Q&A: Brands and putting the customer first during Covid-19

Srong brands need to put the customer first by genuinely connecting and offering help druing the current crisis to weather the storm and beyond

The Covid-19 pandemic currently playing out around the world has upended the 2020 plans for almost every brand and every marketer.

At a time of health and economic stress, along with working and family life upheaval, certainties about business and the role of brands are no more. The scale of the crisis is unprecedented in modern time, it doesn’t mean throwing out the rule book entirely, but survival will take more than just a couple of emails to customers. 

“We may see the end of the formal office for many and an increase in mobile phone use for work," Brandometry co-founder and president, Tony Wenzel, told CMO on one of the many predicted changes that will alter how we work and how we live in the wake of the pandemic and the lockdown. 

When it comes to brands, the long-time brand research advisor for investors believes strong brands, and the ones which genuinely focus on helping the customer during this time, will fare well through this crisis and thrive long afterwards. CMO asked Wenzel his thoughts on a range of questions about the impact of the virus.

One was if brands will follow Coca-Cola’s lead in shifting money from advertising and directing towards efforts to curb the virus. Wenzel agrees it’s an admirable and welcome move, but says most brands don’t have the financial heft of the iconic soft drink brand to follow suit.

“Coca-Cola is going all-in on social responsibility and it’s a very strong move,” he said. “After recent hurricanes, some of the beer companies canned water for people affected by the storms. I think this sort of redistribution of funds would be difficult for most companies. Coke is the most recognisable brand in the world. They can do this. Very few other brands could afford to execute this type of campaign.” 

Here's more from our discussion.

CMO: How can brands communicate with customers in a way that's authentic and not seen as opportunistic?

Wenzel: I think the ‘We’re here to help’ message is playing well. One of the best I’ve seen is from Verizon, a US telco, which is using a message that says: ‘We’re here. And we’re ready. We know you need to stay connected. Our networks can adapt to increased demand.’ The message continues with an FAQ on their response Covid-19, what retail stores are open, and what it means for the public sector, the network, employees and business.   

Audible, Amazon’s audiobook company, made a bunch of titles in its library free so parents might have another way to keep kids occupied while working from home.  

What are the opportunities for digital marketing at the moment with the shift to work from home and lockdown and the inevitable uptick in social media and online?

Wenzel: The Covid-19 pandemic will prove a catalyst for changes in the direction of remote education. The pandemic will also affect how and whether office work is done in the future as remote work could become significantly more popular. Internet-based at-home entertainment is likely to gather even greater momentum in the wake of government-issued stay-at-home orders.

And the pandemic has increased the popularity of at-home delivery across categories.  

Quarantine orders have necessitated more remote work, education, shopping and entertainment. This presents fantastic opportunities for companies like Verizon, Twitter, AT&T, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Facebook, eBay, Walt Disney, CBS, Amazon, Alphabet and Apple. These companies build the data centers, networks, software, marketplaces, social hubs and delivery networks that support remote consumption of media.

What effect is Covid-19 having on brands?

Wenzel: Accenture predicted long ago that the parcel delivery business will grow nine per cent per year through 2020, this will certainly be an underestimate in the wake of the pandemic. Amazon is hiring 100,000 drivers to support the growth of its delivery services.

Food delivery services offer more order options (Twitter, smartwatches, apps) and delivery channels (cars, trucks, drones) catering to Millennials who came of age in a post-Uber world. Payment providers with strong brands like Apple, Amazon, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Alphabet, Mastercard and Visa can support ecommerce sales and benefit from transaction fees from them.   

How might post-Covid-19 be different to other crises?

Wenzel: I think the pandemic will have a big impact on how we think about work and education which may change the way we do both.  

There is really no need for most office building workers to go to an office. Offices are expensive and it’d be hard to make the case today that they’re necessary. The amount of money and time workers would save working remotely is massive. Companies could save money on rents and could reduce payroll, hiring remote employees in less expensive areas according to their costs. The reduction in traffic, pollution and unnecessary consumption would be its own boon.  

For most students, there is more diverse and arguably better material available at home on YouTube than there is in any classroom. Is there a reason we go away to college? In most firms, people work with people from all over the world. Living at a college does not prepare students for working with people from all over the planet on Zoom meetings.  

The temporality of education could change, too. I’m not certain we should try to pack a lifetime’s worth of education into the first four years of a person’s adulthood. What’s being taught isn’t always relevant by the time they teach it. Education should be a life-long program and the pandemic might make that clearer. Most of the billionaires whose names I know never finished college. 

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.  

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