started to create an online experience by creating virtual rooms where art is being shown. Alibaba is organizing no-meeting concerts, where they live-stream new content.

RECOGNIZE AND AFFIRM NEW SOCIAL NORMS: When trying new behaviors, people can often feel a bit selfconscious, as if they are the only people practicing them. This feeling of marginalization can be a barrier to changing behaviors, so it can help to illustrate the prevalence or social consensus of the behavior or belief. If people feel that others are doing this behavior too, they are much more likely to maintain it.

LEARN FROM THE LAST ‘NEW NORMAL’: History provides evidence that brands can grow in distressing times. There are some enduring examples from the Great Recession, where brands like Netflix, Lego, Amazon, and Domino’s courageously expanded their horizons through investment / innovation, customer treatment, alternative pricing models, and transparency in communications. While many of their competitors either stopped communicating or held fast to old business models, these brands pursued consumers in the right way and delivered value in a time of contextual fluidity and behavioural change.

SUMMING UP: People are adaptive and contextual decision-makers. Consumer responses to coronavirus are an extreme example of this. When context and behavior shifts, we are taken out of our automatic rhythms and we pay mindful attention. There is little doubt we are now making decisions in a fluid, unstable time of distress – making us more likely to pay attention to the brands willing to engage with us in the right way. Wise brand leaders who are willing to be actively present can emerge from this challenging period of behavior change with stronger brands and a more committed, trusting fan base – so when things eventually settle to the next new normal, brand growth can be sustained.